Expected ‘de-Trumping’ of US foreign policy under a Biden presidency

The Trump years were marked by reckless policies and unilateral decisions. Ranging from the US’ exit from key multilateral pacts, to a series of isolationist and protectionist policies, the world stared at the prospect of an American retreat from global affairs. Now, with a new President-elect, what changes can the world expect in the US foreign policy realm.


Ever since January 2017, when Donald Trump unexpectedly made his way into the White House, Washington has backed out from several key international treaties, agreements, and multilateral arrangements of vital importance to global peace, security, and sustainability.

Together with a series of isolationist and protectionist policies, the world stared at the dangerous prospect of an American retreat from global affairs under the Trump presidency, and the US’ image as a world superpower was severely damaged, but it’s not irreparable, as the White House waits a responsible President.

What changes can the world expect from the new President-elect, Joe Biden, when it comes to foreign policy, diplomacy, and multilateralism?

Biden comes with experience

Unlike a businessperson-turned-President Donald Trump, the new President-elect Joe Biden comes with a vast experience as a career politician and dealing with foreign policy issues, both in his capacity as Vice President in the Obama administration and as a long-time member of the Foreign Relations Committee of the US Senate. Biden also maintains close ties with a lot of international actors that still influence global affairs, which will effectively prove helpful in decision-making.

Renegotiating multilateral pacts

As Biden gets ready to assume the United States presidency on January 2021, he is expected to renegotiate many of the agreements which Donald Trump unilaterally pulled Washington from, effectively weakening America’s pre-eminent position as a world leader.

Among them include, the Paris Climate Accord, the Iran Nuclear Deal, and the key arms control treaties with Russia like the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (IRNF) Treaty and the Open Skies Treaty.

Here, I look at some of such agreements and multilateral arrangements that could possibly take a rebirth under Joe Biden.

Paris Climate Accord of 2015

As the world battles a climate crisis like never before, the Paris Accord was negotiated under the sidelines of the 2015 meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Paris during Obama’s tenure. With Trump disregarding the pact as poorly negotiated, Washington was forced to withdraw from it in June 2017.

Biden, during his poll-time campaigns has vowed that he would bring the United States back to the Accord on the very first day of assuming office as President. He reassured this commitment he made on the day the withdrawal took effect on 4 November 2020. So, a Biden presidency could be good for the planet and a sustainable future.

Iran Nuclear Deal or the JCPOA, 2015

JCPOA stands for Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, popularly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal. It is a long-term deal made between a group of world powers known as the P5+1 – the US, the UK, France, China, Russia, and Germany – with the West Asian nation of Iran.

Under the pact, Iran agreed to limit its sensitive nuclear activities and allow periodic inspections as a quid pro quo for lifting of economic sanctions, thus preventing another nation going the nuclear way. Three countries positioning next to Iran – Pakistan, India and China – already possess them.

So, restricting Iran’s nuclear programme through the JCPOA was a huge diplomatic victory in 2015, when it was agreed on. But, Donald Trump pulled Washington, a key party to the deal, out of this strenuously negotiated deal under the Obama administration in May 2018.

Presumably, a much-needed tone-down in Washington’s approach towards Tehran that had dangerously escalated since the targeted killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, earlier this year, could also be on the cards.

INF and Open Skies Treaty

Both INF (Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces) Treaty, 1987, and Open Skies Treaty, 1992 are Cold War-era agreements with Russia aimed at limiting arms proliferation including nuclear weapons.

Trump pulled Washington out from these pacts in August 2019 and May 2020 respectively, adding up to the insecurities of its allies, particularly in Europe. The former pact was signed by Ronald Reagan and the latter one by George H.W. Bush with their respective Soviet or Russian counterparts.

As a goodwill gesture to bring America’s NATO allies closer to Washington and to win back their trusts Biden might attempt to renegotiate these agreements. The 2011-effective New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) is the only remaining treaty with Russia to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons. This was recently agreed to extend one more year.


Donald Trump had no hesitation to openly express his disregard for the United Nations and its affiliated bodies. This was exemplified in his move to pull the US out of the Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 2017 and the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in 2018.

A Biden presidency will definitely reassure United States’ commitment to multilateralism and support for international organisations. He could begin by rejoining these two bodies. The same goes with reassuring US share of funding for the World Health Organisation (WHO), which Trump has threatened to cut short, recently.

Trans-Pacific Partnership

The Trans-Pacific Partnership or the TPP was a huge 12-nation regional trade deal aimed to counter Beijing’s economic muscle involving the key Pacific littoral states, including the United States. But, Trump considered the TPP as unfair to American workers and the agreement was never officially adopted by US Congress, as well.

TPP was the first agreement from which the Trump administration withdraw in the very first month of assuming the office in January 2017. The remaining 11 nations have carried on without Washington and negotiated a new trade agreement called Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which incorporates most of the provisions of the erstwhile TPP and which entered into force in December 2018.

As a counterweight against Beijing’s growing economic clout across the globe, Biden might possibly attempt to strike an agreement with the CPTPP in the foreseeable future.

Reassuring NATO

The 30-memberNorth Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) has been the cornerstone of US-led security architecture for Europe that has been in existence for almost seven decades now.

Donald Trump in the White House was perceived as the biggest nightmare for a potential break-up of this security system for the leaders in Berlin, Brussels, Paris, among similar fears from other European capitals.

Trump has been demanding more defence spending and payments from allies in Europe particularly from Germany where Trump recently cut the number of troops stationed for protection.

By bridging stronger and resilient ties across the Atlantic, Biden has to reassure the American commitment towards collective security and defence against any external aggression faced by any ally, a link that has been severely damaged under the Trump presidency.

Resurrecting American humanitarian commitment

Unlike Trump’s transactional approach to diplomacy, Biden is expected to uphold the US’ humanitarian commitment to conflicts as well, particularly where Washington is involved like Afghanistan or Syria.

Biden is also expected to restart dialogue with Palestine, very much unlike Trump’s heavily Israel-biased policies intended to appease his religiously-inclined supporters at home. Biden will try to bring all parties and actors involved to the negotiating table without turning a blind-eye on the concerns of any.

During his tenure, Trump has elevated Washington’s ties with Riyadh to an all-time high. Notably, the latter remained a silent onlooker of the US-led Abraham Accords to normalize diplomatic relationship between Israel and the Arab states of the region, without protesting it.

Biden is expected to rethink this relationship in lines with Washington’s old humanitarian commitment that was blatantly disregarded during the Trump years. In his campaign, Biden has pledged to reassess ties with the Arab kingdom and wants more accountability for the state-sanctioned killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian columnist of the Washington Post, two years back, often exemplified as state-sanctioned killing of dissidents. He could also end U.S. support for the war in Yemen.

China and Russia policies are here to stay

But, if there is one aspect that is expected to remain almost the same is the US policy towards Beijing, the single-most challenger to America’s dominance in the world as an economic and military power.

Even though Biden might attempt to build new bridges of dialogue, the basic underlying outlook towards China is poised to remain the same, which is, a threat to be contained.

With a resurgent Russia that took advantage of Trump’s follies, a series of time-tested confidence-building measures will continue. This can also be combined with an extension of the validity period of existing arms control treaties and a potential renegotiation of the INF and Open Skies treaties or else make new arrangements to serve its intended purpose.

New Hope

While dealing with three big challenges at home, namely, systemic racism pervading the whole of American society, a mismanaged Covid-19 pandemic, and rising unemployment rates, Biden is expected to bring in new hope, both for the people of the United States, and for the people around the globe who seek the ‘American dream’. Meanwhile, the ongoing fight against an outlived ‘Trumpism’, influencing minds has to be intensified, re-framing the past ‘America First’ policies in an open and inclusive way.

Bejoy Sebastian
Bejoy Sebastian
Bejoy Sebastian writes on the contemporary geopolitics and regionalism in eastern Asia and the Indo-Pacific. His articles and commentaries have appeared in Delhi Post (India), The Kochi Post (India), The Diplomat (United States), and The Financial Express (India). Some of his articles were re-published by The Asian Age (Bangladesh), The Cambodia Daily, the BRICS Information Portal, and the Peace Economy Project (United States). He is an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC), New Delhi, where he acquired a post-graduate diploma in English journalism. He has qualified the Indian University Grants Commission's National Eligibility Test (UGC-NET) for teaching International Relations in Indian higher educational institutions in 2022. He holds a Master's degree in Politics and International Relations with first rank from Mahatma Gandhi University in Kottayam, Kerala, India. He was attached to the headquarters of the Ministry of External Affairs (Government of India) in New Delhi as a research intern in 2021 and has also worked as a Teaching Assistant at FLAME University in Pune, India, for a brief while.