Bildt: Biden is back on stage, but not AmericaJuly 18, 2021
America is back on the international stage. That was the key message US President Joe Biden sought to convey during his first official foreign tour since taking office in January.
But while Biden himself has rejoined the group of global leaders after serving as vice president in both Barack Obama administrations, past US policies may not have the same chance of a major comeback.
Today we live in a different world than it was just a few years ago. Geopolitical tensions are rising, and co-operation on common challenges is more urgent than ever. The emergence of new players as global powers, in particular, has caused deep and almost existential fears in the United States, leading to a reassessment of all policies.
The comparison between the Biden administration’s Interim Strategic National Security Guide, released in March, and the 2015 National Security Strategy, presented when Biden was vice president, provides insight into the rationale for that reassessment.
The 2015 strategy paid significant attention to China, noting that the United States would “closely monitor the military modernization and expansion of its presence in Asia.” But the latest guidelines put America’s “growing rivalry” with an “increasingly confident” China at the forefront and suggest a strategy for what to do.
The official document said that “if everything is taken into account, this agenda will strengthen America’s lasting advantages and allow the country to prevail in strategic competition with China, Russia or any third nation.” The Biden administration has every right to work to strengthen America’s economic competitiveness and to strengthen its physical infrastructure and human capital.
Such a step is in the interest of the whole world. But if the United States wants to compete effectively with China, Russia or other emerging powers, it will have to look beyond its borders and move forward into the future.
As things stand, US competition with other world powers is primarily in the economic sphere, as their GDP continues to grow and their leaders are determined to build deeper trade and investment ties with countries and regions around the world.
Such is the case with China, which has grown into a trading superpower, with more than 100 countries trading at least twice as much as they do with the United States.
The extent to which these countries are expanding and taking root in their trade dominance will help them successfully determine the extent of their political influence.
If the Biden administration’s recent guidelines are any indication, they will face relatively few barriers to achieving their goals.
The National Security Strategy has recognized, for example, that initiatives such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will enable the United States to set “the world’s highest standards for labor rights and the environment”. remove barriers to their exports and place them “at the center of a free trade area covering two-thirds of the global economy”.
Today, neither the TPP nor the TTIP are in place, at least not with the United States as a member. So on his first official foreign tour of Europe, although Biden agreed with EU leaders on a five-year truce in their 17-year trade dispute over aircraft manufacturers’ subsidies, he did not lift the tariffs Trump imposed on European steel and aluminum.
Therefore, for example, countries like China and Russia do not waste any more time to use this chaotic situation between the EU and the US to further develop their trade reputation. It remains to be seen what will emerge from the ongoing trade efforts of the rising powers.
But it is clear that these leaders, especially the Chinese and Russians, understand the critical importance of their country’s trade ties with its sphere of influence. American leaders need to learn that lesson for the good of Americans and Europeans. This is the only way America will return to the international stage as soon as possible.