US foreign policy: Joe Biden's priorities in 2021
The FT's US defense correspondent Katrina Manson looks at five of the most pressing security and diplomatic challenges Washington faces in the coming year
Produced by Ben Marino
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Hello, and welcome to our US foreign policy and defence vlog. This edition we're taking a look at five things to watch as we roll on into 2021.
First up is the Trump administration, which is expected to continue full steam ahead for its finale. That's right up until Joe Biden is inaugurated as the next US president on January the 20th. That means more sanctions on Iran, more efforts to strike normalisation deals with Israel, and US troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Germany.
Number two, the great rejoining. We'll expect to see the Biden administration re-enter the Paris Climate Change accords on its first day back in office, plus the World Health Organization and UN agencies that support Palestinians. It will even strike a deal with Russia to extend the New START treaty that limits nuclear warheads and the missiles and launchers that carry them within the first fortnight or so of coming into office. That's because the deal is due to expire on February the 5th, and the Trump administration didn't get a deal to its liking of its own. Plus, expect handshakes and smiling with heads of state from other countries, particularly in Europe, as Biden tries to say that alliances are back at the heart of US foreign policy.
Number three, the Iran deal. Biden has said he'll return to the 2015 Obama-era deal that limited Iran's nuclear programme if Iran also returns to compliance. It's a complicated situation, but if they can both agree a narrow re-entry that may just be possible. What comes next is much less certain.
Number four, China. This is a big question. Biden saw the Obama administration, in which he served as vice-president, get burned by promises China made and then broke. Biden has since referred to Xi Jinping as a thug, and his team is promising a complex recipe of co-operation, competition, and confrontation. But we don't yet know quite how that meal turns out.
Number five, Afghanistan. It's not top of many foreign policy priority lists you may find, but Biden may live through the impact of the extraordinary Trump-era deal with the Taliban, under which the US agreed to withdraw troops in exchange for neutralising the threat against the US and the Taliban undertaking talks with Kabul. If the Taliban ends up in government or takes Kabul in a more direct action it will be a huge moment for what became America's longest war.
So that's your short, sharp list. It's worth remembering that team Biden wants its focus to be squarely at home. But as one adviser told me, foreign policy has a habit of creeping up on US presidents. All this, and I haven't even mentioned North Korea yet, Russia or Turkey or Saudi Arabia. There's a lot more to come.