With President-elect JoeBiden due to take office in a little over a month’s time what defense policies can we expect from the new administration? Following the contentious 2020 US presidential election a Democrat will be returning to the Oval Office. Biden’s comments to the press and his cabinet selections, including Lloyd Austin, suggest he is leaning towards wider cooperation with Israel and Germany. He does also seem to recognise the Chinese threat to the US hegemony around the World. Biden’s presidency will likely see much less controversial rhetoric than his predecessors. Nonetheless, there are some changes to be expected within the next year. In this article we will briefly examine some of the most important areas.
Germany and Poland
The Trump administration’s threats of pulling significant US forces from Germany were made in an effort to coerce Chancellor Merkel into increasing German military spending. The troops were supposed to move into Poland, which already home to several thousand US personnel as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve. Biden seems more open to cooperation with Germany, as its position and influence in Europe is much more significant to the US than that of Poland. In this case, pulling out troops from Germany is rather unlikely – even before the Biden administration takes office. The 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) has recently been passed, the NDAA bill included clauses that would prevent a significant draw down of troops from Germany. This, however, does not mean that we won’t see closer partnership and increased troop numbers in Poland in the future. In recent years American military industry earned billions of dollars from contracts with Poland, and the current US presence in the country was largely extended at the invitation of the Polish authorities.
The Middle East
The Trump administration has signalled plans for further withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. Biden, historically, has disagreed with the idea of a surge and the presence of large contingents of peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan. He may seek a solution with a much smaller counter-terrorism operations conducted by smaller US forces. The effectiveness of this strategy, however, remains to be see with Afghan forces still struggling to effectively combat insurgent forces.
In terms of Iran, Biden is an opponent to the Iranian nuclear program and has laid out some terms for the revival of the Iran Nuclear Deal – brokered while he was Vice President. While Iran has rejected Biden’s suggestions, it appears that Iran hopes the deal can be revived with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani recently sayingthat if U.S. sanctions “can be lifted in a correct, wise, Iranian-Islamic [and] dignified manner, this should be done.”
Good relations between Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, and Biden are also noteworthy. The cooperation between the US and the state of Israel is very deep and despite the Trump administration’s closer ties with the Netanyahu administration the election of Biden is unlikely to fundamentally impact the long standing relationship. There are, however, contentious matters such as further expansion of Israeli settlements. Some analysts, such as the New York Times’ David M. Halbfinger, feel that the change of administration could herald more significant changes the the dynamic of the US-Israeli relationship. This will remain to be seen.
The Chinese Threat
Biden’s rhetoric over China has shifted in recent months. As a Senator, he was advocating for relaxation of the relations with Beijing. He now considers China as one of the strategic challenges to the security of the US’ position in the World. However, the relationship between Taiwan and the US will be one of the key issues here and how Biden will address this remains to be seen. But in an interview with the NYT he said that “I’m not going to make any immediate moves, and the same applies to the [the 25%] tariffs” established by the Trump administration.
The president-elect continued by saying he will seek to re-establish a clear strategy amongst the US’ allies in the region:
“The best China strategy, I think, is one which gets every one of our — or at least what used to be our — allies on the same page. It’s going to be a major priority for me in the opening weeks of my presidency to try to get us back on the same page with our allies.”
This emphasis on re-establishing and securing alliances was also seen in an editorial Biden wrote recently in The Atlantic, he explained that:
“The threats we face today are not the same as those we faced 10 or even five years ago. We must prepare to meet the challenges of the future, not keep fighting the wars of the past. We must build a foreign policy that leads with diplomacy and revitalizes our alliances.”
The media claim that one of the key decisions under the Biden administration will be the increase of South Korea’s spending on the US presence. Seoul’s proposal on the 13% increase in spending was rejected by Trump. With 28,500 troops on the ground, Biden may ask for additional payments from South Korea, however, the passage of the NDAA means that the withdrawal of troops is almost impossible.
In comparison to Trump Biden will likely be forced to reduce military spending significantly. With the impact of COVID-19 it remains to be seen if Biden will move away wholesale from commitments like a 400+ vessel navy.
Similarly, Biden opposes Trump’s build up of the US nuclear arsenal. This may mean that a new way to continue the policy of deterrence against China and Russia will be required.
Biden is likely to seek to exploit US potential in the fields of cybersecurity, automatization on the battlefield, and technological advantage over US adversaries. COVID-19 will also be a high priority with Biden stating in his Atlantic editorial on the selection of Austin Lloyd, that the new Secretary of Defense will need to co-ordinate “an enormous logistics operation to help distribute COVID-19 vaccines widely and equitably.”
Additional reporting from Matthew Moss.