Show an ad over header. AMP

Biden’s Day 1 challenges: Foreign policy

President-elect Joe Biden’s vow to restore America’s leadership in the world will be swiftly tested by resurgent adversaries, rudderless institutions and the gravest global health crisis in decades.

The big picture: Biden will face a familiar antagonist in Moscow, a stronger and more assertive China, a nuclear-armed North Korea and an ongoing war in Afghanistan. That's not to mention a pandemic that’s ravaged the world and darkened the global economic outlook.


Biden’s approach to all of those challenges starts with revitalizing America’s alliances and restoring its credibility. His message is that “America is back,” and “America first” is over.

  • Biden plans to quickly re-enter the Paris climate accord, recommit to NATO and re-engage with the World Health Organization.
  • He plans to put human rights back at the heart of U.S. foreign policy, and has proposed a summit of the world’s democracies.
  • But Biden will have to prioritize the crises at home even as he aims to restore America's standing abroad.

Biden’s top domestic focus — containing the virus and its economic fallout — may also be his greatest foreign policy challenge.

  • Distributing vaccines globally will be particularly important. Competition over doses will drive resentment and prolong the pandemic, even if Americans get access relatively soon.
  • Multiple members of Biden's coronavirus task force have been sounding that alarm, portending a different approach from Biden after Trump shunned the WHO’s vaccine initiative.

Salvaging the Iran nuclear deal is near the top of Biden’s priority list. That would require lifting sanctions if Iran — which now has 12 times the amount of low-enriched uranium permitted under the deal — returns to compliance.

  • Iranian leaders have suggested they’d be willing to return to the old deal, but dismiss talk of the broader follow-on agreement Biden envisions.
  • The Trump administration, meanwhile, is attempting to block the path back to the deal by piling on new non-nuclear sanctions that Biden might find politically tricky to lift.

Biden will have to move quickly to extend the New START nuclear treaty with Russia, which is set to expire 15 days after he takes office.

  • But he’s also vowed to confront Vladimir Putin over election interference, and “impose real costs on Russia for its violations of international norms.”
  • Bill Burns, president of the Carnegie Endowment and a former ambassador to Moscow, told Axios it will be important for Biden to set the terms of the relationship early: “We’re going to be operating within a pretty narrow band of possibilities in dealing with Vladimir Putin’s Russia — from the sharply competitive to the pretty nastily adversarial."

North Korea may force itself onto Biden's agenda soon after he enters the White House. The regime has a history of testing incoming U.S. administrations.

  • Kim Jong-un's nuclear program has advanced significantly in the last four years, even as he has temporarily suspended testing.
  • The leaders aren’t starting on great terms. Biden called Kim Jong-un a “thug” during the campaign, while North Korea labeled Biden a “rabid dog.”

Biden will also inherit a war in Afghanistan that he and Barack Obama vowed to end more than a decade ago.

  • U.S. troops are withdrawing from the country even as peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government stall.
  • Biden plans to continue to pull troops out, but may leave a counterterrorism force behind.

Salesforce rolls the dice with likely acquisition of Slack

Salesforce's likely acquisition of workplace messaging service Slack — not yet a done deal but widely anticipated to be announced Tuesday afternoon — represents a big gamble for everyone involved.

For Slack, challenged by competition from Microsoft, the bet is that a deeper-pocketed owner like Salesforce, with wide experience selling into large companies, will help the bottom line.

Keep reading... Show less

Eleven border cities have combined a violent crime rate below the national average

Data: FBI, Kansas Bureau of Investigation; Note: This table includes the eight largest communities on the U.S.-Mexico border and eight other U.S. cities similar in population size and demographics; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

U.S. communities along the Mexico border are among the safest in America, with some border cities holding crime rates well below the national average, FBI statistics show.

Why it matters: The latest crime data collected by the FBI from 2019 contradicts the narrative by President Trump and others that the U.S.-Mexico border is a "lawless" region suffering from violence and mayhem.

Keep reading... Show less

The rise of military space powers

Nations around the world are shoring up their defensive and offensive capabilities in space — for today's wars and tomorrow's.

Why it matters: Using space as a warfighting domain opens up new avenues for technologically advanced nations to dominate their enemies. But it can also make those countries more vulnerable to attack in novelways.

Keep reading... Show less

Governors in the vaccine hot seat

Governors are preparing to face one of the toughest moral choices they'll confront in office: how to allocate limited stocks of coronavirus vaccine among outsized shares of vulnerable Americans.

Why it matters: Everyone agrees health care workers need to be at the front of the line. But after that things get tricky, as New Mexico's Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham explained in an interview with Axios.

Keep reading... Show less

Slavery ancestorial project to use crowdsourcing in expansion

A database that gathers records about the lives of enslaved Africans and their descendants is undergoing a massive, crowdsourcing-powered expansion to unlock Black Americans' genealogical histories, organizers tell Axios.

Why it matters: The initiative to be unveiled today by Enslaved.org is the latest to reconstruct lost or incomplete timelines and records from the 1600s-1800s, as the U.S. and other nations reckon with systemic racism.

Keep reading... Show less

Scoop: FDA chief called to West Wing

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has summoned FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn to the West Wing for a 9:30am meeting Tuesday to explain why he hasn't moved faster to approve the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, two senior administration officials told Axios.

Why it matters: The meeting is shaping up to be tense, with Hahn using what the White House will likely view as kamikaze language in a preemptive statement to Axios: "Let me be clear — our career scientists have to make the decision and they will take the time that’s needed to make the right call on this important decision."

Keep reading... Show less

Scoop: Schumer's regrets

Chuck Schumer told party donors during recent calls that the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the fact that Cal Cunningham "couldn’t keep his zipper up” crushed Democrats' chances of regaining the Senate, sources with direct knowledge of the conversations tell Axios.

Why it matters: Democrats are hoping for a 50-50 split by winning two upcoming special elections in Georgia. But their best chance for an outright Senate majority ended when Cunningham lost in North Carolina and Sen. Susan Collins won in Maine.

Keep reading... Show less

Trump's COVID-19 adviser Scott Atlas resigns

Scott Atlas, a controversial member of the White House coronavirus task force, handed in his resignation on Monday, according to three administration officials who discussed Atlas' resignation with Axios.

Why it matters: President Trump brought in Atlas as a counterpoint to NIAID director Anthony Fauci, whose warnings about the pandemic were dismissed by the Trump administration. With Trump now fixated on conspiracy theories about election fraud, Atlas' detail comes to a natural end.

Keep reading... Show less

Insights

mail-copy

Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories