Feb 4, 2021 - World

President Biden's first foreign policy address: "America is back"

Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty

“America cannot afford to be absent any longer from the world stage," President Biden declared on Thursday in his first foreign policy address since taking office.

The big picture: Biden argued that by emphasizing democratic values, recommitting to alliances and investing in diplomacy, the U.S. could rebuild its global leadership and out-compete China.

“We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again, not to meet yesterday’s challenges, but today’s and tomorrow’s. American leadership must meet this new moment of advancing authoritarianism, including the growing ambitions of China to rival the United States and the determination of Russia to damage and disrupt our democracy.”
— Biden

Biden’s speech included a handful of announcements and intentions:

  1. Raise the U.S. refugee cap from 15,000 under Donald Trump to 125,000 in his first full fiscal year in office.
  2. A global review of all U.S. forces to assess whether America’s military footprint aligned with its priorities. Biden added that he would stop Trump’s planned troop withdrawals from Germany.
  3. A summit of the world’s democracies “early in my presidency.”
  4. End U.S. support for “offensive operations” in Yemen, including by ending “relevant arms sales” to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and pushing for a ceasefire. He added that the U.S. would continue to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory, and also announced career diplomat Timothy Lenderking as the new U.S. envoy for Yemen.
  5. Issue a presidential memo to government agencies to advance protections for LGBTQI people around the world.

Biden also addressed a few recent global developments.

  • On the jailing of Russian activist Alexey Navalny: "He's been targeted for exposing corruption. He should be released immediately and without condition," Biden said.
  • On the coup in Myanmar: Biden said the U.S. would work with international partners to "support the restoration of democracy and the rule of law and impose consequences on those responsible."
  • Biden said he'd been placing calls to America's closest allies to begin "reforming the habits of cooperation and rebuilding the muscle of democratic alliances that have atrophied over the last few years of neglect — and I would argue, abuse."

Two major challenges featured heavily in Biden's speech: climate change and China.

  • On climate, Biden said America had to raise its own targets in order to be able to push others to "up their ante."
  • On China, Biden said the U.S. would confront Beijing over its "economic abuses," "coercive actions" and "attack on human rights, intellectual property and global governance."
  • But, he added, "we're ready to work with Beijing when it's in America's interest to do so."

The bottom line: As with the broader foreign policy challenges facing America, Biden argued that the keys to confronting China would be getting our own house in order, working with allies, strengthening multilateralism and "reclaiming our credibility and moral authority, much of which has been lost."

Go deeper