As of 2024, President Joe Biden’s foreign policy agenda is shaped by a complex interplay of global challenges, reflecting the evolving geopolitical landscape and the United States’ role. Since taking office, Biden’s administration has emphasized a return to multilateralism, a commitment to traditional alliances, and a focus on addressing new-age global issues. This approach marks a significant shift from the more unilateral and nationalist stance of his predecessor. A key pillar of Biden’s foreign policy has been the reinvigoration of alliances, particularly with NATO members and key Asian allies. The administration’s efforts to strengthen these relationships underscore the importance of collective security and shared economic interests, especially in the face of rising challenges from China and Russia. Biden’s stance towards China remains one of the most critical aspects of his foreign policy, characterized by competition and cooperation, particularly in areas like trade, technology, and climate change.
The Russian challenge, particularly its actions in Eastern Europe and cyber domains, continues to test Biden’s diplomatic acumen. The administration’s response to Russian aggression and its support for Ukraine’s sovereignty remain pivotal points of its foreign policy. On the global front, Biden has re-emphasized the U.S. commitment to tackle climate change, rejoining the Paris Agreement and pushing for global initiatives to reduce carbon emissions. This environmental focus is part of a broader strategy to collaboratively address global challenges. The administration has also been navigating complex issues in the Middle East, including the Iran nuclear deal and the enduring Israel-Palestine conflict, balancing diplomatic efforts with the need to maintain regional stability. Economic diplomacy is another focal area, with Biden seeking to balance domestic economic interests with global trade and competition demands.
His approach addresses global economic inequities and supply chain vulnerabilities, which became more apparent after the COVID-19 pandemic.
The legacy of past foreign policy decisions, both from President Biden’s previous tenure and from earlier administrations, plays a significant role in shaping the current foreign policy landscape and challenges faced by the United States in 2024. Biden’s foreign policy reflects both continuity and change from his predecessors. His approach to alliances, multilateralism, and international institutions marks a return to traditional U.S. foreign policy, particularly contrasting with the more unilateral approach of the Trump administration. Decisions made during the Obama administration, in which Biden served as Vice President, such as the pivot to Asia and the Iran nuclear deal, continue to influence U.S. foreign policy, both in their original intent and in the consequences of their alteration or abandonment by subsequent administrations.
President Trump’s “America First” policy led to reconsideration of several international agreements and alliances. This has impacted how allies and adversaries perceive American reliability and commitment. Biden’s efforts to re-engage with these entities have been shaped by the need to rebuild trust and reassess commitments. Policies on trade, particularly with China, and immigration have lasting effects. Biden’s administration has had to navigate these complex issues, balancing domestic interests with international relations. The legacy of U.S. military interventions, notably in Iraq and Afghanistan, continues to affect American foreign policy. The end of the Afghanistan war under Biden was a significant moment, impacting U.S. strategy in dealing with counterterrorism and nation-building efforts abroad.
These interventions have long-term implications for regional stability, U.S. military expenditure, and global perception of American foreign policy objectives.
Past policies towards rising powers, particularly China and Russia, have shaped the current geopolitical environment. The U.S. pivot to Asia, initiated under Obama and continued in various forms, acknowledges China’s growing influence. Biden’s approach to China reflects a complex mix of competitive and cooperative strategies inherited from previous administrations. Relations with Russia, marred by issues like election interference, territorial aggression, and cyber operations, continue to challenge Biden’s foreign policy, influenced by past administrations’ strategies and responses.
Previous administrations’ stances on trade agreements, tariffs, and economic diplomacy have left a mixed legacy. Biden’s approach to global trade and economic relations is influenced by these past decisions, requiring a delicate balance between protecting domestic interests and engaging in global trade. The U.S. stance on climate change, particularly the withdrawal from and re-entry into the Paris Agreement, has significant implications. Biden’s proactive stance on climate change is, in part, a response to previous policies and the urgency of the global environmental situation. Past administrations’ approaches to human rights and democracy promotion abroad have varied. Biden’s emphasis on these issues is partly a response to criticisms of previous administrations’ approaches, seeking to reassert U.S. leadership on democratic values on the global stage.
The rise of China as a military power, particularly in the South China Sea and its border regions, poses significant strategic challenges. China’s military modernization and assertive territorial claims have led to increased tensions with its neighbors and the U.S. China’s economic growth and global manufacturing hub have significant implications for U.S. economic policy. Issues like trade imbalances, intellectual property rights, and technology competition are central to U.S.-China relations.
Diplomatically, the challenge lies in engaging China on global issues like climate change and North Korea while competing for influence in regions like Africa and Latin America.
Russia’s military actions, particularly in Eastern Europe (e.g., the Ukraine conflict) and its advanced cyber capabilities, pose direct security challenges. NATO’s role and U.S. commitments in Eastern Europe are central to countering these threats. Economic sanctions have been a primary tool in responding to Russian aggression. Balancing the impact of these sanctions, both on Russia and global markets is a complex task. Diplomatic efforts focus on managing tensions while addressing global security issues like arms control and regional conflicts, in which Russia plays a key role.
The U.S. faces challenges related to ongoing conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and the threat of terrorism. The complex interplay of regional powers, like Iran and Saudi Arabia, adds to the military challenges. Oil and energy security are key economic interests in the region. Balancing relationships with major oil producers while promoting energy diversification is a strategic challenge. Diplomatically, the U.S. must navigate issues like the Israel-Palestine conflict, the Iran nuclear deal, and broader efforts to promote stability and counter extremism.
Trade agreements, like the USMCA (replacing NAFTA) and potential agreements with the EU and Asia-Pacific nations, significantly influence U.S. foreign policy. These agreements impact global trade norms, labor standards, and environmental policies. Using economic sanctions against countries like Iran, North Korea, and Russia serves as a tool for addressing security threats but has broader implications for global economic stability and relations. Foreign aid is a tool for promoting U.S. interests, supporting development, and fostering favorable relations. Balancing aid with strategic interests is a key aspect of foreign policy.
These institutions play critical roles in global economic stability. U.S. policies and influence in these institutions affect international responses to economic crises, development projects, and financial stability. The U.S. approach to the World Trade Organization and global trade norms significantly impacts international economic relations. Policies on tariffs, trade disputes, and intellectual property rights are key elements of this interaction. Participation in these forums allows the U.S. to engage in global economic governance, addressing economic recovery post-COVID-19, global taxation, and financial regulation.
Under Biden, the U.S. has reaffirmed its commitment to NATO, a shift from the previous administration’s more critical stance. This includes increased engagement and support for Eastern European members in response to Russian aggression. This revitalization of NATO ties strengthens collective defense and serves as a deterrent against Russian expansionism. It also reinforces the U.S. role in European security, impacting Biden’s broader foreign policy objectives. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue has gained prominence as a strategic forum. It is a counterbalance to China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region. The Quad’s focus on maritime security, cybersecurity, and economic cooperation aligns with Biden’s policy of engaging allies in a collective response to regional challenges, particularly those posed by China. Re-engaging with allies and international institutions, rejoining the Paris Agreement, and renewing talks on the Iran nuclear deal are diplomatic successes.
Challenges remain in areas like the North Korean nuclear issue, complex relations with Turkey within NATO, and managing the fallout of the Afghanistan withdrawal.
Cyber threats, including state-sponsored cyber-attacks, significantly impact national security and international relations. The U.S. has been focusing on strengthening its cyber defenses and international cooperation in this domain. AI’s role in military and economic realms is increasingly important. The U.S. competes with nations like China and Russia in advancing AI technology, which has implications for national security and economic competitiveness. Climate change has become a central aspect of U.S. foreign policy under Biden. Rejoining the Paris Agreement and committing to significant carbon emission reductions reflects this focus. Biden’s administration views climate change as an environmental issue and a matter of international security, economic policy, and global health, influencing various aspects of foreign relations.
Rising tensions with China and Russia, evolving dynamics in the Middle East, and challenges in the Indo-Pacific region will continue to shape U.S. foreign policy. Ongoing global health challenges and the escalating impact of climate change will require sustained attention and innovative policy responses. Continue strengthening alliances and engaging in multilateral diplomacy, while effectively managing relations with major powers like China and Russia. Prioritize advancements in technology and cybersecurity to maintain a competitive edge and ensure national security. Integrate climate change mitigation strategies across all aspects of foreign policy, promoting global environmental sustainability.
In summary, President Biden’s foreign policy as of 2024 is characterized by a commitment to multilateralism, a reinvigorated focus on alliances, and a comprehensive approach to global challenges, including human rights and global health. The administration faces the ongoing task of navigating complex geopolitical landscapes, balancing strategic interests with values like human rights and democracy, and addressing pressing global issues such as climate change and cybersecurity. Biden’s foreign policy trajectory suggests a continued emphasis on diplomacy, alliance-building, and engagement with international institutions. However, challenges such as managing relations with major powers, responding to global health crises, and addressing the multifaceted impacts of climate change will require adaptive and forward-looking strategies. Biden’s approach, blending traditional U.S. foreign policy principles with responses to new global realities, is poised to shape the international order significantly.
is a member of the Association for Asian Studies (Ann Arbor), of The author is a member of the Association of Extra-European Studies (Pisa) and of the Italian Society of International History (Padua). His current research interests include the foreign policy of the People’s Republic of China and Western imperialism in China of the last Qing.