Geopolitics

The Biden Administration: A Day-One Geopolitical Tour

Will Biden guarantee warmer relations with historic allies and tougher stances on human rights? A region-by-region wrap up by Le Monde.

The next president on the move...
Piotr Smolar

PARIS — For several days, diplomatic time had seemed suspended in the face of the complicated spectacle of the vote count in the United States. Finally, the announcement of Joe Biden's victory arrived, prompting expected resistance from Donald Trump and a shower of congratulations from world leaders. Change, indeed, is coming. Le Monde"s Piotr Smolar unpacks the unpredictable transfer of power in Washington and the global chessboard ahead of a new U.S. administration that has a very different world view:

New protocol Heads of state did not wait for the loser, Donald Trump, to concede defeat, abandoning the traditional custom.

  • On Saturday, Chancellor Angela Merkel congratulated Joe Biden: "Our transatlantic friendship is irreplaceable if we are to master the great challenges of our time."
  • France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian laid out the joint roadmap on Twitter: "We will have much to do together in this rebalanced relationship: collective security, the fight against terrorism, public health, climate, trade, digital regulation. We will defend our values, our interests, the search for shared solutions and multilateralism."

Rebalancing special relationships The relief and willingness to make a fresh start is evident among Europeans. Despite Merkel stepping down in a few months, Macron will not have to claim the rank of sole herald of multilateralism with Trump out of office.

  • The arrival of a Democratic president, well versed in international issues and transatlantic dialogue, must not, above all, slow down Europe's growing awareness of its own strategic, economic and military interests.
  • Their central hope is the revitalization of the transatlantic relationship, in a context that is inevitably different from the Obama era. The Europeans want to assert their sovereignty and not let themselves be trampled by the Chinese-American clash. Will these resolutions hold once Donald Trump is out of sight?
  • Europeans are aware of the immense difficulties awaiting Joe Biden: a country fractured and devastated by COVID-19, the loss of American credibility on the world stage and a Senate that could remain controlled by Republicans.

The populism question at home Europeans observed the American election as a historic test for a democracy under high pressure, which could provide important lessons in the fight against populist demagogic movements. The turnout is "historically high in the U.S — unfortunately, so was polarization," the head of German diplomacy, Heiko Maas, shared on Twitter on Nov. 5.

Biden has been deeply involved in U.S. foreign policy for decades. — Photo: Chatham House

Renewing commitments Joe Biden claims he will "restore the soul of America." On the level of international relations, this will require that he keeps his word and renews the country's commitment to multilateral frameworks (World Health Organization, UNESCO, the agreement on Iran's nuclear program, etc.), abandoned by the Trump administration.

  • Europeans are expecting initial symbolic gestures, such as an immediate return to the Paris climate agreement, or messages of solidarity toward allies in NATO. The restoration of a certain transatlantic normality will first be formal.
  • This counts in diplomacy. Healthy relations imply seeing each other on a regular basis — if COVID-19 allows it — and regaining a standard of predictability. No more scornful words or cookie-cutter talk, but more substantive work.
  • However, Europeans will have to do this work in advance in order to present the new administration with possible areas of convergence and to take charge, alone, of certain political and security issues on the periphery of the EU.

Chinese and Russian perspectives The American pivot toward Asia, the desire to close the chapter of "endless wars' (Afghanistan, Iraq), the attachment to a hard line toward China: All these points have become common ground in Washington between Republicans and Democrats.

  • On the Chinese side, Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng expressed the wish, a few days ago, that the next American administration would meet Beijing "halfway," in a spirit of mutual respect. But there is no indication at this stage that a Biden administration would become more conciliatory — just more polite and less erratic.
  • In Moscow, great caution was also called for in the initial response from government officials. The spokesperson for Russian diplomacy, Maria Zakharova, did not, however, refrain during the count from noting "the archaic nature of the relevant legislation" and the "obvious shortcomings of the American electoral system."
  • In reality, however, ambivalent feelings dominate in the Kremlin. The Trump era was marked by regular suspicions of collusion between the Kremlin and the entrepreneur. Nothing positive has taken place in bilateral relations, particularly in the revision of the structure of disarmament treaties, which are in the middle of breaking down.
  • An ambitious reset, like the one Barack Obama tried in vain at the beginning of his presidency, seems unlikely under Joe Biden. For the Democrats, it is more a question of neutralizing Moscow, a second-tier actor, than of fuelling a diplomatic process that leads to nothing concrete.

How it looks in the Middle East Donald Trump considered his record on the international scene to be among his greatest achievements. This included initiating the U.S. military withdrawal from the Middle East, particularly from Iraq, and holding tough positions vis-à-vis China, a systemic rival.

  • In addition, the signing of the Abraham Accords on Sept. 15 between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain reinforced the White House's entire regional strategy. For the past four years, the Trump adminisrtration has helped facilitate a rapprochement between Israel and the Sunni Arab countries, in the name of a common mistrust against Iran and at the cost of burying the Palestinian cause.
  • What seemed implausible has taken place, through a purely transactional approach, in defiance of history and the commitments of the past. Joe Biden is likely to rebalance American rhetoric, but not go back on unilateral initiatives such as the recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.
  • On the other hand, his willingness to reenter the Iranian nuclear agreement, if Tehran agreed to go back to the drawing board, could provoke tensions with a possible Republican-controlled Senate and also with Israel. Tzachi Hanegbi, the minister of settlement affairs and a close ally of Benyamin Netanyahu, said this could lead to a "confrontation between Israel and Iran."
  • The Israeli Prime Minister must make intricate political calculations, so much so that he owes it to Trump. He did not join in the congratulations on Saturday evening, waiting until Sunday to talk about his "warm personal relationship for nearly 40 years'with the new American president-elect.
  • In Iran, on the other hand, it is hoped that the policy of "maximum pressure" exerted by the U.S. will be reversed.
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Thousands of migrants in Del Rio, Texas, on the border between Mexico and the U.S.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 Сайн уу*

Welcome to Friday, where the new U.S.-UK-Australia security pact is under fire, Italy becomes the first country to make COVID-19 "green pass" mandatory for all workers, and Prince Philip's will is to be kept secret for 90 years. From Russia, we also look at the government censorship faced by brands that recently tried to promote multiculturalism and inclusiveness in their ads.

[*Sain uu - Mongolian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• U.S. facing multiple waves of migrants, refugees: The temporary camp, located between Mexico's Ciudad Acuña and Del Rio in Texas, is housing some 10,000 people, largely from Haiti. With few resources, they are forced to wait in squalid conditions and scorching temperatures amidst a surge of migrants attempting to cross into the U.S. Meanwhile, thousands of recently evacuated Afghan refugees wait in limbo at U.S. military bases, both domestic and abroad.

• COVID update: Italy is now the first European country to require vaccination for all public and private sector workers from Oct. 15. The Netherlands will also implement a "corona pass" in the following weeks for restaurants, bars and cultural spaces. When he gives an opening speech at the United Nations General Assembly next week, unvaccinated Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will defy New York City authorities, who are requiring jabs for all leaders and diplomats.

• U.S. and UK face global backlash over Australian deal: The U.S. is attempting to diffuse the backlash over the new security pact signed with Australia and the UK, which excludes the European Union. The move has angered France, prompting diplomats to cancel a gala to celebrate ties between the country and the U.S.

• Russian elections: Half of the 450 seats in Duma are will be determined in today's parliamentary race. Despite persistent protests led by imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny, many international monitors and Western governments fear rigged voting will result in President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party maintaining its large majority.

• Somali president halts prime minister's authority: The decision by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed marks the latest escalation in tensions with Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble concerning a murder investigation. The move comes as the Horn of Africa country has fallen into a political crisis driven by militant violence and clashes between clans.

• Astronauts return to Earth after China's longest space mission: Three astronauts spent 90 days at the Tianhe module and arrived safely in the Gobi desert in Inner Mongolia. The Shenzhou-12 mission is the first of crewed missions China has planned for 2021-2022 as it completes its first permanent space station.

• Prince Philip's will to be kept secret for 90 years: A British court has ruled that the will of Prince Philip, the late husband of Britain's Queen Elizabeth who passed away in April at 99 years old, will remain private for at least 90 years to preserve the monarch's "dignity and standing."

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

With a memorable front-page photo, Argentine daily La Voz reports on the open fight between the country's president Alberto Fernández and vice-president Cristina Kirchner which is paralyzing the government. Kirchner published a letter criticizing the president's administration after several ministers resigned and the government suffered a major defeat in last week's midterm primary election.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

€150

An Italian investigation uncovered a series of offers on encrypted "dark web" websites offering to sell fake EU COVID vaccine travel documents. Italy's financial police say its units have seized control of 10 channels on the messaging service Telegram linked to anonymous accounts that were offering the vaccine certificates for up to €150. "Through the internet and through these channels, you can sell things everywhere in the world," finance police officer Gianluca Berruti told Euronews.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

In Russia, brands advertising diversity are under attack

Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi removed an advertisement with a Black man and apologized for offending the Russian nation, while a grocery chain was attacked for featuring an LGBTQ couple, reports Moscow-based daily Kommersant.

❌ "On behalf of the entire company, we want to apologize for offending the public with our photos..." reads a recent statement by Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi after publishing an advertisement that included a photograph of a Black man. Shortly after, the company's co-founder, Konstantin Zimen, said people on social media were accusing Yobidoyobi of promoting multiculturalism. Another recent case involved grocery store chain VkusVill, which released advertising material featuring a lesbian couple. The company soon began to receive threats and quickly apologized and removed the text and apologized.

🏳️🌈 For the real life family featured in the ad, they have taken refuge in Spain, after their emails and cell phone numbers were leaked. "We were happy to express ourselves as a family because LGBTQ people are often alone and abandoned by their families in Russia," Mila, one of the daughters in the ad, explained in a recent interview with El Pais.

🇷🇺 It is already common in Russia to talk about "spiritual bonds," a common designation for the spiritual foundations that unite modern Russian society, harkening back to the Old Empire as the last Orthodox frontier. The expression has been mocked as an internet meme and is widely used in public rhetoric. For opponents, this meme is a reason for irony and ridicule. Patriots take spiritual bonds very seriously: The government has decided to focus on strengthening these links and the mission has become more important than protecting basic human rights.Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi removed an advertisement with a Black man and apologized for offending the Russian nation, while a grocery chain was attacked for featuring an LGBTQ couple, reports Moscow-based daily Kommersant.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"Ask the rich countries: Where are Africa's vaccines?"

— During an online conference, Dr. Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija, of the African Vaccine Delivery Alliance, implored the international community to do more to inoculate people against COVID-19 in Africa and other developing regions. The World Health Organization estimates that only 3.6% of people living in Africa have been fully vaccinated. The continent is home to 17% of the world population, but only 2% of the nearly six billion shots administered so far have been given in Africa, according to the W.H.O.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

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