- European diplomats and foreign policy experts say a Joe Biden presidency would restore America’s strained alliances with Europe.
- Donald Trump’s presidency has put relations between the United States and its closest allies under severe stress.
- The president’s attacks on international institutions and his disapproval of multilateral measures have long tested alliances.
- A senior UK diplomat told Business Insider they believed a Biden presidency would put an end to the “venal corruption” of the Trump era.
- Visit the Business Insider website for more stories.
The transatlantic alliance between the United States and its European allies has been under increasing pressure since Trump’s 2016 election.
The president’s attacks on multilateral institutions such as NATO, his attacks on Europe’s rapprochement with Iran and his decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement have all tested the long-standing “special relationship” with Britain and other European allies.
The damage has been reflected by the European public, with recent polls showing a collapse in US perceptions across the Atlantic.
However, optimism in European diplomatic circles is growing that much of the damage could be undone if the president lost in this year’s election.
An elderly UK diplomat, who asked not to be named, told Business Insider that a Biden presidency would bring a welcome end to “venal corruption” in the Trump era.
“Many things will change if Biden wins,” the diplomat said.
“The Trump family’s venal corruption and the nasty narcissistic aspects of his behavior – all of which will come with a different kind of president,” they said.
“Instead of having a one-sided America policy alone with a Biden, you would have a ‘let’s work with our allies to find solutions’ strategy.”
The diplomat’s comments echoed those made by Biden’s foreign policy adviser Antony Blinken, who signaled earlier this year that the United States under Biden would rebuild US relations with multilateral institutions.
“When Joe Biden looks at the world, one thing stands out,” he told London-based think tank Chatham House, in comments reported by the Guardian. “Whether or not we like it, the world tends not to organize itself, and for 75 plus years, the United States played the leading role in organizing the world, establishing the institutions, writing the rules and setting the standards.”
“If we don’t, one of two things happens. Either someone is different, and probably not in a way that promotes our interest and values, or no one is, and it can get even worse. Then you have a vacuum that tend to be filled with evil things before good things. So the United States has a responsibility and self-interest to lead with humility. “
The distance between Washington and its allies has been particularly noticeable in the UK, where relations with Washington have been heavily tested by Britain’s decision to sign a deal with Chinese telecom company Huawei to develop its 5G network, despite repeated opposition and threats from Trump’s administration.
US officials also became angry in June with plans for Huawei to build a research and development center for £ 400 million in Cambridge, England.
This does not mean that Biden would adopt a settlement strategy against China. He has actually signaled that he will take a similar tough line against China to Trump and has even criticized Donald Trump for being too soft against Beijing.
“Democrats are just as acute on this issue as Republicans,” said Heather Conley, senior vice president for Europe, Eurasia and the Arctic at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“The tactics will be very different. I suppose a Biden administration will not launch customs and a trade war against their allies.
“They will try to convince them [instead] to reduce dependence on Chinese investment, especially in telecommunications. But the message will still be the same. “
“That’s where I think the R&D center will be a major concern for a Biden administration as much as it would for a Trump administration,” Conley said.
A British diplomat told Business Insider: “[Issues] like taking a firm line with China, like Iran – these things will remain the bone of contention. These [Biden and his allies] are people who believe in alliances, in the difference between right and wrong, and in the US moral position as the leader of the free world. But they accept that it must be served. “
Biden’s hostile rhetoric towards China indicates that the state of the United Kingdom and the United States may well be governed by how Boris Johnson chooses to deal with Britain’s relationship with Beijing.
The prime minister has not formally signaled that he will pull the UK out of the deal to allow Huawei to build part of the UK’s 5G network, but he indicated this week that he was thinking “very carefully” if he would continue with the deal because he “did not want to see our critical national infrastructure risks being controlled in some way by potentially hostile state suppliers. “
Conservative MPs and Downing Street are increasingly concerned about Britain’s dependence on China for investment and imports.
These concerns have only grown due to the coronavirus pandemic, which highlighted Britain’s dependence on China.
A UK-US trade agreement will remain challenging
Conley also suggested that Britain’s decision may have been driven in part by a UK ruling that the US Congress would not approve a free trade agreement if the Huawei decision continued.
“What I have seen in recent weeks is a significant change in the UK’s position – whether that is partly due to the reality of a UK-US free trade agreement, and knowing that Congress would not approve a free trade agreement unless the Huawei issue was addressed, or if there was now so much pressure from intelligence channels and others that the government made a decision that it had to move from its position, “she said.
There is also dampened optimism among some trade experts that a Biden administration could bolster the prospects for a UK-US free trade agreement, where progress has stalled in recent months.
Although the effects of such a trade deal would be economically negligible – increasing the economy by only 0.16% in 15 years – Downing Street believes it would represent a significant political gain and mark a new era of global trade after Brexit.
Currently, barriers to an agreement include the US demand that the UK lose resistance to importing US agricultural products, as well as the UK’s plans to introduce a tax on digital services, which could mean large US tech companies face much higher taxes.
But Gary Hufbauer, a senior at the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics, told Business Insider that a Biden administration would be more likely to be willing to compromise with several sticking points in the negotiations.
“I think a Biden administration would be more willing to live and let live,” Hufbauer told Business Insider.
“Biden insists [food safety standards] would not be nearly as insistent as with the Trump administration. So that would make it easier in a deal with the UK, he said.
In addition, he said, a Biden administration would also seem more inclined to seek a compromise on the tax on digital services, possibly in the form of an agreed international cap on how much revenue it can provide.
However, James Kane, a trading partner at the British Institute of Government’s think tank, said a Biden administration would be unlikely to lose its current demands on agriculture.
“When it comes to trade policy, the United States is strongly driven by domestic business interests – and this is especially true of agriculture,” he told Business Insider.
“The US goal will continue to bring US agricultural products to the UK. It will still mean removing tariffs and non-tariff barriers such as the ban on hormone-treated beef and chlorinated chicken.
“The United States was trying to do that with the European Union under Obama, and I don’t see why they would do it differently under President Biden.”
“A very large part of US trade policy is bipartisan. It has always been America First. Trump has just been the first to express it in such a crude way.”