The 2020 presidential election is less than five months away. While the news cycle is still dominated by the pandemic and the economic consequences of the lockdown, the public needs to learn more about what is at stake for U.S. foreign policy in the upcoming contest. The Trump administration has taken some high-profile and controversial positions in world affairs. Now the electorate deserves to know where the presumptive Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, stands on these matters. To date, no clear Democratic foreign policy platform has emerged. To make an informed choice in November, it is important for the public to gain insight into Biden’s estimation of world affairs and his plans for the future of American foreign policy.
A list of questions may help the candidate decide whether and how he intends to differentiate himself from President Trump. It is insufficient for candidate Biden simply to repeat that he used to be vice president and therefore has experience. He should instead tell us what he will do with that experience if he wins in November. Will he change our foreign policy? How?
First and most importantly, we need to know how candidate Biden views China. Even before the pandemic, critical views on China were spreading — a reaction against China’s mistreatment of American firms, its military ambitions in the Pacific, and its human rights abuses domestically. Will Biden take steps to defend the autonomy of Hong Kong? What is his red line there? Would a Biden administration continue or reverse the Trump efforts to block the expansion of Chinese technology firm Huawei into sensitive security networks?
Secondly, President Trump broke ground by engaging in direct talks with North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un in the hope of ratcheting down tensions in Northeast Asia and reaching a denuclearization agreement with North Korea. Would a President Biden speak directly with Kim?
Third, with regard to Iran, President Trump chose to walk away from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the deal on Iran’s nuclear program, and has instead pursued a so-called maximum pressure campaign in response to Tehran’s malign ambitions in the region, including its ballistic missile program. Would a Biden administration support the continuation of the arms embargo on Iran, due to expire in October? Will it continue the full sanctions regime? Or will it return to the Obama administration’s practice of providing financial support to Tehran?
Fourth, the Trump administration made good on a long-standing bipartisan American promise to move our embassy to Jerusalem. If he becomes president, will Biden maintain the American Embassy in Jerusalem, recognizing that city as the capital of the state of Israel? Will he also maintain the Trump administration’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights? If he intends to undertake dramatic changes in these matters, the American electorate deserves to know.
Fifth, the Trump administration has asked our European partners to carry their fair share of NATO costs by meeting their 2014 “Wales Pledge” commitment to spend 2% of their GDP on defense. Some countries are on track to reach that goal, but others are not. Notably, Germany is not only underspending but is scheduled to reduce its defense spending even further. Will a Biden administration continue to ask Europeans to cover more of the costs of their own defense, rather than expect American taxpayers to do so?
Sixth, with regard to Russia, the Trump administration has faced years of accusations of proximity to Moscow, even though it has maintained a set of tight sanctions. Will a Biden administration be tougher on Russia? In what ways? Or will it take another shot at the sort of “reset” with Moscow undertaken when Biden was Vice President?
Seventh, how will the Biden policy toward Latin America differ from President Trump’s? Will a Democratic administration continue the pressure against the Maduro regime in Venezuela? Or will it reverse course on Cuba? Trump has succeeded in eliciting cooperation from Mexico to limit migration pressure. Is that policy consistent with the Biden vision, and if not, what changes would a Democratic administration carry out at the southern border?
For the American electorate to evaluate the prospect of a Biden presidency, we need answers to these questions. All these topics have been widely debated. None should come as a surprise. We know where the Trump administration stands. It is time for candidate Biden to break his silence and share his approach to these core foreign policy decisions.
By Russell A. Berman, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and Walter A. Haas Professor in the Humanities at Stanford University. He formerly served as Senior Advisor on the Policy Planning Staff in the Department of State. The views expressed are the authors’ own.