A number of recent decisions and steps taken by the Biden administration have clearly announced the US’ intention to reassert its position as an international leader that leads responsibly and by example.
The most important step, given its global implications, and the most anticipated one consisted in the US re-joining the Paris Agreement on climate change, and in President Biden convening around 40 global leaders – the fourth week of April 2021 – for a virtual summit on climate change where he called for the US to make a 50% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030.
Shortly after, on the 24th of April, also known as the Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, President Joe Biden read a statement where, for the first time an American administration used the word “genocide” to characterize the events that had taken place during the campaign conducted by the Ottoman Empire against its ethnic Armenian citizens, starting with 1915.
Finally, yet preceding the above, the Biden administration announced – on the 15th of April – it would impose on Russia a broad array of new sanctions, with the main goal of making it more difficult for Moscow to borrow money from global markets. Washington made it clear that the sanctions were meant to punish Russia for interfering in the (American) presidential elections in 2020, for cyber hacking government agencies and companies, and for its destabilizing campaign at the borders with Ukraine.
The steps described above represent – both by their content and in terms of symbolism – a clear departure from the course set for the American foreign policy during Donald Trump’s administration and even before that (on the matter of the Armenian genocide).
To what extent will the Biden administration succeed in reinstating America as a global leader – a role it badly needs but that is as difficult to obtain? And we should not forget that, in order to secure their cooperation (China’s on climate) or prevent possible escalations (mostly with Russia but also Turkey – on the Armenian genocide) the Biden administration has approached the relevant international players in advance.
The first major challenge for the US, after four years of isolationism, “America First”, and absence from the climate fight, is regaining its credibility. In his speech at the opening of the weeklong climate summit, secretary of state Anthony Blinken emphasized and warned, at the same time: “If America fails to lead the world in addressing the climate crisis, we won’t have much of a world left.” On the other hand, the Chinese Foreign Ministry let the world know where Beijing stood: “The US choses to come and go as it likes, with regard to Paris Agreement”. And, according to the Chinese side, the American-Chinese talks in Beijing, preceding the summit ended with an agreement to cooperate on climate crisis, but no new pledges promised.
And yet, the US credibility proves to be a matter related not only to the international relevant players’ perceptions and behaviour. It is also related to the specifics of the alternating Democratic and Republican administrations, traditionally accompanied by deep divisions in the Congress – including over investments in clean energy.
As far as Russia is concerned, which has proven its potential and ability to threaten Europe’s stability and security as well as the transatlantic link, Vladimir Putin responded to the recent American sanctions by escalating in the Black Sea area. And, illustrative for the effects of this escalation on the overall equation of the US-Russia relations, the day Vladimir Putin spoke with President Biden on the phone (April 13) Washington cancelled a planned naval visit to Ukraine (in the Black Sea).