On 4 February, 2021, United States (US) President Joe Biden delivered his first speech on American foreign policy. Notably, he was keen to deliver the speech from State Department headquarters, in the presence of Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. In the speech, Biden raised the slogan "America is back," emphasizing the return of American diplomacy and pointing to the strong relationship between foreign policy and the domestic situation. The most prominent foreign policy issues addressed in the American president’s speech can be addressed as follows:
1- Raising the slogan "America is back" and "diplomacy first": In the opening of his speech, Biden focused on the idea that the US has come back, and that it would return to leading through diplomacy, strengthening alliances, confronting the world’s dictatorships, and protecting democracy and justice. He said the world needs the US to lead once more in order to face the pressing crises it faces in the current moment.
2- Affirming the centrality of American diplomacy: Biden indicated multiple times that American diplomacy has returned. He stressed the need to adhere to American diplomatic values of freedom, democracy, and rule of law, criticizing the previous American administration that ignored these values in recent years, damaging the US image in the world. More than that, Biden considered the former administration to have pushed matters, in an unprecedented way, to the edge of the abyss in recent days. So he stressed the need to address all the problems caused by this administration.
Diplomacy must be the primary instrument, Biden emphasized, in dealing with both allies and adversaries in order to ensure that US interests in the world are achieved. On the latter point, he noted that the US had extended the START Treaty with Russia to ensure the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in the world.
3- Linking foreign policy with the domestic situation: Vice President Kamala Harris has emphasized that American strength starts from within, and that success in combatting the pandemic, building the economy, and addressing racial issues is the true beginning of a strong foreign policy that would achieve US interests. Biden also emphasized that US eagerness to re-engage in world issues would necessarily reflect on the interests and conditions of American citizens at home. In this context, he gave as an example that when the US supports health systems in the world to face the pandemic, it protects US citizens from the impacts of infection and the pandemic.
4- Emphasizing transparency, integrity, and fulfilling obligations: Biden considered American diplomats in the world to be the face of the country. He largely focused on the need for American diplomats to demonstrate values of transparency and integrity in order to realize the American people’s interests through foreign policy. He praised sacrifices made by American diplomats and their families, pledging at the same time that the US would focus in the coming period on fulfilling its international obligations: "America Will Deliver."
5- Mobilizing allies and re-engaging in global issues: Biden’s emphasis was clear in re-establishing alliances, engaging in global issues such as global warming, the fight against the pandemic, support for human rights, democracy, the rule of law, and other issues. This was to be done in collaboration with the countries of the world, mobilizing friends and allies to work together. He considered working with friends and allies to be necessary to ensure that effective foreign policy is achieved. The US cannot act alone in the international arena. He also singled out some states, such as Canada, Mexico, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and Australia.
6- Ending the policy of inaction and leniency with Moscow: Biden mentioned that he had made it clear to Putin that the US policy of inaction was over, especially relating to Russian cyberattacks, and said he would raise the price Russia could pay due to its policies. He strongly criticized the detention of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, saying he had exposed corruption in Russia and that he should be released. Biden added that human rights must be respected, and political assemblies not repressed in Russia, saying these are a matter of concern for the international community.
7- Condemning the military coup in Myanmar: Biden strongly criticized the military’s seizure of power in Myanmar, stressing the need for the military to leave power and release detainees immediately. He also alluded to work to mobilize the international community to deal with the coup and restore democracy and the rule of law in Myanmar.
8- Competing with China from a position of strength: Biden criticized Chinese economic abuses, as well as what he considered to be violations of human rights and intellectual property. He stressed that the US would compete with China from a position of strength, working with allies in international institutions to ensure that China fulfills its obligations.
9- Urging states to commit to climate policies: Biden noted that he signed an executive order to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement as a necessary step to achieve climate goals. He also stressed that the US would work to urge and convince world nations to limit carbon emissions and commit to climate policies, noting the US commitment to ethical principles in foreign policy.
10- Intensifying international efforts to confront the pandemic: Biden stressed the need to intensify global efforts in face of the pandemic. He noted that the US is returning to play a large role in the World Health Organization (WHO) and working to coordinate with allies to counter and confront it.
11- Reviewing arms deals and military movements: Biden said he has instructed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to review military actions and arms deals in line with the foreign policy and national security interests of the US. He emphasized the need to review all relevant US agencies, and pointed to halting steps to withdraw American forces from Germany.
12- Stopping the war in Yemen: Biden singled out the war in Yemen as part of his speech, stressing the need to put an end to a war that, as he put it, has created a humanitarian catastrophe. He also referred to stopping all American support for military operations in Yemen and stopping arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Biden pressed the need to establish peace and a ceasefire in Yemen, as well as ensure the arrival of humanitarian aid to the Yemeni people. He also highlighted the appointment of a new American special envoy to Yemen and the necessity of his work to push all parties to reach a diplomatic resolution to the conflict.
13- Accepting more refugees: Biden noted that there are 80 million displaced people worldwide, saying the US would be a safe haven for the oppressed. In this vein, he noted that he would give an executive order to increase the number of refugees in the US. He also underscored the need to promote the rights of marginalized people in the world, as well as overturning the ban on Muslims entering the US.
14- Increasing US credibility: Biden emphasized that US policies would focus on the facts, addressing problems with racial justice and white supremacy. This would not be limited to one US institution, but rather be emphasized in all institutions. He said achieving justice and credibility at home in America would help increase US credibility abroad thereby facilitating the success of US foreign policy.
15- Strengthening the role of the US State Department: Biden repeatedly stressed bolstering the role of the State Department and renewed focus on diplomatic work. He praised the vast experience of US diplomats around the world and stressed the need to be ethical in diplomatic institutions, opening the door to debate and discussion in order to reach the best perspectives while respecting the right to dissent without commandeering opinion or targeting individuals as happened with the previous administration.
In conclusion, Biden noted that, in the coming phase, the US will seek to present strength by example, not the example of force. It would do so by promoting accountability, transparency, and rule of law; respecting freedoms, diversity, and international trade laws; and focusing more on investing in diplomacy.