February 4, 2021
President Joe Biden gave his first major speech on U.S. foreign policy today as president. Speaking at the State Department, President Biden stressed the importance of diplomacy, pledged to reaffirm U.S. leadership on the global stage, and announced multiple policy changes from the Trump administration.
President Biden was welcomed to the State Department by Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Secretary Blinken spoke to the need to use diplomacy to advance U.S. interests around the globe. Vice President Kamala Harris was also in attendance.
- Russia – President Biden said he made it clear in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin that the days of America “rolling over in the face of Russia’s aggressive actions, interfering with our elections, cyber-attacks, poisoning its citizens are over.” Biden said the U.S. “will not hesitate to raise the cost on Russia” if needed and will seek to work with partners to be effective in dealing with Russia. Speaking on the jailing of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, President Biden said he should be released immediately and without condition. Biden said that yesterday the U.S. and Russia agreed to extend the New START Treaty in order to preserve “the only remaining treaty between our countries safeguarding nuclear stability.”
- China – President Biden called China the most serious competitor and pledged to “confront China’s economic abuses, counter its aggressive coercive action, and push back on China’s attack on human rights, intellectual property and global governance.” Biden touted his American Rescue plan, which he said will help advance a foreign policy for the middle-class. This domestic economic renewal will maintain America’s competitive edge, Biden argued, through strengthening Buy American policies and allowing for U.S. companies to compete, which no country, including China, can match.
- Burma – President Biden said over the last few days the United States has been working with its partners to address the coup in Burma. Biden said he has talked to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) about their shared concerns about the situation, and stated they were “united in their resolve.” Biden called on the Burmese military to relinquish power and release those they have detained and avoid violence. He also called on them to lift the telecommunications blackout and that the U.S. will work with its partners to restore democracy and “impose consequences” on those who are deemed responsible.
- Climate – President Biden argued the United States must lead again on climate issues and will integrate climate objectives in U.S. diplomacy. Biden announced he would be hosting a summit with climate leaders on Earth Day to address the threat of climate change.
- Review of U.S. Posture in Europe and Middle East – President Biden said the United States plans to take a more diplomatic approach to end the war in Yemen. He said the U.S. will no longer provide American support for “offensive operations in the war in Yemen including relevant arms sales.” However, Biden did add that the United States will continue to support Saudi Arabia defend its sovereignty as it faces threats from Iran. Biden also announced a halt of the plans put in motion by the Trump administration to remove U.S. troops from Germany.
- Refugees and LGBTQI Policies – President Biden said he will issue a Presidential memo to agencies to “reinvigorate our leadership on LGBTQI issues.” Biden said U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance will work to promote the rights of LGBTQI individuals including through protecting them from criminalization and protecting refugees and asylum seekers. Biden announced he was approving today an executive order to restore the refugee admissions program and raise the admissions back to the 125,000-person limit.
President Biden’s foreign policy speech was a stark departure from speeches made under his predecessor. Choosing the State Department as the location for his first major foreign policy speech was intentional as it was a signal from his administration on a return to diplomacy and emphasize the importance of American diplomats. Throughout their speeches, President Biden and Secretary Blinken placed a heavy importance on the return to more traditional diplomacy and work with alliances and multilateral institutions to advance U.S. foreign policy. With the pandemic still raging, Biden did stress the need to advance a foreign policy geared towards protecting the American middle-class that would help drive a U.S. economic rebound.
President Biden announced multiple reversals of Trump-era policies on a wide range of issues, highlighting his view of a more Democratic and progressive approach on issues ranging from climate change to U.S. involvement in Yemen.
Biden focused part of his speech on State Department employees and diplomats, promising he would “empower [diplomats] to do your jobs” and “not target or politicize you.” He emphasized “restoring the health and morale of our foreign policy institutions” as morale was reportedly very low under the Trump administration.