In early February, Joe Biden went to the State Department to give them first foreign policy address his presidency. Its main theme was the need to restore America’s global leadership by first adopting a policy of diplomacy and repairing the damage Donald Trump caused to US alliances. In support of this pledge, Biden reported on a number of steps he has already taken, from expanding the new START nuclear weapons reduction treaty with Russia to the resumption of the Paris Agreement and the World Health Organization. He has also promised to rejoin the Iranian nuclear deal.
These are all positive steps, but a more effective and progressive foreign policy requires more than just undoing the damage of the Trump years. It means focusing on the real risks to human security – from the pandemic to climate change to racial and economic injustice. A good place to start would be to reduce the Pentagon’s bloated budget, which is close to three-quarters of a trillion Dollar per year is at one of its highest levels since World War II and accounts for well over half of the government’s discretionary budget. Biden has remained silent on this point, but it must be addressed if he is to make the sustained investments in public health, environmental protection and the fight against poverty and inequality that we urgently need.
Biden’s most encouraging concrete announcement was his promise to end “all American support for offensive operations in the Yemen war, including relevant arms sales.” (In contrast, Barack Obama supplied Saudi Arabia with dozens of Billions of dollars worth of weapons and provided logistical support for his brutal war in Yemen.) Biden also announced the appointment of a special envoy, Timothy Lenderking, to direct US efforts to push for an end to that war. Such efforts are long overdue: Almost 250,000 people have died in Yemen since the war began United Nations December 2020 report. Millions of Yemenis are on the verge of famine, and the country is uniquely vulnerable to diseases such as cholera and Covid-19 due to the destruction of much of its health infrastructure and lack of access to clean water and life-saving medicines.
Biden’s policy change is a victory for human rights, humanitarian, arms control, peace and foreign policy reform organizations that have worked closely with groups in Yemen and the Yemeni diaspora, such as Mwatana for Human Rights and the Yemen Aid and Reconstruction Foundation, to the in Key moments include congressional leaders like Representative Ro Khanna and Senators Chris Murphy, Mike Lee, and Bernie Sanders. For years you worked to end US support for the war and to find an inclusive, peaceful solution to the conflict.
Biden’s announcement, while encouraging, raised as many questions as it answered. What are “offensive operations” and which arms sales are “relevant”? At least the new policy should block all Large arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and prohibition of targeted support, information exchange, maintenance and support of weapon systems supplied in the USA. Over 80 progressive groups and individuals, led by Win Without War, the Yemeni Alliance Committee MADRE and the Center for International Politics, have called on the administration to permanently break off dozen of tens of billions of dollars in arms deals with the two Arabian Gulf monarchies.
Yemen is just the most egregious case of US-supplied weapons used to cause civil damage. Biden’s pledge to reverse the negative effects of US arms and military assistance should go beyond Yemen and address the actions of other ruthless and authoritarian regimes such as Nigeria, Egypt, Bahrain and the Philippines.
In his speech, Biden also pledged to review the US global military stance. This provides an opportunity to discuss whether Washington really needs 800 overseas military bases, nearly 200,000 overseas troops, numerous worldwide special forces operations, and routine drone strikes in conflict areas. A thorough discussion of the issue, involving both the public and Congress, is essential if we are to make sense of the goal of “ending wars that never run out.”
Biden also spoke harshly about combating Russia and China’s misdeeds, acknowledging that we need to work with them on issues such as arms control and climate change. The government must respond to the fact that the greatest threats to human life can only be addressed through cooperation with rival powers and not through confrontation, and therefore avoid another Cold War or arms race with China.
Biden’s speech was a refreshing change from the unpredictable transactional approach of the past four years. But there is still much to be specified if Washington really wants to embark on a new course in which diplomacy really comes first and we abandon once and for all the militarized foreign policy approach that has shaped US policy for so many years .