USA 2020: the geopolitical challenges

(To Renato Scarfi)
16/11/20

Even if not yet accepted by Trump, Biden's victory appears to be quite consolidated - with about 3% more voters than the opponent and having exceeded the 270 electors - as he prepares for the next four years at the helm of America.

A divided, angry America, worried about the persistence of the pandemic (which has so far killed thousands), undecided whether to take the path of relative isolationism pursued by Trump with the cry of "America first" or whether to pick up the thread of multilateralism that has ensured the support of the whole West over the last 75 years. An America that has a deep need for reconciliation, especially with itself and its contradictions. An America that risks being poisoned by legal actions which, however desperate, could fuel radicalization and the dangers of spiraling violence. An America that has an outgoing president who has not been reconfirmed who gives the idea of ​​wanting to pull the rope to be able to conduct underground negotiations in order to obtain a presidential pardon on the various legal proceedings that see him as an unenvied protagonist.

Yes, an outgoing president who has undermined customs and the traditional fair play which had characterized the political competitions of the last decades, with the elegant granting of victory to the candidate who obtained the most number of electors and the subsequent elegant invitation to go to the White House to begin the transition. A dignified custom that was also followed by First Lady outgoing versus incoming one. This was not the case and Trump, as an old winning but not very sporty player, who does not accept any defeat, has thrown the whole matter into a fight by throwing accusations, like the farmer throws the seeds on the field, without bringing to date any proof of his claims. So much so that some Courts immediately rejected the appeals presented by the fierce team of Trumpian lawyers.

Nonetheless, the latest consultations have provided some important food for thought. First of all, the strong participation, around 67%, which made it clear how the American population is not as sleepy and detached as some wanted to paint it. Certainly the merit of the enormous mobilization did not go to the two candidates, who led the worst electoral campaign that has been seen since television has existed.

Despite this, popular participation was remarkable and even the candidate who lost won over 70 million votes, about 8 million more votes than when he was elected in 2016. A massive, widespread consensus that demonstrated remarkable skills. tales of Trump, who was able to effectively speak to the belly of the voters, amazing many analysts, who had instead predicted a débacle trumpiana. This is a clear indication of how a substantial part of the country continues to view nationalist populism kindly, for reasons determined by the unease and other internal and external factors that have shaken America and that Trump has been able to grasp and exploit.

A presidency, that of Trump, which has certainly achieved successes both in economic policy and in foreign policy, such as the growth in employment and an increase in national GDP, or as the agreements that have led Israel and some Arab states to start diplomatic relations. Another success of his is undoubtedly not having started any new war, thus saving the sending of young people on fighting fronts far from home. This, however, was not perceived by many as the result of a precise basic strategic vision but only as the satisfaction of the impulse to do the selfish interest of his country, a role which is also interpreted with sometimes questionable criteria and often very not very diplomatic. In his four-year presidency, Trump has above all shown, as some say, all his narcissism and authoritarianism, all his boundless ambition and his aptitude for functional falsehood. Features that before the election led him, with an incredible and dishonest lightness, to deny the validity of a possible opponent's victory.

For his part, Biden was able to wisely recover the votes of some parts of the working class and the educated and moderate middle classes, votes that had not gone to Clinton in 2016. Biden then managed to focus the consensus of ethnic minorities. Despite some superficial analyzes focused on Florida, in fact, well over 70% of Hispanics voted for it, along with about 90% of African-American voters. To these voters were added the discontented by a conduct of public affairs characterized by excessive presidential personalism and worried about the mad management of the pandemic by a Trump who, in this regard, seemed unwilling to listen to the advice of scientists and to apply the most elementary rules of common sense. Finally, among the discontented, also those more moderate Republican voters that Trump's temperamental effervescence had silenced or forgotten should be considered. toto.

Nevertheless, despite having obtained the right to occupy the oval room for the next four years, Biden's future political activity will not be easy, given that there is a concrete possibility of having to pass through the approval of a fierce Senate with a decisive republican majority. The legislative proposals will therefore have to reconcile different needs. In all this, Biden's previous political experience and his knowledge of the mechanisms and institutional balances will certainly help him in finding adequate solutions that respect the role of each organism.

On the domestic front, the new president will find himself first of all having to reconcile the people, to find a common ground of coexistence, an objective that is not easy given, among others, the ethnic fragmentation and the interest of some supremacist fringes in maintaining social tension. There are also important issues with significant social implications, such as the reduction of inequalities, the fight against the pandemic and the extension of health care, the latter so dear to the previous President Obama, but which touches sensitivities that have proven to know themselves. effectively oppose an approach which, fortunately, is common and widespread practice in Europe.

In foreign policy, the diplomatic suitcase of the new president contains delicate international issues, with profound implications for future geopolitical assets. In this context, Biden has already announced his will to return to multilateralism. This probably means a re-entry into WHO and hopefully also into UNESCO, as well as a resumption of implementation of the Paris climate agreements. But it also means a reasonable certainty that any temptations to unilaterally respond to global challenges will be excluded.

This, however, must not lead to think of a radical revision of the US geopolitical strategy. It won't mean America will start doing what others want. In combating environmental degradation, for example, it will have to ensure that it does not affect too much the enormous US interests in the use of fossil energy. Washington will therefore continue to pursue its own interests but, perhaps, also reconciling some needs of its partners and allies, in order to strengthen that close transatlantic relationship which, in the last four years, had cooled somewhat as a victim of Trumpian assertivism. The real strength of the USA, in fact, does not lie in the economy or in technology but in the ability to unite and keep close its allies, European first and foremost, by granting the extension of its nuclear safety umbrella and obtaining political and military collaboration and support , according to the possibilities of each ally. In this context, a less exasperated and more conciliatory US foreign policy could be able to smooth out the roughness that had been created with the allies and could weaken, at least initially, the tensions with the adversaries.

And this is where the currently hottest dossiers come in, such as relations with Russia, China, Iran and the US role in the Mediterranean, back to a sea that is seething between various claims on maritime borders, legal disputes, muscle demonstrations, actions contrary to the provisions of the UN, it threatens jihadi and the drama of illegal immigration.

Some of these issues have seen a marked worsening in recent years also because Europe, already deaf and mute in foreign policy, has found itself increasingly blind strategically, blocked in its initiatives by an excess of cynicism and national interests, which added is the serious economic crisis caused by the pandemic. Exactly the opposite of the vision that inspired the founding fathers. The mediating and stabilizing role of an America that once again wants to engage in this role appears therefore indispensable, also because a less contentious Europe can be very useful to an America that sees the possible challengers to the future grow in number and power. governance worldwide, starting with China and Russia.

It is therefore foreseeable that the first visits abroad of his mandate will be made precisely in the main European capitals, where he will hopefully be convinced that the world match can be played more effectively if the main European allies are included in the first team, and not kept on the bench. or, worse, not summoned. In this case, it would be an important sign of the turnaround with respect to Trump, who has never bothered to disguise his contempt for the European institution, flaunting his desire to undermine its cohesion, sometimes succeeding. In this context, the United Kingdom, vigorously supported by Trump in his race for a “hard” Brexit, may now find itself in the need to soften its position and to negotiate a “softer” and shared Brexit with the EU institutions.

However, some differences of views between the two sides of the Atlantic, relating to some economic aspects, in particular with certain European allies, will remain on the table (trade surpluses, state aid, certain taxation, taxation of the website) and must necessarily be discussed with open mind and availability of all the parties involved, to find a solution that can meet their respective needs. A Europe-USA synergy on these fronts is realistically achievable.

From a political-military profile, Biden, a convinced Atlanticist, will also return to the question of the level of participation of the allies in NATO's expenses, a thorny dossier already carried out by his predecessors. And here the Europeans will have to find a synthesis, despite all the foreseeable difficulties, to reconcile the budgetary problems with a greater integration of the assets, of the Command structures, of the acquisitions of armament material, of the defense industry network. Without concrete steps in this direction, the mere increase in defense spending would have laughable effects on the level of real operational capabilities. Europe's ability to be a security "provider" can certainly be increased, without compromising NATO's irreplaceable coverage, through an approach that hinges on the concept of indivisibility of defense both within the European perimeter and within the framework of the transatlantic relationship. A guide in the troubled decision-making process should be the awareness that the transatlantic relationship must remain the fundamental pillar of Western security, as well as an approach that avoids the conflict between subordination and confrontational autonomy is indispensable.

As for the geopolitical area that closely affects our interests, the Mediterranean, we will see how the new Administration will behave with Turkey, which over the last three years has accentuated its expansionist and destabilizing policy in the central and eastern area. , but who had found a soft edge in Trump. A behavior, that of Erdoğan, that has raised many doubts as to compatibility with Ankara's membership of NATO (see articles). Now Washington could hopefully try to stop Ankara's aggressive eastward drift and bring it back into transatlantic orbit, through an appropriate mix of diplomacy and deterrence.

In the Middle East, the new administration will be able to restart from the results achieved by Trump and the newfound harmony with the Sunni world, which could represent a springboard for new initiatives and proposals aimed at finding a solution to the age-old Israeli-Palestinian problem.

As for Iran, it is foreseeable that Biden will try to recover, with all the necessary distinctions, the relationship that had been established between the ayatollahs regime and the Obama administration, which had led to the signing of the agreement in 2015. on control of Tehran nuclear power, before the criticized withdrawal by the current tenant of the White House. In this context, the aforementioned renewed harmony with the Sunni world, which has always been opposed to the Shiite world, and the profound distrust of US citizens towards Iran could play a restraining role. Nevertheless, it appears essential to start the search for new and relaxing relationships, which would also benefit all the countries bordering the Persian Gulf, another fundamental area for world trade. Also in this case it would be desirable to involve those European countries, such as Italy, which have historically demonstrated their capacity for political and commercial dialogue with that great country. Ability that could be useful to dilute the most extremist and conservative tendencies of the Iranian leadership, providing the current president Rouhani - still a reformist, with all the nuances of the case - the tools to set out on the slow path of a progressive recovery of mutual trust and hopefully some timid democratic opening.

With China and Russia, permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, Biden could try to use the dossiers dear to the UN field (protection of the environment, fight against global warming and climate change, fight hunger and spread diseases), to try to find convergences capable of building an environment of confidence building on major world issues and on a reasonable development of relations between the Indo-Pacific countries. Certainly a difficult path, after the muscular opposition of the past administration, which could be useful for addressing the thorny issues relating to arms control and the proliferation of nuclear weapons with a new spirit.

With China, in particular, given the prevailing perception of American citizens of an adversary, in some respects, even more aggressive than the former Soviet Union, the consolidated American ability to know how to build coalitions and alliances could predictably be used for some sort of action. of strategic containment of Chinese policy, particularly in the South China Sea (see article), through the development of closer relations with those countries that, more than others, fear expansionism such as Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. In this perspective, it is also possible that Taiwan's implicit protection pact may find some form of official proclamation, while the announced reinvigorated political-maritime collaboration with India takes on a completely new meaning, precisely in terms of balancing on the Indo-Pacific theater. However, the range of reasons for the dispute between Washington and Beijing is so wide and important that a significant softening of the US posture is not foreseeable in the short term but, indeed, it appears credible that the disputes they can also take on different contours from the duties-sanctions method. Much will also depend on the initiatives that China takes.

For these reasons and for the fact that Beijing exercises a historical strict control over Pyongyang, the nuclear disputes with North Korea take on a rather relative significance and magnitude.

As for Russia, which has never digested the definition of regional power given to it by Obama, after the ambiguity of relations between Trump and Putin, Biden will be called upon to mend relations with Moscow, perhaps starting from the talks for the extension of New Start treaty1 (STrategic Arm Reduction Threaty), expected immediately after his inauguration in the White House. A rapprochement between the two capitals could also be useful to the Americans in terms of the aforementioned containment of China on the Pacific.

Basically, although there are essential aspects of continuity in US foreign policy, with Biden's inauguration in the White House it is foreseeable that a new season can be opened in the conduct of international relations, characterized by a significant change in style and ways, by a greater balance in relations with Washington's historical allies and the beginning of a more dynamic phase in relations with the main interlocutors. In this context, it will be essential that Europe (and Italy) are politically ready to do their part.

1 Signed in Prague in 2010, they replaced all previous agreements between Washington and Moscow regarding the reduction of nuclear weapons.

Photo: US Navy / US Air National Guard / MoD People's Republic of China