The US presidential poll has been one of the most watched and talked about elections in recent times, not to mention one of the most divisive. It saw a record turnout of 66.9%, which is the highest since 1900, despite the pandemic. History was also made because, for the first time, a woman, of Black and Indian American origin, is going to be the vice president of the United States. This election holds significance also because Indian Americans played a key role in the success of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
The victory of Joe Biden can be compared to the challenging circumstances when Harry Truman became president in 1945. Trump may have lost, but still enjoys substantial support. Biden now has to cater to all Americans, including Trump supporters and their aspirations—which he implied in his first speech as the president-elect, when he said that he would not look to separate red and blue states. Biden has inherited a country which is also facing huge challenges like the Covid-19 pandemic, an economic crisis and reduced immigration. To add to that, the Trump Administration has criticized all multilateral institutions, walked out of some, and questioned fundamental scientific findings like climate change.
The handling of the coronavirus pandemic has been the top concern for about 4 in 10 voters. Thus, the first and foremost thing that citizens of the USA would like to hear from their president-elect is about the measures he would take in response to the Covid-19 situation in the country. At a campaign rally in Philadelphia, Biden had said that, if voted to power, he would put into place a Covid-19 action plan on the first day of his presidency. He has proposed a nationwide mask mandate and a national testing and contact tracing system.
The entrance of Joe Biden on the world stage, as most analysts have predicted, also opens doors to multilateralism. Thus, it is worth hoping that Biden would support collaborative international efforts to develop and ensure the equitable allocation of Covid-19 vaccines and treatments, in turn, rejecting the notion of “vaccine nationalism” put forward by Trump. A step in this direction could possibly lead to the US joining COVAX, a joint initiative of more than 170 countries pooling their resources for a Covid-19 vaccine.
Joe Biden has argued that Trump’s “America First” unilateral strategy has led to “America Alone.” It is hoped that Biden can quickly restore US leadership on global health by reversing Trump’s decision to leave the World Health Organisation, which is supposed to be effective from July 6, 2021. With Biden in the White House, many European, Asian and African countries could also work together to establish common rules and standards as a reflection of fundamentally similar values. Biden would also try repair relations with partners and allies to counter both China and Russia.
Climate change policy has been another landmark feature of Biden’s presidential campaign. Biden declared climate change the “number one issue facing humanity.” The Democrat campaigned on a $2 trillion investment in green energy and re-joining the Paris Agreement, which the US exited recently on November 4, 2020. In a tweet from that day, Biden had said, “Today, the Trump Administration officially left the Paris Climate Agreement. And in exactly 77 days, a Biden Administration will re-join it,” reflecting his decision to reverse one of the rashest decisions of the Trump administration on day one. The Biden Plan ensures that the US achieves a 100% clean energy economy and reaches net-zero emissions no later than 2050. Given the above promises, a Biden victory would shift the US from being a laggard to a leader in the climate change policy, which is the need of the hour when most countries are nowhere near reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by 7.2% annually through 2030, as laid down in the Paris Agreement.
Among Biden’s top foreign policy priorities is rescuing the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal. In an interview on CNN, Biden had said that, if he becomes the president, the first thing that he would do would be to make an unshakable commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Secondly, he would offer them a credible path back to diplomacy. Only if Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal would the US re-join the agreement. This could serve as a starting point for further negotiations. Biden assured that he would take steps to make sure that US sanctions do not hinder Iran’s fight against the pandemic. He had also said that the US will continue to push back Iran’s destabilising activities which threaten US allies in the region. Re-joining the deal—signed by US, China, Russia, and several European powers—would have the effect of improving frayed US cooperation with those nations too. Trump also came to office promising to tame Iran, but everyone knows how it has turned out. Thus, one can only hope that Biden, with his decades of foreign policy experience, is able to save the Iran nuclear deal from being reduced to rubble.
Moreover, a change in US policy towards the Iran nuclear deal will help India immensely. Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran had the unintended effect of limiting India’s investment and development of the strategic Chabahar port—a crucial venture to keep a check on Pakistani and Chinese encirclement on the western front of the country. Biden’s economic agenda suggests a revamp of international trade rules in ways that will benefit both the US and its partners, including India.
There is also buzz that Biden may attempt to extend the New START Treaty with Russia. This treaty is the last remaining bilateral treaty governing the US and Russian strategic nuclear forces. It plays a vital role for a stable peace order in the world because, if the treaty ends in February 2021, the world’s most destructive nuclear arsenals will be unlimited and unverified for the first time since the Cold War.
On the trade front, people are hoping that Biden abandons the self-destructive policies adopted by the Trump administration, like destroying the WTO’s dispute resolution mechanism, rejecting the Trans-Pacific partnership, and trade wars with China and the EU. It is predicted that under Biden, US trade policies will most likely see a shift from protectionism to liberalism. This will help to reiterate Biden’s claim as written on his campaign website: “The next president must repair our relationships with our allies and stand up to strongmen and thugs on the global stage to rally the world to meet these challenges.”
Biden promises to deepen ties with India too, on defence and trade, possibly without the tariffs levied by Trump. He would also start cooperation with India on sustainable and clean energy, which Trump ignored altogether when he decided to drop out of the Paris climate agreement.
Biden is also committed to working on immigration reform. In his remarks at the Bombay Stock Exchange in 2013, Biden had said, “America is a land of immigrants, as we tell ourselves all the time and are reminded in every generation. And America has been strengthened by the diverse cultures of India woven into the fabric of most of our communities.” Biden has promised that he is going to extend H-1B visas, which the Trump administration limited as a means to protect US jobs. India being the highest recipient of these visas would definitely hope for a reversal in the plan of action from Biden. If this occurs, it will provide a shot in the arm of the IT sector in India and project a more positive outlook for the Indian economy recovering post the lockdown.
Biden has been always in favour of developing US-India ties and, in an interview way back in 2006, he had said, “My dream is that in 2020 the two closest nations in the world will be India and United States. If that occurs, the world will be safer.” Biden’s win will thus mean a multi-faceted and potentially more favourable relationship, especially in trade policies, as predicted by UBS Global Research.
Most stock market analysts believe that short-term volatility is likely to remain but a Biden victory may be favourable for India in the long run. The US election is important to India, not only economically, but also strategically. Given the backdrop of the ongoing face-off with China in eastern Ladakh, analysts hope that with Biden’s victory, his multilateral approach may allow India and US to work together in identifying a number of poorer countries in South Asia and the Indo-Pacific region and jointly implement economically beneficial projects as a safe and trustworthy alternative to China’s “debt trap” diplomacy.
The challenges that Biden inherits from his predecessor are so many that it would take a long time for him to settle them. He would have to act as the President of the United States of America and take both Democrats and Republicans along to make America a more responsible power in the times to come. As he does this, the revival of the economy and taking the new world order closer to the old normal should be his top priorities.
Rajesh Mehta is a leading international consultant, entrepreneur and columnist. He is also president (India) of the IndoScandic Council. Badri Narayanan Gopalakrishnan is a leading international economist and consultant.