The Ukraine crisis is a critical challenge for the Biden Administration which may require the inception of a new ‘grand strategy’ to restore the global image of America. Andrew Lohsen, a fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), considers the issue, “the worst crisis in Europe since the end of the Cold War.” Russian aggression along the Ukrainian boarder is a real test of the incumbent Biden administration’s foreign policy. Till now, the president has relied on incremental changes to his predecessor’s foreign policy in the absence of a reliable framework that aligns the country’s goals with its role and worldview.
Biden assumed power with a determination to re-establish American prestige in the international realm. Perhaps, this would only be possible by rolling back key developments that took place through Trump’s transactional and isolationist approach to foreign policy. The US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, the Iran deal, and pulling US military out of the Middle East were serious setbacks to America’s global stature in the face of increasing Chinese economic influence. To restore America’s ‘global policeman’ role, Biden aimed to re-engage friends and foes in the international arena. It required a paradigm shift in US foreign policy to overcome the negative impacts of Trumpism. However, structurally, the post-Trump realities of the world differ from the pre-Trump era, which reiterate the indispensability of a new direction for foreign policy, rather than switching back to the same traditional approach.
In recent decades, China has transformed itself into an economic giant which imposes a great burden upon the shoulders of the liberal world. A decade ago, Neill Ferguson, a historian, described China’s rise as a “reorientation of the World,” a phrase now synonymous with the rise of the east. China was able to transform its economic clout into strong military muscle whereby it could restructure international institutions and rules. Firstly, China became an immediate threat to western economic interests. Secondly, Russia, under Vladimir Putin, is determined to secure its backyard in a realist fashion with a zero-sum approach. Putin’s recent interventions in his neighbourhood can be marked by his sense of geographic insecurity. Historically, on many occasions, Russia has been invaded due to insecure geography: namely, Napoleon in 1812, the British and French in 1854-56, Japanese in 1904-05, and lastly, the Germans in the twentieth century. In Richard Pipes’ words, “Russia, by no means, became the world’s largest territorial state by repelling repeated invasion than a man becomes rich by being robbed.” Putin has many justifications to act anxiously in his pursuit of a buffer zone during an era of an expanding NATO.
In the age of information and technology, postmodernists locate dominance in relatively softer terms of attraction and persuasion—soft power projection.
Another reality is climate change, which carries an existential threats for everyone across the globe. The world may be fragmented in terms of traditional ideologies and politics, but it is unique in its unity against non-traditional security challenges. Be it the hazards posed by the climate and epidemics, or cyber security risks, no one is safe unless everyone is safe. Global security challenges have significantly transformed in the post-Trump era in such as a way that they cannot be dealt with through old foreign policy rationales. It is time for Biden to liberate American foreign policy from the traditional goals of American ideals and democratic values towards the non-traditional ones—a policy layout that eliminates the prevalent trust deficits about US integrity by reinvigorating America’s dominant role on the international stage.
In a realist sense, the sustainability of a great power’s dominance, generally, depends on its persistent demonstration of military superiority over others—hard power projection. At times, military coercion plays a significant role in getting what you want and intimidating others. But, in the age of information and technology, postmodernists locate dominance in relatively softer terms of attraction and persuasion—soft power projection. A concept coined by Joseph Nye stresses upon the strong manifestation of one’s values, culture, and ideology to influence others. Contrarily, the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed another reality by ushering in a dominant role in the shape of turbulent Mother Nature. As stated by Keeling and Lehman, “post-humanist scholars reject ‘man-nature dichotomy’ through understanding humans as entangled with the environment.” For example, the climate issue and the pandemic have unleashed the tempestuous facet of nature and its capability to destroy everything around it; a reality so strong that it could transform all kinds of existing relationships of dominance and subordination.
Ironically, it does not matter who benefits from the geopolitical and geo-economic gains in international showdowns like Russia in Ukraine or the US and China, because one cannot save the globe from the grip of dire climate, epidemic, and cyber encounters by waging wars for geography or democracy. These non-traditional security issues have postured a myriad of challenges that require dynamic leadership at the international level. Today, the ‘global policeman’ role demands fresh foreign policy rationales, attired in climate, the pandemic, and cyber security costumes.
For the Biden administration, the Ukraine quandary is a critical juncture that demands major shifts in foreign policy to cope with non-traditional but vital security challenges. Either his decision could impel the world into another era of expensive nuclear-armed competition, or simply transform it from perceived traditional security challenges to greater, existential threats. With declining approval rates at home, where 54 per cent of Americans are unhappy with the President, and a lack of considerable restorations to America’s global image, despite strong promises, the Ukraine crisis is perilous for the Biden administration. It will evaluate his leadership credibility within an atmosphere of toxic external threats and imminent mid-term elections at home. Simultaneously, it is an opportunity for Biden’s administration to devise a new ‘grand strategy’ to facilitate the concerns of green voices among European allies and ease some tensions with traditional foes to enable a working relationship on serious non-traditional security threats. Above all, the new ‘global policeman’ role lies within the thresholds of the planet’s security, an immune mankind, and secured information.
The author is an M.Phil. Student in the field of American Studies at Area Study Center, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad. He is interested in global politics, foreign policy, and sociology.