Skip to main content
opinion

President-elect Joe Biden leaves a briefing from the transition COVID-19 advisory board on Nov. 09, 2020 in Wilmington, Del.Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Bessma Momani is a professor of political science at the University of Waterloo and senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation.

In major cities across a divided United States, Americans celebrated this weekend as Joe Biden became their president-elect. A number of liberal democracies joined in congratulating Mr. Biden, hoping for a return to something close to normal after four years of Donald Trump’s chaotic, unpredictable and damaging retreat from the global order.

But not all world leaders are so excited for a change in U.S. administration. For some, Mr. Biden signifies a return to normative Barack Obama-era preaching about human rights, a renewed commitment to multilateralism and to global climate action at the expense of their hyper-nationalist agendas, and a restoration of Chinese appeasement policies in exchange for short-term U.S. trade gains.

The clamour for a Trump concession shows the enduring power of admitting defeat

Leaders in Israel, Egypt, Saudi and the United Arab Emirates, for instance, have benefited greatly from Mr. Trump’s presidency. His transactional foreign-policy approach, favourable view toward unfettered arms sales, and disregard of their human rights abuses have all resonated positively. A Biden administration, on the other hand, may reverse the sale of advanced F35 warplanes to the UAE, and it will surely be more critical of Saudi bombings using U.S.-made warplanes in Yemen. Despite sending congratulations to the president-elect, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egypt’s autocratic Abdel Fattah el-Sisi have lost a friend with Mr. Trump’s exit. Perhaps more importantly, Mr. Trump’s unilateral “maximum pressure” strategy against Iran was welcomed by these Middle East leaders; Mr. Biden has vowed to reopen multilateral negotiations on a nuclear agreement with that country.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government in Turkey, which has purchased Russian-made missile defence systems and whose state-owned Halkbank faces indictment in the U.S. for allegedly funnelling money to a sanctioned Iran, will miss Mr. Trump too. Mr. Biden has unreservedly supported the NATO alliance’s military interoperability, which will comfort European allies frustrated by both Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Trump.

Europe isn’t necessarily unanimous in its celebration of Mr. Biden, however. While Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Polish President Andrzej Duda found ideological common ground in Mr. Trump’s anti-immigrant, anti-EU, populist-nationalist views, Mr. Biden has referred to those leaders as “thugs.” Meanwhile, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will have to deal with Mr. Biden’s tough talk against a reinstated customs border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – unwelcome complications to Mr. Johnson’s already fraught Brexit negotiations with the EU.

Despite Russia’s Trump-boosting election-interference efforts, President Vladimir Putin may have a mixed response to Mr. Biden’s win. Mr. Trump added more sanctions on Russian officials, approved arms sales to Ukraine and declined to recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea. But the chaos Mr. Trump brought to the United States did help Mr. Putin quash domestic discourse about the virtues of liberal democracy. Mr. Biden has already affirmed his support for Russian civil society and democracy advocates, surely triggering memories of Hillary Clinton’s perceived interference in Russia’s 2011 pro-democracy protests.

In Asia, Mr. Biden’s criticism of India’s illiberal turn – with its new citizenship law and lockdown of Kashmir – will not go over well with Indian PM Narendra Modi. While Mr. Trump hasn’t budged on a U.S.-India trade deal, Mr. Modi appreciated Mr. Trump’s supportive tough talk on Chinese military expansionism, as did the Philippines' Rodrigo Duterte. While Mr. Trump may be seen by Asian countries such as Vietnam and Taiwan as a more effective countervailing force to China’s ascent than Mr. Biden, who is likely to pursue re-engagement with Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo are relieved all the same to see Mr. Biden elected, given Mr. Trump’s repeated threats that he would withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea and Japan.

In the Americas, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro – who has been dubbed the “Trump of the Tropics” – has been criticized by Mr. Biden for his government’s Amazon deforestation and its failure to control raging wildfires. Similarly, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who has struck up an unlikely rapport with Mr. Trump, shared the U.S. President’s interests in increasing investments into fossil fuels and stemming Central American migration. Neither Mr. Bolsonaro nor Mr. Lopez Obrador have congratulated Mr. Biden yet.

In cities such as London, Paris, and Toronto, people reportedly celebrated Mr. Biden’s win with fireworks, the ringing of church bells, and jubilant noise-making from their balconies. But for the international leaders who might have gotten comfortable with the trajectory of the last four years of discord, a Biden administration might now represent a Trump-sized system shock of its own.

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.

Report an error

Editorial code of conduct