Forming a perfect symphony: Balaji Chandramohan comments on Joe Biden's presidency and its strategic impact in the Indo-Pacific region.

AuthorChandramohan, Balaji

With Joe Biden assuming the oversight of the United States' strategic commitments, the countries of the Indo-Pacific region, including New Zealand, must adjust their own strategies. Biden takes control at a time when the United States is a declining power confronted by rising and resurgent powers and an absence of consensus on how nation-states should behave in such transitional times. It no longer has the will or the ability to be the world's leading power. The US-led global economic model operative for half a century has seen its frailties exposed by Covid-19.

It is to be hoped that under the new presidency the United States can adapt to the challenge these developments pose. Biden's task will not be made easier by the need to meet a significant number of the foreign policy demands by those on the left-wing of the Democratic Party. He will try to do so incrementally rather than radically.

On the other hand, countries in the Indo-Pacific region may nudge him in the direction of the Obama administration's 'pivot' or 'rebalance' to Asia strategy. This set specific targets for relocating the US military away from the Middle East and concentrating maximum US naval assets to ring-fence China in its backyard. Since Biden is also a professed believer in a multilateral US foreign policy, he will be all ears to ideas to team up with other countries that are wary of China. Such an approach is an offshoot of US grand strategy based on Nicholas Spykman's geo-strategic vision. Spykman emphasised that the United States needed partners in the Rimland to counter the rise of the Heartland (Soviet Union) and the Middle Kingdom (China). (1)

Another school of geostrategy was put forward by Alfred Thayer Mahan, who said that 'Whoever rules the waves rules the world'. Mahan predicted the rise of both India and China as early as in the 20th century. In this light, the United States' grand strategy in the 21st century might be defined as an effort to thwart Beijing's maritime ambitions. (2)

The new US administration can be expected to reaffirm US faith in the Quadrilateral Security Initiative 2.0. It will continue to associate with Japan, Australia and India to add teeth to multilateral military exercises, as during the November 2020 Malabar exercises.

Shifting calculus

Since George W. Bush's presidency the United States has been over-reliant on the military as a blunt instrument of foreign policy to the detriment of diplomacy. The traditional dictum that the military should be used only when diplomacy fails was overlooked during the Trump administration. The relationship between diplomacy and military force is not a zero-sum game. This approach will change under Biden.

Although Biden, as vice president, was an advocate for Obama's 'pivot' to Asia, he is unlikely to replace Trump's 'Indo-Pacific Strategy', which focuses on...

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