February 02nd 2021

MCI Livetalk on the Biden administration's foreign policy.

James M. Lindsay (Senior VP, Council on Foreign Relations) as Distinguished Guest Online at the Entrepreneurial School®.


James M. Lindsay ath the MCI Livetalk about the Foreign Policy of the Biden Administration. Foto:MCI/Geisler
James M. Lindsay ath the MCI Livetalk about the Foreign Policy of the Biden Administration. Foto:MCI/Geisler



Aggressive foreign policy or a conservative track after all? What direction is Joe Biden's US foreign policy taking? With the help of the U.S. Embassy in Vienna, MCI Livetalk facilitated an exciting discussion with James M Lindsay and MCI Rector Andreas Altmann to clarify these questions. The renowned expert on US foreign policy used detailed examples to explain how US foreign policy will be shaped under the new President Joe Biden.

During the talk, Lindsay repeatedly made it clear, that Biden's focus will clearly be on domestic policy. Biden is aware that he was elected to deal with problems within the country, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, Lindsay sees Biden's foreign policy taking a more conservative approach.

Three key objectives of U.S. foreign policy under President Joe Biden.

Lindsay succinctly summarizes the three key points of foreign policy: Restoring and improving partnerships with allies that have suffered under Trump's administration, reacting to the threat of climate change, and China’s foreign policy.

Lindsay explains Biden sees strong alliances with allied countries as having the clear advantage of making the U.S. more secure. Unlike Trump, he believes that "together we are stronger”. Europe in particular is an important partner for the U.S. in this regard. For 75 years, the U.S. has had a strong partnership with European countries. Although there have often been differing opinions on foreign policy, such as the wars in Korea or Iraq, a common ground orientation in foreign policy is of interest to both sides.

Climate change has been an important concern in Biden's election campaign from the beginning. Thus, even during his short term in office, he already signed on to rejoin the Paris climate agreement. He will continue to raise the issue of climate change - both domestically and in terms of foreign policy.

China's foreign policy has recently been followed with great concern by the U.S. government. Especially military actions in the South China Sea, as well as the handling of Tawain and Hong Kong are a headache for Biden's administration. At the same time, Lindsay said, it is in the U.S. government's interest to act together with Europe on the world stage.

Wild Card

Because Biden will focus on domestic policy, his administration will want to avoid further long-term wars, such as those we have seen in Afghanistan. However, conflicts in other countries will be kept in mind, because domestic incidents such as elections can quickly cause changes in world politics. Lindsay calls these surprising occurrences a 'wild card.' In doing so, Lindsay quotes heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson: "Every fighter has a plan when he gets in the ring, until he gets punched in the face." According to Lindsay, this statement can be interpreted to apply to politics as well. Biden's government can prepare as best it can for any eventuality, but the wild card can always come into play.

The nuclear agreement with Iran and North Korea will be a major foreign policy concern, Lindsay said. Iran in particular, however, holds a wild card to consider with elections in the summer of 2021. Due to differences with Trump, the Iranian government has pulled out of the nuclear agreement and now awaits the first move from Washington, DC.

In Russia, despite the protests surrounding Alexei Nawalny, Lindsay currently sees the U.S. adopting a conservative policy. Biden's administration could join other countries in increasing pressure on Russia; already in the last 14 days, Biden has spoken out against Russia's actions regarding Nawalny. Many sanctions against Russia are already in place, and more could follow.

Lindsay emphasized that Biden has an experienced team of advisers on his side, so one can expect a consistent and methodical approach when it comes to foreign policies. Biden won’t make foreign policies on Tweets at 3AM. Lindsay is convinced that Vice President Kamala Harris will also play an important role in the decision making progress. After all, Obama already gave Biden endless space to actively engage as an advisor. This approach is likely to be seen with Kamala Harris and Joe Biden as well.


James M. Lindsay is senior vice president, director of studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg chair at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), where he oversees the work of the more than six dozen fellows in the David Rockefeller Studies Program. He is a leading authority on the American foreign policymaking process and the domestic politics of American foreign policy.

Before returning to CFR in 2009, Lindsay was the inaugural director of the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas at Austin, where he held the Tom Slick chair for international affairs at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. From 2003 to 2006, he was vice president, director of studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg chair at CFR. He previously served as deputy director and senior fellow in the foreign policy studies program at the Brookings Institution. From 1987 until 1999, he was a professor of political science at the University of Iowa.

From 1996 to 1997, Lindsay served as director for global issues and multilateral affairs on the staff of the National Security Council. He has also served as a consultant to the United States Commission on National Security/21st Century (Hart-Rudman Commission) and as a staff expert for the United States Institute of Peace's congressionally mandated Task Force on the United Nations.

Lindsay has written widely on various aspects of American foreign policy and international relations.

Lindsay holds an AB in economics and political science from the University of Michigan and an MA, MPhil, and PhD from Yale University. He has been a fellow at the Center for International Affairs and the Center for Science and International Affairs, both at Harvard University. He is a recipient of the Pew Faculty Fellowship in International Affairs and CFR International Affairs Fellowship. He is a member of CFR.

Lindsay was born and raised in Massachusetts and lives in Washington, DC.


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