Under Trump, relations between the United States and its longstanding European allies have hit a historic low.
Trump’s attacks on European leaders, his withdrawal from multilateral treaties and his wider ‘America First’ policy have resulted in torn alliances and incredibly low public perceptions of the country’s leadership among most Europeans.
One poll this week showed a large majority of Europeans rating Trump’s handling of the presidency as “terrible.” The same poll also found a large majority would like his challenger Joe Biden to win in November.
By contrast, Biden has made it clear that he would seek to reverse Donald Trump’s legacy on foreign policy if he wins the presidency in November.
The former Vice President has signaled his intention to rejoin the Paris climate agreement while restoring wider relations with the United States’ traditional partners, which have been badly damaged under the president’s leadership.
“Biden’s presidency, internationally speaking, would be a conscious effort to repudiate Trump’s legacy, especially the attacks on US allies, the rhetorical posturing, the neglect of the multilateral system, the withdrawal from the Paris accord and the Iran deal,” Dalibor Roháč, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and an expert on US-European relations told Business Insider.
Trump signaled a dramatic shift in rhetorical tone towards the European Union from his predecessor Barack Obama, repeatedly threatening tariff wars with the bloc and complaining that its position on trade was “worse than China.”
“Europe has been treating us very badly,” he said in February this year. “Over the last 10, 12 years, there’s been a tremendous deficit with Europe. They have barriers that are incredible … So we’re going to be starting that. They know that.”
Relations haven’t improved since, and the transatlantic trade dispute continues to rumble, with the World Trade Organisation last week approving the EU’s plan to place tariffs on $4 billion of US exports over illegal government aid handed by Washington to Boeing, the aircraft maker.
Biden’s camp has made it clear that it would take concrete steps to end what Tony Blinken, Biden’s senior foreign policy adviser, calls Trump’s “artificial trade war” with the EU, at the same time as working to address what he called “imbalances” in trade between the partners.
“We need to bring to an end an artificial trade war that the Trump administration has started … that has been poisoning economic relations, costing jobs, increasing costs for consumers,” Blinken said at an online event in September.
In truth, however, tensions between the US and Europe predate Trump. He has merely served to exacerbate them.
“To some extent, Trump has been a manifestation of deeper underlying trends in US foreign policy,” the AEI’s Dalibor Roháč told Business Insider.
“Like Obama, the Trump administration has not had a very keen interest in Europe or its security, for example. That is not something that started in 2016 but predates Trump.”
Specifically, it was under Obama that the US made a conscious decision to pivot away from Europe and the Middle East and begin to invest heavily in East Asian countries, many of them close to China, which Beijing always perceived as a US containment strategy.
It is arguably Washington’s ongoing efforts to contain China that will continue to define its foreign policy whether Trump or Biden is elected.
If this year’s presidential contest has proven anything, it is that there is now a broad bipartisan consensus in the US on China. Both Biden and Trump have run attack ads on each other, vying to prove that their opponent is unqualified to handle Beijing’s growing economic might and its increasingly aggressive behavior towards competitors.
Both Democrats and Republicans perceive Beijing as a growing threat and an administration that acts with impunity, harming its adversaries in order to further its own economic and social interests.
The crucial difference, however, is the way that Biden would approach the problem of China. Trump has sought largely to go the issue alone, escalating an increasingly punitive trade war that has left each country imposing hundreds of billions of dollars on each other’s goods.
Biden’s campaign has emphasized that he would seek to work with the European Union and other allies to counter the threat of China.
“This really goes to the heart of Vice President Biden’s thinking: reaffirming our core alliances,” Blinken said in September. “It means engaging the European Union instead of urging countries to leave it, and treating it like it’s an enemy.”