America is Back ‘. “America is back,” said Joe Biden excitedly. He was speaking to political leaders, mainly European, who participated in a recent meeting on international security that took place, via videoconference, in Munich.
At that hearing, the message was, of course, very well received. Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and Boris Johnson registered their satisfaction at the new position of the US In his speech, Biden vigorously renewed his country’s commitment to Article V of NATO. This article obliges the member countries of that military alliance to collectively respond to an attack against one of its members. During his presidency, Donald Trump repeatedly refrained from publicly acknowledging that, as a member of NATO, his country accepted that obligation.
This changed with the arrival of Biden to the White House. The US president used his speech at the Munich Conference to leave no doubt about his administration’s position on Article V. As president, Donald Trump disdained multilateralism, alliance-building and diplomacy, which, according to him, were waste of time.
For their part, both Biden and his team repeat, whenever they can, that alliances will be the pillar of their foreign policy. They see diplomacy as the main instrument available to them to advance in the achievement of their national objectives. According to them, successfully attacking the pandemic, climate change, the economic crisis or preventing Iran from having nuclear weapons requires working together with allied countries. From the perspective of Biden and his administration, Trump’s catchphrase, ‘America First’, ended up being ‘America Alone’. Potential allies are keen to work together with the US in pursuit of common interests. There is no doubt that these repowered alliances are necessary.
The construction of a much-needed network of international alliances led by Washington will have one major limitation: the volatility of US domestic politics.
Unfortunately, the construction of a much-needed network of international alliances led by Washington will have one major limitation: the volatility of US domestic politics.
What happens to a country that, enthusiastic about Biden, dives deep into its alliance with the United States and four years later finds that the elections bring to power a new American president who is unaware of his duties as an ally? That question is very much on the minds of those responsible for the foreign policy of the countries that Washington needs as allies. In the conversations in the virtual corridors of the Munich Conference, the most pressing question was not whether the US was back. The burning question was, and still is, how long this comeback is going to last.
It is very interesting to see top diplomats emulating top executives of multinational companies. Since the late 1990s, entrepreneurs have built complex and highly efficient supply chains starting in China and leading to end markets around the world. These chains allowed companies to drastically reduce their inventories. Just-in-time logistics practices became universal in inventory management. To minimize costs, supplies arrive with great speed and precision at their destination, just when they are required.
Trump’s declared trade war against China created all kinds of headaches in global supply chains. Thus, companies that rely on having ‘just-in-time’ inventories discovered that it was dangerous to put all your eggs in that basket. To mitigate that risk, executives were forced to balance the principle of ‘just in time’ with that of ‘just in case’. Many were forced to invest in developing relationships with other suppliers, no matter how expensive they were. Business leaders understood that as much as they want the United States to create stability and not imbalances, this will not always be the case. Political leaders will surely emulate them. The politics of alliances will be shaped by ‘just in case’ diplomacy.