Biden vows to restore U.S. alliances and lead with diplomacy in his first foreign policy address

Key Points
  • President Joe Biden echoed his promise to repair alliances through diplomacy and restore Washington's leadership position on the global stage during a speech Thursday.
  • "America is back, diplomacy is back," Biden said at the State Department, adding that his administration would work toward "reclaiming our credibility and moral authority."
  • In a lengthy speech, Biden outlined his vision for addressing an array of global pressures, including the civil war in Yemen, trade relations with China and engaging malign Russian behaviors.
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden delivers remarks about the coronavirus outbreak, at the Hotel Du Pont, March 12, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images

WASHINGTON –In his first foreign policy address since ascending to the nation's highest office, President Joe Biden vowed to repair alliances through diplomacy and restore Washington's leadership position on the global stage.

"America is back, diplomacy is back," Biden said at the State Department, adding that his administration would work toward "reclaiming our credibility and moral authority."

"I want the people who work in this building and in our embassies and consulates around the world to know that I value your expertise, and I respect you. I will have your back," Biden told State Department employees.

President Biden to cut support in Yemen conflict
President Biden to cut support in Yemen conflict

"This administration is going to empower you to do your jobs, not target or politicize you," he added, recognizing the depleted ranks at the Department of State.

In a lengthy speech, Biden outlined his vision for addressing an array of global hotspots, including the civil war in Yemen, trade relations with China and tensions with Russia.

'When we strengthen our alliances we amplify our power'

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and US Vice President Joe Biden meet for bilateral talks during the 51st Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany in February 2015.
Andreas Gebert | Picture Alliance | Getty Images

Biden rallied U.S. allies and partners and promised to stand "shoulder to shoulder" with them on a number of shared issues like climate change and the coronavirus pandemic.

"When we strengthen our alliances we amplify our power as well as our ability to disrupt threats before they reach our shores," Biden said. "America cannot afford to be absent any longer on the world stage," he added.

The Biden administration's message is a sharp break from the Trump administration's "America First" foreign policy.

Throughout his presidency, Donald Trump frequently dressed down key U.S. allies. Trump also railed against NATO leaders claiming that members of the world's most powerful military alliance did not contribute enough financially to the group.

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to speak to the media at a NATO news conference in Brussels, Belgium.
Sean Gallup | Getty Images News | Getty Images

He also made good on a threat to reduce U.S. military support if allies, like Germany, do not meet 2% of GDP spending, a goal set at the 2014 NATO summit in Wales.

In 2019, Trump singled out Chancellor Angela Merkel during a NATO summit for not meeting the 2% goal.

"So we're paying 4 to 4.3% when Germany's paying 1 to 1.2% at max 1.2% of a much smaller GDP. That's not fair," Trump said in December 2019. Germany was only one of 19 NATO members that had not met the 2% GDP spending goal.

In June, the Pentagon announced its plan to withdraw 9,500 U.S. military personnel from Germany in order to redeploy those forces elsewhere.

On Thursday, Biden said that the Pentagon was instructed to halt any planned troop withdrawals from Germany.

Tougher stance on Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin enters the St. George Hall at the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow.
Mikhail Klimentyev | AFP | Getty Images

In his speech Thursday, Biden said that he would have a different approach in dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin compared with that of the Trump administration.

"I made it very clear to President Putin in a manner very different from my predecessor that the days of the United States rolling over in the face of Russian aggressive actions, interfering with our elections, cyberattacks, poisoning its citizens, are over," Biden said.

"We will be more effective in dealing with Russia when we work in coalition and coordination with other like-minded partners," he added.

Biden also renewed calls for the immediate release of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was detained in Moscow last month and sentenced to more than two years in prison.

"He's been targeted for exposing corruption and he should be released immediately and without condition," Biden said.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, accused of flouting the terms of a suspended sentence for embezzlement, attends a court hearing in Moscow, Russia February 2, 2021.
Moscow City Court | Reuters

Last year, Navalny was medically evacuated to Germany from a Russian hospital after he became ill following reports that something was added to his tea. Russian doctors treating Navalny denied that the Kremlin critic had been poisoned and blamed his comatose state on low blood sugar levels.

In September, the German government said that the 44-year-old Russian dissident was poisoned by a chemical nerve agent, describing the toxicology report as providing "unequivocal evidence." The nerve agent was in the family of Novichok, which was developed by the Soviet Union.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied having a role in Navalny's poisoning.

Biden also discussed his recent decision to extend a crucial nuclear weapons treaty with Russia for five more years.

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, was set to expire this week. The agreement is the sole arms control treaty in place between Washington and Moscow following former Trump's withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces, or INF, treaty.

Similar to the INF treaty, New START limits the nuclear arsenals of Washington and Moscow. The United States and Russia own the lion's share of the world's nukes.

Read more: Former ambassador warns expiration of key nuclear treaty with Russia would make the U.S. 'worse off'

"The New START Treaty's verification regime enables us to monitor Russian compliance with the treaty and provides us with greater insight into Russia's nuclear posture, including through data exchanges and onsite inspections that allow U.S. inspectors to have eyes on Russian nuclear forces and facilities," Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a statement Wednesday.

Blinken also added that the U.S. had assessed that Russia was in compliance with its New START Treaty obligations since the inception of the agreement in 2011.

Trade relations with China

President of China, Xi Jinping.
SeongJoon Cho | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The crumbling relationship between Washington and Beijing has intensified following an attempt by the world's two largest economies to mend trade relations.

Over the past four years, the Trump administration has placed blame squarely on China for a wide range of grievances, including intellectual property theft, unfair trade practices and recently, the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden said he would work more closely with allies in order to mount pushback against China.

"We will confront China's economic abuses," Biden explained, describing Beijing as America's "most serious competitor."

"But we're also ready to work with Beijing when it's in America's interest to do so. We'll compete from a position of strength by building back better at home and working with our allies and partners."

Biden has previously said that during his political career he has spent more time with China's Xi Jinping than any other world leader.

Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen

Shi'ite Muslim rebels hold up their weapons during a rally against air strikes in Sanaa March 26, 2015.
Khaled Abdullah | Reuters

The Yemen civil war escalated in 2014 when Houthi forces, who are in alliance with former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, took over the nation's capital.

Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have carried out attacks in Yemen against the Houthis. The Saudi-led intervention in Yemen had previously enjoyed the backing of former President Donald Trump's administration.

Trump vetoed a measure in 2019 aimed at ending U.S. military assistance and involvement in Yemen. At the time Trump said the congressional resolution was "unnecessary" and that it endangered "the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future."

Lawmakers who backed the measure criticized Saudi Arabia for a slew of bombing campaigns that contributed to civilian deaths in Yemen.

The United Nations has said that the ongoing armed conflict in Yemen has produced the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.

The U.S. has provided more than $630 million in humanitarian assistance to Yemen in fiscal year 2020, according to figures provided by the State department.

The Biden administration halted sales of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that were previously approved by the Trump administration.

Allow more refugees into the United States

A woman stands behind a gate as she waits with other migrants and refugees to enter a registration camp, after crossing the Greek-Macedonia border.

Biden also announced on Thursday that he would increase the nation's annual refugee admissions cap to 125,000 in the 12-month period starting Oct. 1.

"The United States' moral leadership on refugee issues was a point of bipartisan consensus for so many decades," Biden said. "Our example pushed other nations to open wider doors as well. So today, I'm approving an executive order to begin the hard work of restoring our refugee admissions program to help meet the unprecedented global need," Biden said.

"It's going to take time to rebuild what has been so badly damaged," he added.

When Trump took office in 2017, the refugee ceiling for the fiscal year set by President Barack Obama stood at 110,000. Trump left office after setting a cap of just 15,000 for the current fiscal year — the lowest level since the passage of the Refugee Act in 1980.

The president will have to work with Congress in adjusting the annual limit.

-- CNBC's Hannah Miao contributed to this report from New York.