Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Policy

Biden's 2022 Foreign-Policy To-Do List

| Dec. 28, 2021

A preview of the challenges the U.S. president should prepare for in the year ahead.

Even if you don't like his policies, you ought to admire U.S. President Joe Biden's pluck. Just imagine how he felt his first day in the Oval Office. The country was in the throes of a global pandemic, and it narrowly survived a failed coup most Republican leaders are still refusing to condemn. The Liar-in-Chief whom Biden vanquished in 2020 was (and still is) refusing to acknowledge he lost fair and square. The country was mired in an unwinnable war, and there was no way to get out of it neatly or cleanly. The Democratic Party held razor-thin margins in Congress, giving individual Senators a level of influence far exceeding their judgment or integrity. And if that weren't enough, the ecosystem all life on Earth depends on is seriously out of whack.

Given the challenges Biden faced and the poor cards he was dealt, Biden hasn't done that badly. Yet despite some genuine foreign-policy successes, 2022 won't bring him much of a respite. COVID-19 remains a serious problem, U.S. adversaries are growing frisky, and the United States' allies seem increasingly fractious. Meanwhile, a substantial percentage of Americans now live in alternate universes filled with false narratives and made-up "facts."

But since it's the holidays, let's start on an upbeat note and take one potential flash point off the table. Although the issue of Taiwan will continue to complicate Sino-American relations, I'll go out on a limb and say we won't see a serious crisis or military confrontation over Taiwan in 2022. Both Beijing and Washington have been quietly working to lower the crisis's temperature and actively cooperating to decrease energy prices and address climate concerns in recent months. A faceoff over Taiwan is the last thing either country needs right now.´

Biden's team will remain heavily focused on long-term competition with China, and it would be helpful if emerging bipartisan consensus on this issue was translated into effective policies to strengthen the United States at home. (You know: like Building Back Better.) Even so, I don't see matters coming to a boil in the next 12 months. I hope I'm right because several other issues are likely to fill the administration's inbox in 2022.

Russia and Ukraine. Unlike a few doomsayers in the West, I do not think Russia will launch a major invasion intended to subjugate all of Ukraine. Not only would this trigger powerful economic sanctions and lead NATO to reinforce its eastern members militarily (something Russian President Vladimir Putin does not want), reoccupying all of Ukraine would force Moscow to try to govern some 43 million angry Ukrainians. Stubborn and resentful nationalism was one of the reasons the old Soviet empire broke up, and these same forces would make any attempt to reintegrate Ukraine a costly running sore Moscow can ill afford....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Walt, Stephen M.“Biden's 2022 Foreign-Policy To-Do List.” Foreign Policy, December 28, 2021.

The Author

Stephen Walt