Building American Diplomacy Back Better

The Biden Administration has an opportunity to show the world America is ready to work for the betterment of the global community. Engaging in less confrontational relations with Russia would be a perfect starting point.

A new president in the White House normally means that a reevaluation of foreign and domestic policy is in order. With Joe Biden's ascension to power, the US now has an excellent opportunity to reset relations with Russia and establish a constructive bilateral dialogue. Not only will this serve the interests of both countries, but it will also provide major benefits to the global community since a world where the major powers opt to cooperate instead of competing is a safer world for all. However, there is still a lot of work to do before that stage is reached. Conflicts need to be settled, narratives concerning the bilateral relationship need to transition from sensationalized to sensible, and the focus of discussion should shift from competition to cooperation.

The Biden Administration would be wise to make a more concerted effort at approaching Russia in a diplomatic way, rather than succumbing to pressure from the domestic media to shut down any potential improvements in the US-Russia relationship. The previous Administration’s approach to Russia was largely driven by such hostile hysteria from the US media which resulted in Russia-US relations reaching their lowest point since the end of the Cold War. Joe Biden has the ability to change that. If he has the political will to resist domestic pressure and engage Moscow diplomatically, then both parties will reap the benefits. Unexpectedly, the initial signs have so far been positive. Russia and the US have agreed to extend the New START, which was due to expire on 5 February of this year. This is undoubtedly a step in the right direction and serves as a perfect example of how the global community can benefit when Russia and the US choose cooperation over competition.

In this case, the world was made safer since Russia and the US possess the world’s largest and deadliest nuclear arsenals, which, without proper control and regulation could have been the cause of a global catastrophe of cataclysmic proportions. The signing of this treaty is all the more important considering the fact that former President trump withdrew the US from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty. It is now time to capitalize on this positive momentum and identify other areas where the US and Russia have mutual interests and go all out on improving and developing the bilateral relationship.

The good news is that the two sides seem to have an understanding of areas where US-Russia collaboration is possible. Recently, Presidents Putin and Biden, as well as Foreign Ministers Lavrov and Blinken had their first official phone calls since Biden’s inauguration. The tone of the discussions was optimistic, with both parties expressing cautious optimism about the new direction of the Russia-US relationship. Such statements bode well for the prospect of improvements in the relationship, but we must not forget that normalization can only be achieved through dialogue and diplomacy.

During their conversation, Lavrov and Blinken agreed to look at addressing the difficulties that both countries’ diplomatic missions have encountered in recent years when operating on each other’s territory. This is a very positive development. In the past four years, both Russia and the US have been engaged in aggressive tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats as well as the closures of each other’s consulates. The fact that Lavrov and Blinken acknowledge that such diplomatic posturing has caused more problems than it has solved signals that we may witness finally the dawn of a new, more cooperative era in Russia-US relations in the near future.

During their call, Lavrov and Blinken also recognized that Russia and the United States have an obvious common enemy right now: coronavirus. The pandemic has affected all countries around the world, with no exceptions, and countries have been racing to get their vaccines developed, tested, and released onto the open market. With Russia and the US both developing their own vaccines, it makes perfect sense for the two countries to strengthen their cooperation in exchanging vaccine data and trial results, while simultaneously increasing support for each other’s efforts to combat the virus.

Such an outcome would be beneficial for the entire global community, and two great powers working together for the benefit of mankind would set an excellent precedent for the development of interstate relations in the Biden era. Whereas the Trump administration sought to put America first at any cost, while choosing to ignore any obligations the US had to the global community as one of the world’s strongest nations, the Biden Administration can alter that perception and show that America is ready to work for the betterment of the global community as a whole. Engaging in less confrontational relations with Russia (as well as other states) would be a perfect starting point.

Igor Aunapu is a Policy Analyst at the Russian Public Affairs Committee (Ru-PAC). His areas of expertise include the Middle East, international security, and Russia-U.S. relations.