Few U.S. elections in recent memory have dominated the international news cycle quite as persistently as this year’s runoff, largely thanks to the tense four-day wait until a conclusive result could be reached.
Initially, the global response was simple: widespread confusion over the head-spinning complexities of America’s unique electoral college voting system. The delay in calling a winner served as an eye-opener around the world that the current formula for electing a U.S. president is arcane and needlessly complex. With international attention firmly fixed on this election, it will hopefully serve to add more momentum to overhauling the electoral college, an objective many Biden supporters are hoping to address over the next four years.
More importantly for long-standing allies of the U.S., however, today’s news came as a relief. The past four years have seen the world order endure unprecedented disruption thanks to Trump’s bullish and unpredictable approach to foreign policy, which often saw him guided by his personal sympathies for hostile dictators over the country’s best interests.
“Our two countries are close friends, partners, and allies,” wrote Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Twitter, one of the first to congratulate Biden and Harris on their win. “We share a relationship that’s unique on the world stage. I’m really looking forward to working together and building on that with you both.”
Congratulations, @JoeBiden and @KamalaHarris. Our two countries are close friends, partners, and allies. We share a relationship that’s unique on the world stage. I’m really looking forward to working together and building on that with you both.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) November 7, 2020
Another global leader quick to offer their well-wishes to the President-elect was Boris Johnson, Britain’s Prime Minister—hardly surprising, given the “special relationship” between the countries. Johnson’s congratulatory spirit, however, was measured at best. “The U.S. is our most important ally and I look forward to working closely together on our shared priorities, from climate change to trade and security,” he wrote in a statement released earlier this afternoon.
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) November 7, 2020
The muted response makes more sense when viewed in light of the crises the United Kingdom is already facing: namely, the impending deadline of Brexit. The extraction of the country from the European Union is currently set to take place on December 31st following multiple extensions, and looks likely to be hinged on a dreaded “no-deal” premise.
For many Brexit supporters, the holy grail was a potential free trade agreement with the U.S.—not without its own set of controversies—but a Biden presidency now plunges Trump’s already tenuous promises to support the U.K. through this transition period into doubt. Given Britain’s overall more left-leaning political outlook, the priorities of Johnson’s Conservative government and Biden’s proposed agenda are not dissimilar, but the tension clearly lies in whether this can be parlayed into a favorable relationship for Britain as it enters a new, isolationist phase in its history.
Across the European Union, a more palpable sense of optimism could be felt. The zone’s de facto leader, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, was quick to congratulate Biden and Harris on their win, releasing a statement to say “our transatlantic friendship is irreplaceable if we are to master the great challenges of our time.” (The steady rise of far-right nationalism over the past decade is far from a uniquely American problem, after all.) French President Emanuel Macron took to Twitter to say “we have a lot to do to overcome today’s challenges. Let’s work together!”; meanwhile, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez added “we are looking forward to cooperating with you to tackle the challenges ahead of us.”
— Mathieu von Rohr (@mathieuvonrohr) November 7, 2020
Inevitably, the view from the Middle East was mixed. The region’s political landscape underwent a dramatic shift under the Trump administration, in contrast to the initial promises to establish peaceful cooperation between its nations as overseen by Jared Kushner. A number of incendiary moves—including relocating the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a dispute with the CIA over the circumstances of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination in Istanbul, and the U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian general Qaseem Soleimani at the beginning of the year—instead saw them throw fuel on the fire of the region’s delicate balance of power.
Many countries were quick to offer their congratulations, including Lebanon, Palestine, and the United Arab Emirates. But all eyes were on the key players in Trump’s contentious approach to fostering “peace” within the region: Israel and Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close family friend of Kushner, is yet to make an official statement, with his aides saying that “he is waiting for the official results.” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is also yet to release a statement, but recent comments from senior ministers have indicated that a return to the terms of Obama’s 2015 nuclear deal could still remain a possibility, despite the distrust sown by Trump reneging on its terms.
While international reactions to Biden’s win have been more restrained than the (understandably) emotionally-charged outbursts currently sweeping the U.S., its implications for the global political landscape are significant—whether it marks a shift in Britain’s negotiations to leave the European Union, a pullback from the various nations using the ongoing Syrian civil war as a proxy conflict, or a broader rebalancing of power across the Middle East. A return to America’s pre-Trump approach to foreign policy may remain controversial, but will be easier to challenge and reshape in place of the impulsive unpredictability of the Trump administration.
For U.S. allies around the world, that’s enough for now. Whether the instability of the American political system exposed by Trump’s four-year tenure will permanently spook its traditional allies, however, remains to be seen.