Joseph R. Biden

America's Place in the World: First Foreign Policy Speech as U.S. President

delivered 4 February 2021, Harry S. Truman Building, Ben Franklin Room, Washington, D.C.

Audio AR-XE mp3 of Address


SecState Blinken: Good afternoon. Today I get to say something that brings me tremendous happiness: President Biden, Vice President Harris, welcome to the State Department.

For more than two decades, Iíve had the privilege of watching President Biden at work. Iíve seen his commitment to the American people, his expertise in foreign policy, his steadfast belief in diplomacy, and his rock-solid support for our diplomats and development experts. Iíve seen him on the Hill, in the Oval Office, in distant world capitals from Baghdad to Bagram, Paris to Pretoria, and visiting our troops, visiting our diplomats, visiting all the men and women representing this country.

And I can say without fear of contradiction that in the history of the presidency, no one has brought as much foreign policy experience to the job as Joe Biden. Wherever he goes, heís been a champion for American leadership and a defender of American values. And in Kamala Harris he has a Vice President, we have a Vice President, with a long track record of standing up for the security of the American people and an abiding commitment to using diplomacy to advance our interests and defend our values around the world.

At this moment of unprecedented global challenge, itís more important than ever that the United States show up and lead, because the world simply doesnít organize itself to solve big problems, and the well-being of the American people hangs in the balance. We need diplomacy to get the pandemic under control worldwide, to save American lives and livelihoods. We need diplomacy to address the climate crisis, to protect communities across our country. We need diplomacy to check the rise of authoritarianism, to prevent the spread of dangerous weapons, to shore up democracy, to defend human rights Ė all of which makes the world more stable and free, and all of which protects the security and prosperity of the American people.

Foreign policy is domestic policy, and because our strength at home determines our strength in the world, domestic policy is foreign policy too. President Biden and Vice President Harris know this better than anyone. Thatís why they believe so strongly in the work that we do at the State Department. And they have made it clear that the first question we must ask ourselves here at State is: How will this benefit our fellow Americans? How will this policy answer their needs? How will this outreach reflect their values? How will this initiative make their lives just a little bit better?

Weíre going to hold ourselves to that standard every step of the way. President Biden and Vice President Harris have come here today at the very start of their administration to make sure we know that we have their support, and that means a great deal to all of the men and women of the State Department. We will do our best, Mr. President, Madam Vice President, to make you proud.

And with that, it is my pleasure to introduce the President of the United States, Joe Biden.

President Biden: Mr. Secretary, itís great to be here with you. And Iíve been looking forward a long time to be able to call you ďMr. Secretary.Ē

Good afternoon, everyone. Itís an honor to be back at the State Department under the eyes of the first American chief diplomat, Benjamin Franklin.

And, by the way, I want you all to know in the press I was the Benjamin Franklin Professor of Presidential Politics at Penn. And I thought they did that because I was as old as he was, but I guess not.

Anyway, all kidding aside, itís great to be here and stand alongside our most recent and senior diplomat, Secretary Tony Blinken. Mr. Secretary, thank you for welcoming us today. Weíve worked together for over 20 years. Your diplomatic skills are respected equally by your friends and our competitors around the world.

And they know when you speak, you speak for me. And so -- so is the message I want the world to hear today: America is back. America is back. Diplomacy is back at the center of our foreign policy.

As I said in my inaugural address, we will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again, not to meet yesterdayís challenges, but todayís and tomorrowís. American leadership must meet this new moment of advancing authoritarianism, including the growing ambitions of China to rival the United States and the determination of Russia to damage and disrupt our democracy.

We must meet the new moment accelerating glo- -- accelerating global challenges -- from the pandemic to the climate crisis to nuclear proliferation -- challenging the will only to be solved by nations working together and in common. We canít do it alone.

That must be this -- we must start with diplomacy rooted in Americaís most cherished democratic values: defending freedom, championing opportunity, upholding universal rights, respecting the rule of law, and treating every person with dignity.

Thatís the grounding wire of our global policy -- our global power. Thatís our inexhaustible source of strength. Thatís Americaís abiding advantage.

Though many of these values have come under intense pressure in recent years, even pushed to the brink in the last few weeks, the American people are going to emerge from this moment stronger, more determined, and better equipped to unite the world in fighting to defend democracy, because we have fought for it ourselves.

Over the past few days, weíve been in close cooperation with our allies and partners to bring together the international community to address the military coup in Burma.

Iíve also been in touch with Leader McConnell to discuss our shared concerns about the situation in Burma, and we are united in our resolve.

There can be no doubt: In a democracy, force should never seek to overrule the will of the people or attempt to erase the outcome of a credible election.

The Burmese military should relinquish power they have seized, release the advocates and activists and officials they have detained, lift the restrictions on telecommunications, and refrain from violence.

As I said earlier this week, we will work with our partners to support restoration of democracy and the rule of law, and impose consequences on those responsible.

Over the past two weeks, Iíve spoken with the leaders of many of our closest friends -- Canada, Mexico, the UK, Germany, France, NATO, Japan, South Korea, Australia -- to being [begin] reforming the habits of cooperation and rebuilding the muscle of democratic alliances that have atrophied over the past few years of neglect and, I would argue, abuse.

Americaís alliances are our greatest asset, and leading with diplomacy means standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies and key partners once again.

By leading with diplomacy, we must also mean engaging our adversaries and our competitors diplomatically, where itís in our interest, and advance the security of the American people.

Thatís why, yesterday, the United States and Russia agreed to extend the New START Treaty for five years to preserve the only remaining treaty between our countries safeguarding nuclear stability.

At the same time, I made it 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 Russiaís aggressive actions -- interfering with our elections, cyberattacks, poisoning its citizens -- are over. We will not hesitate to raise the cost on Russia and defend our vital interests and our people. And we will be more effective in dealing with Russia when we work in coalition and coordination with other like-minded partners.

The politically motivated jailing of Alexei Navalny and the Russian efforts to suppress freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are a matter of deep concern to us and the international community.

Mr. Navalny, like all Russian citizens, is entitled to his rights under the Russian constitution. Heís been targeted -- targeted for exposing corruption. He should be released immediately and without condition.

And weíll also take on directly the challenges posed by our prosperity, security, and democratic values by our most serious competitor, China.

Weíll confront Chinaís economic abuses; counter its aggressive, coercive action; to push back on Chinaís attack on human rights, intellectual property, and global governance.

But we are ready to work with Beijing when itís in Americaís interest to do so. We will compete from a position of strength by building back better at home, working with our allies and partners, renewing our role in international institutions, and reclaiming our credibility and moral authority, much of which has been lost.

Thatís why weíve moved quickly to begin restoring American engagement internationally and earn back our leadership position, to catalyze global action on shared challenges.

On day one, I signed the paperwork to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement. Weíre taking steps led by the example of integrating climate objectives across all of our diplomacy and raise the ambition of our climate targets. That way, we can challenge other nations, other major emitters, up to -- to up the ante on their own commitments. Iíll be hosting climate leaders -- a climate leadersí summit to address the climate crisis on Earth Day of this year.

America must lead in the face of this existential threat. And just as with the pandemic, it requires global cooperation.

Weíve also reengaged with the World Health Organization. That way, we can build better global preparedness to counter COVID-19, as well as detect and prevent future pandemics, because there will be more.

Weíve elevated the status of cyber issues within our government, including appointing the first national -- Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technology. Weíre launching an urgent initiative to improve our capability, readiness, and resilience in cyberspace.

Today, Iím announcing additional steps to course-correct our foreign policy and better unite our democratic values with our diplomatic leadership.

To begin, Defense Secretary Austin will be leading a Global Posture Review of our forces so that our military footprint is appropriately aligned with our foreign policy and national security priorities. It will be coordinated across all elements of our national security, with Secretary Austin and Secretary Blinken working in close cooperation.

And while this review is taking place, weíll be stopping any planned troop withdrawals from Germany. Weíre also stepping up our diplomacy to end the war in Yemen -- a war which has created a humanitarian and strategic catastrophe. Iíve asked my Middle East team to ensure our support for the United Nations-led initiative to impose a ceasefire, open humanitarian channels, and restore long-dormant peace talks.

This morning, Secretary Blinken appointed Tim Lenderking, a career foreign policy officer, as our special envoy to the Yemen conflict. And I appreciate his doing this. Tim is a life -- has lifelong experience in the region, and heíll work with the U.N. envoy and all parties of the conflict to push for a diplomatic resolution.

And Timís diplomacy will be bolstered by USI- -- USAID, working to ensure that humanitarian aid is reaching the Yemeni people who are suffering un- -- an undurable [sic] -- unendurable devastation. This war has to end.

And to underscore our commitment, we are ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia faces missile attacks, UAV strikes, and other threats from Iranian-supplied forces in multiple countries. Weíre going to continue to support and help Saudi Arabia defend its sovereignty and its territorial integrity and its people.

We also face a crisis of more than 80 million displaced people suffering all around the world. The United Statesí moral leadership on refugee issues was a point of bipartisan consensus for so many decades when I first got here. We shined the light of lamp on -- of liberty on oppressed people. We offered safe havens for those fleeing violence or persecution. And our example pushed other nations to open wide their doors as well.

So today, Iím approving an executive order to begin the hard work of restoring our refugee admissions program to help meet the unprecedented global need. Itís going to take time to rebuild what has been so badly damaged, but thatís precisely what weíre going to do.

This executive order will position us to be able to raise the refugee admissions back up to 125,000 persons for the first full fiscal year of the Biden-Harris administration. And Iím directing the State Department to consult with Congress about making a down payment on that commitment as soon as possible.

And to further repair our moral leadership, Iím also issuing a presidential memo to agencies to reinvigorate our leadership on the LGBTQI issues and do it internationally. You know, weíll ensure diplomacy and foreign assistance are working to promote the rights of those individuals, included by combatting criminalization and protecting LGBTQ refugees and asylum-seekers.

And finally, to successfully reassert our diplomacy and keep Americans safe, prosperous, and free, we must restore the health and morale of our foreign policy institutions.

I want the people who work in this building and our embassies and consulates around the world to know: I value your expertise and I respect you, and I will have your back. This administration is going to empower you to do your jobs, not target or politicize you. We want a rigorous debate that brings all perspectives and makes room for dissent. Thatís how weíll get the best possible policy outcomes.

So, with your help, the United States will again lead not just by the example of our power but the power of our example.

Thatís why my administration has already taken the important step to live our domestic values at home -- our democratic values at home.

Within hours of taking office, I signed an executive order overturning the hateful, discriminatory Muslim ban; reversed the ban on transgender individuals serving in our military.

And as part of our commitment to truth, transparency, and accountability, we stated on day one -- we started on day one with daily briefings of the press from the White House. Weíve reinstate- -- weíve reinstituted regular briefings here at State and at the Pentagon. We believe a free press isnít an adversary; rather, itís essential. A free press is essential to the health of a democracy.

Weíve restored our commitment to science and to create policies grounded in facts and evidence. I suspect Ben Franklin would approve.

Weíve taken steps to acknowledge and address systemic racism and the scourge of white supremacy in our own country. Racial equity will not just be an issue for one department in our administration, it has to be the business of the whole of government in all our federal policies and institutions.

All this matters to foreign policy, because when we host the Summit of Democracy early in my administration to rally the nations of the world to defend democracy globally, to push back the authoritarianismís advance, weíll be a much more credible partner because of these efforts to shore up our own foundations.

Thereís no longer a bright line between foreign and domestic policy. Every action we take in our conduct abroad, we must take with American working families in mind. Advancing a foreign policy for the middle class demands urgent focus on our domestic econog- -- economic renewal.

And thatís why I immediately put forth the American Rescue Plan to pull us out of this economic crisis. Thatís why I signed an executive order strengthening our Buy American policies last week. And itís also why Iíll work with Congress to make far-reaching investments in research and development of transformable -- in transformable technologies.

These investments are going to create jobs, maintain Americaís competitive edge globally, and ensure all Americans share in the dividends.

If we invest in ourselves and our people, if we fight to ensure that American businesses are positioned to compete and win on the global stage, if the rules of international trade arenít stacked against us, if our workers and intellectual property are protected, then thereís no country on Earth -- not China or any other country on Earth -- that can match us.

Investing in our diplomacy isnít something we do just because itís the right thing to do for the world. We do it in order to live in peace, security, and prosperity. We do it because itís in our own naked self-interest. When we strengthen our alliances, we amplify our power as well as our ability to disrupt threats before they can reach our shores.

When we invest in economic development of countries, we create new markets for our products and reduce the likelihood of instability, violence, and mass migrations.

When we strengthen health systems in far regions of the world, we reduce the risk of future pandemics that can threaten our people and our economy.

When we defend equal rights of people the world over -- of women and girls, LGBTQ individuals, indigenous communities, and people with disabilities, the people of every ethnic background and religion -- we also ensure that those rights are protected for our own children here in America.

America cannot afford to be absent any longer on the world stage. I come today to the State Department, an agency as old and as storied as the nation itself, because diplomacy has always been essential to how American -- America writes its own destiny.

For the diplomacy of Ben Franklin helped assure the success of our revolution. The vision of the Marshall Plan helped prevent the world from foundering on the wreckage of war. And the passions of Eleanor Roosevelt declared the audacious idea of universal rights that belong to all.

The leadership of diplomats of every stripe, doing the daily work of engagement, created the very idea of a free and interconnected world. We are a country that does big things. American diplomacy makes it happen. And our administration is ready to take up the mantle and lead once again.

Thank you all. And may God bless you and protect our troops, our diplomats, and our development experts, and all Americans serving in harmís way.

Going this way. Thank you all.

Book/CDs by Michael E. Eidenmuller, Published by McGraw-Hill (2008)

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