June 6, 2024 | FDD Tracker: May 4, 2024-June 6, 2024

Biden Administration Foreign Policy Tracker: June

June 6, 2024 | FDD Tracker: May 4, 2024-June 6, 2024

Biden Administration Foreign Policy Tracker: June

Trend Overview

By John Hardie

Welcome back to the Biden Administration Foreign Policy Tracker. Once a month, we ask FDD’s experts and scholars to assess the administration’s foreign policy. They provide trendlines of very positive, positive, neutral, negative, or very negative for the areas they watch.

In a surprise announcement, President Joe Biden unveiled what he said was an Israeli-proposed roadmap toward peace in Gaza. The three-phase plan envisions a ceasefire, a phased Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, the release of the remaining hostages held by Hamas, and ultimately formal peace and the reconstruction of Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly vowed not to accept a “permanent ceasefire” until Israel has destroyed the terror group’s “military and governing capabilities.”

Biden’s roadmap implies that Hamas will remain in power in some form once the war ends, albeit weakened militarily. The administration hopes a potential trilateral agreement for Israeli-Saudi normalization will sweeten the deal for Jerusalem. But the normalization effort seems unlikely to succeed given that it hinges on an agreement on “a pathway to a Palestinian state.”

In a long-overdue move, Biden permitted Ukraine to use some U.S.-supplied weapons to hit military targets on the Russian side of the border. But the White House continues to prohibit Kyiv from using American missiles to strike deeper inside Russia. The administration may eventually remove this restriction, too — but only after a costly delay. This frustrating pattern has plagued U.S. policy on Ukraine.

Check back next month to see how the administration deals with these and other challenges.

China

Following the inauguration of recently elected Taiwanese President William Lai, Chinese warships and fighter jets encircled the self-governed island nation. Beijing’s belligerence, intended as a show of strength and a test of Taiwan’s territorial defenses, underscores China’s growing willingness to engage in ever-bolder intimidation tactics to undermine Taiwanese sovereignty. Washington was initially silent about China’s moves, although the White House eventually issued a statement urging China “to act with restraint.” A spokesman for the UN secretary-general also issued an appeal for de-escalation. Nevertheless, such calls are unlikely to deter further Chinese aggression.

Notably, China’s military maneuvers coincided with U.S.-Chinese consultations on maritime security issues, during which both sides expressed ostensible commitments to maintain dialogue and avoid misunderstandings. Still, Beijing used these engagements to demand that Washington halt diplomatic support for Taiwan and accept China’s erroneous claims over the Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea. These and other maximalist Chinese ultimatums — which Washington has no intention of agreeing to — likely augur a worsening of U.S.-China relations in the coming weeks and months.

On a positive note, in a bid to counter China’s unfair trade practices, the White House announced tariff increases on nearly $18 billion worth of imports from China, targeting sectors such as steel, aluminum, semiconductors, and electric vehicles. These well-timed measures will help protect American workers and businesses from a deluge of cheap Chinese products. However, U.S. policymakers will need to closely monitor Beijing’s reaction and potentially order further tariff increases to address longstanding challenges posed by China’s predatory industrial policies.

Cyber

The Office of the National Cyber Director released two key documents this month: the 2024 Report on the Cybersecurity Posture of the United States and a second iteration of the National Cybersecurity Strategy Implementation Plan. Both documents provide useful information and benchmarks that should help guide federal cybersecurity policy and resourcing over the next year. The posture report identifies current threats to the United States, highlighting nation-state manipulation of U.S. critical infrastructure as well as the use of ransomware by cybercriminals. The report also details how the United States is adjusting to these threats, such as the ongoing migration to the cloud. The new implementation plan provides updates on last year’s objectives and adds 31 new tasks, showing iterative, publicly accountable progress. These documents help maintain a persistent focus on improving cyber resilience within the federal government.

The State Department also released the International Cyberspace and Digital Policy Strategy, which aims to advance the principles of the National Cybersecurity Strategy abroad. This strategy affirms that Washington will work with partners to achieve a shared vision of an inclusive and just cyberspace. The document also asserts that the United States will continue to build partner capacity to counter cyber threats.

Following several high-profile cyberattacks against healthcare organizations, the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health launched a program that will invest $50 million to automate hospital cyber defenses. If successful, this will greatly reduce the burden on hospital IT staff, many of whom struggle to keep up with attacks by cybercriminals.

Defense

On May 17, the Department of Defense installed on the coast of Gaza a Joint Logistics, Over-the-Shore (JLOTS) capability to provide humanitarian assistance to civilians there. A few days later, systems were installed to defend the pier and the American personnel working there from rockets, mortars, and drones.

The immediate danger, however, was weather in the form of “high sea states and a North African weather system.” They caused a portion of the pier to detach and run aground on May 25 after losing power, according to Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh. The administration plans to reinstall the temporary pier on the Gaza coast after repairs, which are expected to take approximately one week. Prior to the incident, over 1,000 metric tons of aid had been delivered to the pier for distribution to Palestinians. Some of that aid did not reach the intended destination due to distribution challenges, including what Singh called “self-distribution,” which is another way to describe looting.

According to the Israeli government, almost 600,000 tons of humanitarian assistance has been delivered to Gaza since the beginning of the war. Notably, there were over 600 aid trucks awaiting pickup by UN agencies on May 27.

On May 24, the Pentagon announced another new security assistance package for Ukraine. The Biden administration also permitted Ukraine to use U.S.-provided weapons to strike military targets in Russia near the border, although it still prohibits Kyiv from conducting deep strikes in Russia using American-supplied ATACMS missiles.

Europe and Russia

The Biden administration finally granted Ukraine permission to use some American-supplied weapons to strike military targets on Russian territory near northeastern Ukraine. The White House’s decision came amid growing pressure from Kyiv and NATO allies as well as internal concerns that the previous restrictions granted Russia safe haven from which to prosecute its offensive in northern Kharkiv Oblast, launched on May 10. Ukraine has since conducted HIMARS rocket artillery strikes in the rear of Russia’s Kharkiv grouping.

However, the administration continues to bar Kyiv from using U.S.-provided ATACMS missiles to strike deeper inside Russia. Ukraine could use these missiles to strike high-value military targets up to 300 kilometers away, including airbases from which Russian Su-34 strike fighters launch glide-bomb strikes. Russia is launching over 100 of these bombs per day, pounding Ukrainian positions and communities near the front line. If Washington were to greenlight ATACMS strikes on Russian territory, it would likely lead other NATO allies to grant Ukraine formal permission to use their missiles inside Russia.

Meanwhile, the administration issued military aid packages for Ukraine under presidential drawdown authority on May 10 and May 24, together worth up to $675 million. During a visit to Kyiv in mid-May, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Washington would provide Ukraine with $2 billion in Foreign Military Financing. The money will go toward providing Kyiv with weapons from the United States and other countries and developing Ukraine’s own defense industry. However, President Biden intends to skip a Ukrainian-organized peace summit in mid-June, planning to attend a Hollywood fundraiser instead.

Gulf

The Biden administration pressured Britain and France not to censure Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency for Tehran’s acceleration of its nuclear production program. This decision reaffirmed Gulf fears that Washington is looking the other way while Iran is inching closer to a nuclear weapon. Seeing America as an unreliable security guarantor, Gulf capitals have responded by cozying up to the Islamic Republic.

Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan visited Tehran to offer his country’s condolences for the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, killed in a helicopter crash. Farhan was warmly welcomed by his acting counterpart, Ali Baqiri, who similarly offered a warm reception to Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed. Days later, Iranian state media reported that Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman had accepted an invitation from Acting Iranian President Muhammad Mokhber to visit Tehran. Saudi media did not confirm the report but did not deny it either.

Meanwhile, U.S. efforts to secure normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia seem to have stalled, as the Biden administration failed to decouple the Saudi and Palestinian peace tracks. Washington and Riyadh have nearly settled their portion of the deal, involving a U.S.-Saudi defense pact and civil nuclear cooperation agreement. But the Israeli-Saudi part of the deal has proven trickier. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Congress that the “Saudis demand a ceasefire in Gaza and a pathway to a Palestinian state, and it may well be that Israel isn’t able [or] willing to proceed down this pathway.”

Indo-Pacific

Amidst escalating tensions in the Indo-Pacific, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin embarked on his 10th trip to the region, attending the annual Shangri-La defense dialogue in Singapore. There, Austin met with newly appointed Chinese Defense Minister Dong Jun, marking the first substantive, face-to-face talks between the two countries’ defense chiefs in 18 months. However, the meeting yielded few tangible outcomes apart from continued Chinese promises to resume some of the direct military-to-military dialogues it unilaterally scrapped after former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s 2022 trip to Taiwan.

With Washington seeking to deepen its regional ties, the Defense Department also outlined draft legislation to establish an Indo-Pacific Security Assistance Initiative, modeled on a program used to arm Ukraine. This initiative aims to provide weapons to Taiwan and other allies, such as the Philippines, with a proposed budget of $500 million for fiscal year 2025. The move underscores growing concern over Beijing’s assertive actions and highlights the need to bolster regional defense capabilities to keep pace with China’s growing military.

Despite these efforts, China’s influence continues to expand in other parts of the Indo-Pacific. The appointment of Jeremiah Manele as prime minister of the Solomon Islands suggests the island nation will continue his predecessor’s policies, likely drawing closer to China. Moreover, combined military exercises between China and Cambodia, alongside the prolonged deployment of Chinese warships to Cambodia’s Ream Naval base, underscores Beijing’s strategic focus on bolstering its naval presence along key maritime chokepoints. This includes areas near Vietnam and the Malacca Strait, which could enable China to disrupt global trade routes during a future crisis over Taiwan.

International Organizations

Robert Wood, deputy U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, stood for a moment of silence held by the Security Council for Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, also known as the “Butcher of Tehran.” The administration should have provided clear guidance to sit or leave the chamber instead of memorializing a mass murderer who presided over plots to kill former U.S. officials. Washington boycotted a memorial service to honor Raisi, but the event was partly subsidized by the U.S. contribution to the UN’s regular budget.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) again denied Taiwan observer status at its annual gathering despite American pledges to fight for Taipei’s inclusion. This is the fourth year in a row since the Biden administration restored funding to the WHO — without obtaining a single reform — that the State Department has failed to deliver for Taiwan. Nothing will change until Washington attaches conditions to its funding for the WHO and other agencies that exclude Taiwan.

Separately, although Congress has prohibited U.S. funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) through next spring, the Biden administration made clear it is working to ensure that other countries provide funding to UNRWA, which collaborates with Hamas. Congress may need to consider imposing terrorism-related sanctions on UNRWA to halt third-country funding.

Finally, while President Biden said it was “outrageous” that the International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor requested arrest warrants for Israeli leaders, the White House says it will not support sanctions on the ICC to deter further illegitimate lawfare.

Iran

News reports revealed that Biden administration officials held secret, indirect talks with Iran in May, ostensibly over the regime’s support for terror groups throughout the Middle East. The White House’s interlocutor was Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, currently serving as the Islamic Republic’s acting foreign minister. His participation suggests the talks may have touched on the administration’s unacknowledged nuclear deal with Tehran.

Following the unexpected death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, the State Department and White House issued condolences for the mass murderer, who served as president at a time when Iran cracked down on nationwide anti-regime protests from 2022-2023.

A week after Raisi’s death, media reports revealed the administration opposed European plans to censure Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors meeting in early June. The administration used Raisi’s death as an excuse, claiming it wanted to avoid provoking Tehran during a transition period. But Washington has opposed such a resolution for months. This comes as the IAEA reports that Tehran had increased its stockpile of 60 percent highly-enriched uranium over the last three months, while Iranian officials are speaking freely about pursuing a nuclear weapons capability.

Meanwhile, a senior Treasury Department official traveled to Singapore and Malaysia to counter “terrorist financing and revenue generation by Iran and its proxies.” But the administration has yet to crack down on Iran’s illicit oil shipments to China or revoke a sanctions waiver that allows Iran access to billions of dollars in Iraqi electricity payments.

Israel

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin confirmed on May 8 that the White House was delaying weapons transfers to Israel. The same day, President Biden said that if Israeli forces “go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons.”

Nevertheless, on May 14, the administration notified Congress of a future $1 billion arms package for Israel. As Jerusalem has continued its operation in Rafah, the White House has maintained that Israel has not crossed the administration’s red line of a “major ground operation” in the city.

On May 10, the State Department issued a report indicating it could not conclude that Israel has violated international humanitarian law with U.S.-provided weapons.

Meanwhile, the expensive U.S.-built pier to facilitate aid deliveries to Gaza finally began operations. On May 18, the pier’s second day in operation, most trucks leaving the pier failed to reach their destination due to Palestinian looting. A week later, inclement weather temporarily knocked the pier out of commission. The roughly 1,000 metric tons of aid shipped to Gaza via the pier amount to a small fraction of the aid delivered to Gaza by land via Israel.

On May 31, Biden announced that Israel had agreed to a ceasefire framework that would allow Hamas to remain in power. An aide to Israel’s prime minister described the agreement, which was purportedly backed by the Israeli government, as “not a good deal.” Confusion out of Jerusalem notwithstanding, the Biden administration is limiting Israel’s ability to destroy Hamas in Gaza.

Korea

North Korea tested at least 10 ballistic missiles on May 30 following a failed launch of a reconnaissance satellite on May 27. Pyongyang has attempted to launch three spy satellites into orbit since 2023, succeeding on one occasion. The UN Security Council convened on May 31 to assess the situation, and the meeting showcased Russia’s growing defense of Pyongyang in the face of admonition by the United States, South Korea, Japan, and allies. North Korea is prohibited under multiple UN Security Council resolutions from testing ballistic missiles or space-launch vehicles. Meanwhile, an unclassified report by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency confirmed that Russia used North Korean-provided missiles in Ukraine. Missiles manufactured by Pyongyang have a greater failure rate than those produced by Moscow.

On May 30, the U.S. State Department reiterated its previous position that Washington has no plans to forward-deploy U.S. nuclear weapons to South Korea, responding to Russian threats against any U.S. move to do so. “The U.S. does not assess returning nuclear weapons to the Indo-Pacific as necessary at this time,” said the department’s deputy spokesperson, dismissing Moscow’s comments as “nuclear saber-rattling.”

South Korea’s unification ministry reported no cross-border trade during 2023 between Seoul and Pyongyang and an historic low in humanitarian aid from the south to the north. This marked the first time North and South Korea have recorded no trade since the two began trading in 1989, according to the ministry.

Latin America

On May 1, Colombian President Gustavo Petro announced he was breaking diplomatic relations with Israel, dealing a blow to his country’s armed forces, who heavily depend on Israel-manufactured equipment and technology. The move could affect U.S.-Colombia relations, too. But the Biden administration has so far struck a conciliatory tone, calling on its two allies to resume relations.

On May 15, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned a Nicaragua-based training center run by the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs, which trains Nicaragua’s security forces in repression techniques. Treasury also designated two gold mining companies linked to a sanctioned Nicaraguan official. The same day, the State Department imposed visa restrictions on over 250 Nicaraguan officials and other individuals for “supporting the Ortega-Murillo regime in its attacks on human rights and fundamental freedoms, repression of civil society organizations and profiting off of vulnerable migrants.”

Regardless, Managua continues to defy the Biden administration, including by facilitating illegal migration into the United States. In a travel advisory issued on May 8, the U.S. government accused Nicaragua’s president and vice president of having “put in place permissive-by-design migration policies that have introduced opportunities for migrant smuggling and trafficking networks to exploit migrants for economic gain and fuel dangerous, irregular travel towards the U.S. southwest border.” Conviasa, the U.S.-sanctioned Venezuelan airline, has helped fuel the crisis by increasing flights that reportedly carry migrants to Managua. Conviasa also operates planes procured from Iran in defiance of U.S. sanctions.

Lebanon

Israel and Hezbollah continue to trade cross-border fire, with the terror group noticeably escalating the frequency, intensity, and lethality of its attacks over the past month. Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts to defuse this situation remain fruitless. U.S. envoy Amos Hochstein has not visited Lebanon in months, although he reportedly has continued holding behind-the-scenes meetings to achieve calm along the Blue Line, Israel and Lebanon’s de facto border.

Whatever progress can be expected from Hochstein’s ongoing efforts, his vision for defusing the Israel-Hezbollah tensions remains fundamentally flawed. His plan envisions the gradual implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which requires Hezbollah to disarm or at least withdraw north of the Litani River. This plan is unworkable, as Resolution 1701 relies on enforcement by the Lebanese government, in which Hezbollah itself is the dominant player. Beirut simply lacks the willingness or capacity to disarm or restrain Hezbollah in any way. Therefore, any plan that is modeled on Resolution 1701 but fails to offer a credible alternative enforcement mechanism is bound to fail sooner or later. Even if Hezbollah were to accept certain limitations on its actions or freedom of movement, the group would no doubt renege in short order once international attention had turned elsewhere.

Nonproliferation and Biodefense

At a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany presented a draft resolution to censure Iran for its nonproliferation violations — despite U.S. opposition to the European plan. Washington ultimately voted for the resolution after failing to dissuade its European allies from moving forward. The 35-nation board passed the motion with 20 votes in favor, two votes against (China and Russia), and 12 abstentions. The resolution demands that Iran reverse its threatening nuclear advances, restore IAEA monitoring, and allow access to IAEA inspectors. The resolution also pressures Tehran to come into compliance with its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations and suggests the IAEA may need to issue a comprehensive report on the regime’s non-compliance with NPT safeguards. The board also considered new IAEA reports that indicate Iran is inching closer to a nuclear weapon.

The United States is nearing a deal with Saudi Arabia under which Washington would potentially endow Riyadh with a U.S.-supervised uranium enrichment capability on Saudi soil. The latter provision would upend decades of U.S. policy that has sought to counter the proliferation of enrichment and plutonium reprocessing capabilities, the two key means of making fuel for nuclear weapons. The agreement would likely also trigger Emirati demands to revise terms in its U.S. nuclear cooperation agreement to allow for enrichment. Turkey, Egypt, and other states may also seek to develop such capabilities. Notably, a U.S.-Saudi nuclear cooperation agreement may escape congressional oversight unless members are able to pass a resolution of disapproval.

Sunni Jihadism

Gen. Michael Langley, the head of U.S. Africa Command, blamed Russian disinformation for fueling a breach between Washington and African nations. Langley insisted that the U.S. government needs “to get our narrative out there” to restore U.S. influence, then referred to the governments of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso as “military regimes.” This spring, the United States was forced to abandon its bases in Niger after criticizing the junta. The United States also had to withdraw military advisors from Chad.

Al-Qaeda’s general command endorsed attacks against “Zionists” in response to the war in Gaza, saying it is “happy, and every Muslim was happy, with these revenge attacks and operations carried out by the youth of the Islamic nation.” Additionally, al-Qaeda’s general command said, “[W]e also appreciate and value the movement of Western demonstrators and sit-in students from Western universities.” Separately, the Group for Support of Islam and Muslims, al-Qaeda’s branch for the Sahel and wider West Africa, announced that it is operating a training camp somewhere in Burkina Faso.

Finally, Gen. Frank McKenzie, the former commander of U.S. Central Command, said the withdrawal from Afghanistan was a historic mistake. He argued that Presidents Trump and Biden were determined to leave Afghanistan “regardless, really, of consequences.” The withdrawal from Afghanistan put the Taliban back in charge, which has allowed al-Qaeda to reestablish training camps, safe houses, religious schools, and other infrastructure throughout the country. Additionally, the United States abandoned its Afghan ally and left Afghans who worked closely with the United States to the predations of the Taliban.

Syria

Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad attended the Arab League summit in Bahrain on May 16 and met with the island nation’s king on the sidelines of the Manama gathering. Unusually, Assad did not address the assembled leaders. Tensions between Syria and other Arab governments were apparent at preparatory meetings for the Arab summit, with Damascus refusing to provide formal responses to questions about narcotrafficking. At the summit itself, King Abdullah II of Jordan called on Arab governments to confront the smuggling of weapons and drugs by Iran-backed militias based in southern Syria. Reuters also reported that Amman had foiled a plot by the Syrian-based militias to send weapons to Jordanian Islamists planning sabotage operations.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia continued to rebuild its relationship with the Assad regime, dispatching an ambassador to Damascus for the first time since severing ties in 2012. Riyadh also allowed a direct flight carrying religious pilgrims from Syria to Saudi Arabia for the first time in more than a decade. The Biden administration continued to signal that it would not stand in the way of Assad’s diplomatic rehabilitation despite confirming the death of Majd Kamalmaz, a U.S. citizen who disappeared at a regime checkpoint while visiting family in Syria in 2017. On relations with Assad, a State Department spokesman said, “We engage consistently with Arab League members, encouraging them to press and push the Assad regime to make meaningful change.” So far, this policy has facilitated Assad’s emergence from isolation without benefiting the United States or diminishing Assad’s role in Iranian-led efforts to destabilize the region.

Turkey

On May 2, Turkey’s Ministry of Trade ordered a total and immediate suspension of trade with Israel as punishment for Jerusalem’s ongoing war against Hamas. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan considers Israeli military actions to be a “genocide” against Palestinians, something that “even Hitler would have been jealous of.” Ankara had announced on April 9 that it was imposing trade restrictions on 54 categories of goods. The new measure goes further, completely suspending “exports and imports to and from Israel … until the Israeli government allows an uninterrupted and sufficient flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza.” After Ankara issued the restrictions in April, U.S. lawmakers in Congress voiced strong opposition to the Turkish measures, calling on the Biden administration to “consider retaliatory measures, including sanctions,” against Turkey.

Erdogan’s increasingly hostile position toward Israel is complicating Turkey’s relations with the United States. Erdogan was scheduled to visit the White House on May 9, but the trip was canceled. Reports blamed the cancelation on Erdogan’s hosting of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Istanbul and the April trade restrictions on Israel. It remains to be seen whether Erdogan and Biden will meet on the sidelines of NATO’s annual summit in June, to be held in New York. Turkey continues to act against U.S. interests in the Gaza war. Turkish nonprofits are threatening to send an aid flotilla to Gaza that has been opposed by Congress, and Ankara has admitted to treating over 1,000 Hamas members in Turkey, thought to have been smuggled out of Gaza.

Disclaimer

The analyses above do not necessarily represent the institutional views of FDD.