July 2, 2024 | FDD Tracker: June 7, 2024-July 2, 2024

Biden Administration Foreign Policy Tracker: July

July 2, 2024 | FDD Tracker: June 7, 2024-July 2, 2024

Biden Administration Foreign Policy Tracker: July

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.

As Israel nears the end of its operation in Rafah, the Biden administration continued to push for a ceasefire but blamed Hamas for obstructing progress. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly accused Washington of withholding military assistance, but the Biden team insisted it is not blocking the delivery of materiel save for 2,000-pound bombs. Meanwhile, Washington continued attempting to broker a diplomatic solution to avert a full-scale wale between Israel and Hezbollah, though these efforts have struggled to gain traction.

At the G7 summit in Italy, President Joe Biden and his counterparts agreed to use windfall revenue from frozen Russian assets to finance a $50 billion loan for Ukraine aid, and the American and Ukrainian leaders signed a 10-year bilateral security agreement. Biden hopes both these measures will help lock in U.S. support for Ukraine. The Biden team also took steps to provide Kyiv with additional air defenses, although Washington continues to bar Ukraine from employing American-supplied ATACMS missiles to strike airbases and other targets inside Russia.

In the South China Sea, Beijing escalated its maritime aggression against the Philippines. And while the United States is pursuing closer defense-industrial ties with key Indo-Pacific allies and partners, Washington is struggling to stem the expansion of China’s military footprint and influence in the region and beyond.

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

China

The Biden administration is slowly recognizing the limitations of its engagement-first strategy with China, an approach that has favored diplomatic overtures over decisive actions to curb Beijing’s belligerence. Notably, in a rare public rebuke, U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns sharply criticized Beijing for harassing and interrogating Chinese citizens seeking to attend U.S. Embassy-organized events. Burns also condemned the stabbing of four American college instructors in Jilin Province, blaming the Chinese government’s incitement of anti-American sentiment. These incidents, coupled with China’s support for Russia’s war in Ukraine, make clear Beijing is not merely disinterested in stabilizing U.S.-China relations but is actively working to undermine them.

Meanwhile, Chinese commentators seized on the recent U.S. presidential debate to launch fresh critiques of American democracy. High-profile Chinese commentator Hu Xijin derided the “low-quality performance of these two old men,” which he called “a negative advertisement for Western democracy.” Other state-owned outlets echoed this sentiment, with one labeling Biden as “habitually confused” and another branding Trump as “mentally ill.” Such remarks are consistent with China’s broader messaging strategy aimed at eroding global confidence in democratic governance. They also echo Beijing’s efforts to discourage voter participation and sow societal division during the 2022 U.S. midterms. The Biden administration failed to punish China for those transgressions. The result: Beijing appears all but certain to intensify its disinformation efforts in the run-up to November’s election, with the goal of further diminishing America’s global standing.

Cyber

In the wake of a cyberattack earlier this year against payment processor Change Healthcare that disrupted operations at thousands of hospitals, pharmacies, and other facilities, the Biden administration announced a series of efforts to bolster the cybersecurity of the healthcare sector. The administration secured commitments from Microsoft and Google to provide free or discounted cybersecurity services to rural hospitals. The Department of Health and Human Services is investing in research to automate cybersecurity for healthcare facilities. And the White House is developing long-overdue minimum cybersecurity standards in coordination with major hospital groups.

On the international stage, the Department of Energy announced that eight major multinational manufacturers of industrial control system technology signed onto new, voluntary supply chain cybersecurity principles. The State Department’s Bureau of Cybersecurity and Digital Policy (CDP) is working with partner countries and private companies to implement the administration’s international cybersecurity strategy. This comes as House appropriators corrected a glaring omission from the president’s annual budget, which failed to request funding for State’s cyber assistance fund. CDP uses this fund to quickly help allies and partners respond to cyberattacks.

Back at home, the Treasury and Commerce departments sanctioned the leadership of Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky and banned the sale of its products in the United States. This is the culmination of a multi-year effort to mitigate risks posed by the company’s cooperation with Russian military and intelligence units.

Finally, the Federal Trade Commission recommended a civil lawsuit against TikTok for alleged violations of children’s privacy rights.

Defense

Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Dr. William LaPlante joined his Japanese counterpart in Tokyo in mid-June to launch the inaugural U.S.-Japan Defense Industrial Cooperation, Acquisition, and Sustainment Forum. The top priorities are “missile co-production, co-sustainment of forward-deployed U.S. Navy ships and U.S. Air Force aircraft, and supply chain resiliency.” As the threat from China grows and the U.S. military and defense-industrial base struggle to meet growing requirements, U.S. security cooperation with key allies will become more important.

Following that forum, the United States, Japan, and South Korea conducted the inaugural Freedom Edge trilateral military exercise on June 27-29, focusing on “Ballistic Missile Defense, Air Defense, Anti-Submarine Warfare, Search and Rescue, Maritime Interdiction, and Defensive Cyber training,” according to U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. North Korea responded by threatening an “offensive and overwhelming” response, which included test-firing two ballistic missiles.

Due to anticipated rough weather and challenging seas, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) announced on June 28 that the pier it installed in May along the coast of Gaza to deliver humanitarian aid was moved to Ashdod, Israel. CENTCOM noted that the pier had enabled over 19.4 million pounds of aid to be delivered via the maritime corridor for distribution since May 17, with 10 million of that coming in the last week. The problem is that much of that aid has been sitting in a nearby assembly area and has not been delivered by the United Nations to those in need, due to security concerns and attacks on humanitarian convoys.

Europe and Russia

At the G7 summit, leaders endorsed a U.S.-backed plan to use the interest from frozen Russian assets to secure a $50 billion loan for aid to Ukraine. The allies intend to work out the details in the coming months. The day prior, the administration announced new measures designed to deter foreign support for Russia’s war machine.

On the summit’s sidelines, the American and Ukrainian presidents signed a 10-year bilateral security agreement. Biden hopes the pact will signal that Moscow cannot outlast U.S. support, although a future administration could always tear it up. Under the deal, Washington committed to continue providing military and economic assistance, while Kyiv promised to pursue further reforms and to continue facilitating end-use monitoring. The next week, Ukraine’s parliament, thanks in part to U.S. pressure, passed key reform legislation to reboot the country’s Economic Security Bureau.

To help meet Ukraine’s need for air defenses, Biden reportedly approved the transfer of another Patriot fire unit. Washington is also working on securing more Patriots from Israel. In addition, the administration gave Kyiv top priority for exports of newly made Patriot and NASAMS missiles, expected to begin arriving by summer’s end. Meanwhile, since Congress passed the aid bill in April, the resumption of regular U.S. assistance seems to have eased Ukraine’s shortage of artillery ammunition.

CNN reported Biden will likely allow American contractors to go to Ukraine to expedite maintenance and repair of U.S.-provided military equipment. However, despite pressure from Kyiv and European allies, Biden continues to bar Ukraine from using ATACMS missiles inside Russia.

Gulf

Yemen’s Houthi rebels in June attacked more civilian vessels transiting the Red Sea, including a Greek-owned cargo ship that was sunk after being struck by an uncrewed surface vessel. This was the second ship sunk by the Houthis since they began targeting commercial vessels last November in a bid to incite international pressure on Israel to halt its war against Hamas. The terror campaign has driven up shipping costs and strained supply chains, contributing to inflation.

While the U.S. military and coalition partners have intercepted numerous Houthi missiles and drones and have conducted strikes against Houthi military sites, the terror group apparently remains undeterred. The U.S. military has failed to impose sufficient costs to deter its much weaker foe. As The New York Times reported earlier this year, America has sought to “chip away at the Houthis’ ability to menace merchant ships and military vessels but not hit so hard as to kill large numbers of Houthi fighters and commanders” for fear that doing so might unleash “even more mayhem into the region.”

With Iran’s help, the Houthis have been spreading war and destruction for a decade. Washington apparently fails to grasp that allowing the terror group to remain in power will only yield more instability. At a minimum, the Houthis should be made to feel that their very existence is threatened. Otherwise, they will not stop blackmailing America and the world and will maintain their chokehold on one of the world’s most important shipping lanes.

Indo-Pacific

Tensions escalated sharply this month in the South China Sea. China Coast Guard personnel, armed with swords and knives, boarded several Philippine vessels resupplying the contested Second Thomas Shoal. One Filipino soldier lost a thumb during the encounter, and others suffered severe injuries. Despite Washington’s stern warnings, China’s maritime provocations have proceeded unabated, showcasing the Biden administration’s profound inability to curb China’s maritime belligerence through diplomacy alone. If left unchecked, such incidents could trigger the 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty, which obligates both nations to respond militarily to an “armed attack,” thereby risking a direct conflict with China.

Meanwhile, the White House deployed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to Cambodia, host to a new Chinese naval base, Beijing’s second overseas base. Unfortunately, Austin’s trip failed to yield any significant outcomes, with Phnom Penh instead signaling it plans to deepen its military ties with Beijing. Absent a more robust U.S. strategy, China appears set to establish additional military footholds in the coming years, potentially challenging American naval supremacy and reshaping global power structures amid competing global crises.

On a positive note, the administration continues to advance plans for deepening defense collaboration across the Indo-Pacific. This month, the Defense Department unveiled several initiatives to bolster defense-industrial ties with 12 regional partners, with the goal of reducing reliance on China for critical defense materials. While such efforts are laudable, the challenge remains in translating these ambitious plans into concrete actions — a task for which the administration has yet to outline a definitive strategy.

International Organizations

The Biden administration remained a member of the UN Human Rights Council despite a June 20 statement from the council’s so-called “expert” community falsely accusing Israel of war crimes in Gaza and calling on arms manufacturers to halt sales to Israel. In its 18 months on the council, the administration has never offered a resolution to reform the body by eliminating its standing agenda item on Israel, terminating the commission of inquiry into Israel, or ending the mandate for Francesca Albanese, the UN special rapporteur for Palestinian human rights, who is known for her inflammatory statements against Israel.

The United States also continued providing funding to the United Nations without conditionality even though the UN secretary-general on June 13 placed Israel on a blacklist for allegedly targeting children in armed conflict. This effectively equates casualties unintentionally caused by Israel with Hamas’s deliberate attacks against civilians.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration on June 4 said it “strongly opposes” legislation passed by the House of Representatives that would impose sanctions on International Criminal Court (ICC) officials that seek the indictment of Americans or Israelis. Despite the White House’s opposition, the threat of congressional action, combined with intervention by the British government, may be having an impact. The ICC on June 27 announced it would delay a hearing on its chief prosecutor’s request to issue arrest warrants for Israel’s prime minister and defense minister. This delay gives time for the United Kingdom and potentially other ICC members to file amicus briefs opposing the court’s jurisdiction in the matter.

Iran

Despite initially opposing a European-sponsored censure resolution against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors meeting, the United States ultimately supported the resolution when the United Kingdom, France, and Germany pushed it forward.

The administration, however, is now downplaying a report that Iran is conducting computer modeling activities possibly related to the development of nuclear weapons. Such modeling is a key step in turning fissile material into a weapon. American officials continue to say that the U.S. intelligence community still has no indication that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon — apparently taking the position that computer modeling does not constitute weaponization activity. That, however, is a political distinction, not a technical one. Section T of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal prohibited computer modeling, albeit with no verification regime to prevent it.

As Iran prepared to hold a presidential election on June 28, the U.S. deputy special envoy on Iran criticized the theocratic regime for refusing to hold a free and fair contest. Nevertheless, Washington allowed Tehran to run absentee voting stations across America, which could be seen as legitimizing the sham election.

Meanwhile, on June 25, the administration imposed counterterrorism sanctions on nearly 50 individuals and entities connected to Iran’s military establishment, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and shadow banking networks. On June 27, the administration imposed another round of sanctions targeting vessels in Iran’s “Ghost Fleet,” which ship oil in violation of U.S. sanctions. A U.S. sanctions waiver giving Iran access to Iraqi electricity payments remains in effect, however.

Israel

Israel has cleared Hamas from most of Rafah without crossing the White House’s red line forbidding a large-scale assault on Gaza’s southernmost city. Israel managed to evacuate nearly 1 million Palestinians from Rafah, allaying U.S. concerns about civilian casualties.

While visiting Israel on June 10, Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the ceasefire proposal recently announced by President Biden. Jerusalem has accepted the proposal, though Netanyahu insists Israel will still destroy Hamas. But Hamas has demanded “numerous changes” to the deal, Blinken said.

On June 18, Netanyahu publicly blamed Biden for delaying weapons shipments to Israel. Washington responded by canceling a U.S.-Israel meeting on Iran scheduled for June 20. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant then traveled to Washington to smooth things over. While Biden confirmed he has denied Israel 2,000-pound bombs, Washington has reportedly approved the delivery of some lighter bombs. The administration insists that weapon deliveries have slowed in recent months simply because Jerusalem is placing fewer requests.

Whatever the reason, these delays could prove harmful as Israel-Hezbollah tensions continue to escalate. U.S. envoy Amos Hochstein warned Hezbollah in mid-June that Washington would not be able to prevent Israel from attacking Hezbollah in the event of a wider escalation. But General Charles Q. Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that such a war could draw in Iran. He added that America would not be able to defend Israel against Hezbollah rockets as effectively as U.S. forces protected the Jewish state against Iranian missiles and drones in April.

Korea

North Korea and Russia on June 19 revived a Cold War-era mutual defense pact during a visit to Pyongyang by Russian President Vladimir Putin, marking an alarming evolution in bilateral ties. Moscow has increasingly relied on North Korean munitions to prosecute its illegal war against Ukraine, violating UN sanctions against North Korea. The United States raised these violations during a June 28 meeting of the Security Council. Washington worries that Moscow may provide Pyongyang with advanced military technology, potentially helping North Korea field a ballistic missile submarine.

On June 27, North Korea claimed it had successfully flight-tested an intermediate-range ballistic missile that could carry multiple nuclear warheads. Known as a multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV), this would be a significant advancement in Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons capabilities. However, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff immediately disputed the claim as “deceptive.” Seoul assessed that while the test used hypersonic technology, the separation of warheads occurred during the missile’s initial ascent rather than during its descent, as required for a successful MIRV test.

The United States and South Korea convened a third meeting of their Nuclear Consultative Group to strengthen the alliance and the U.S. extended nuclear deterrence commitment to Seoul. The allies also finished a fourth round of talks over cost-sharing for U.S. forces stationed on the peninsula. Meanwhile, at the inaugural meeting of commerce and trade ministers from the United States, South Korea, and Japan, the three countries pledged to cooperate on a host of strategic and economic issues.

Latin America

The border crisis continues to occupy the Biden administration’s agenda. In early June, President Biden issued an executive order introducing tougher restrictions at the border. But the administration has not taken action against Venezuela’s Maduro regime for helping to fuel the migration crisis. Ahead of July 28 elections in Venezuela, U.S. policy vis-à-vis Caracas remains stuck in a holding pattern of wait-and-see despite the regime’s continuing harassment of opposition figures.

Meanwhile, Russian naval vessels docked in Cuba and participated in military drills alongside the Cuban Navy. The Pentagon said it was tracking Moscow’s show of force in the Caribbean but was not worried. American and Canadian military ships and aircraft tracked the Russian vessels “the whole time,” a U.S. official said.

At the June 26-28 General Assembly of the Organization of American States in Asuncion, Paraguay, the U.S. delegation again urged the host country to combat corruption. Though Paraguay deserves criticism, Washington has so far refrained from openly voicing similar concerns with Brazil despite President Lula da Silva’s record of corruption and worrying signs that Brazil’s politicized Supreme Court is suppressing free speech.

Lebanon

The Biden administration has continued to deal ineffectively with Hezbollah as Israel and the Iran-backed terror organization teeter on the brink of full-scale war. Hezbollah’s attacks against Israel continue to grow in frequency, intensity, and lethality. In its latest attack, launched on June 30, Hezbollah drone strikes wounded 18 Israeli soldiers. Meanwhile, the Israeli military says it has approved operational plans for a potential war against the terror group.

While the United States has deployed additional military assets to the region in an effort to deter escalation, inconsistent U.S. support for Israel has emboldened Hezbollah and its partners. Washington’s efforts to dissuade the Israelis from retaliating against Hezbollah, along with the administration’s overt pressure on Israel concerning its war in Gaza, have led Hezbollah to conclude it has more room to act with impunity. During a June 19 speech, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah went so far as to threaten attacks on Cyprus if the island country assisted Israel during a full-blown conflict. Later in June, his patrons in Tehran vowed to launch “an obliterating war” against Israel that would include “the full involvement of all resistance fronts.”

As the region inches closer to a full-blown conflict, Washington continues to promote superficial diplomatic solutions. Ceasefire proposals center on resolving outstanding territorial disputes between Lebanon and Israel and persuading Hezbollah to withdraw several kilometers from the frontier. Such a deal would not satiate the group’s enmity towards Israel, and its implementation would depend on the Lebanese state, which is ineffectual and beholden to Hezbollah.

Nonproliferation and Biodefense

Iran is conducting computer modeling with applications in nuclear weapons development, Axios reported on June 18. U.S. and Israeli officials met recently to parse this new intelligence, while Israel has re-established working groups on Iranian nuclear weapons efforts. Washington and Jerusalem fear that Tehran will increase such work ahead of the U.S. presidential election. In response to a May censure resolution from the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors, Iran announced a major expansion of its uranium enrichment capacity at the underground Fordow site. Once installed, new advanced centrifuges will dramatically increase Tehran’s ability to make highly enriched uranium or move to production of weapons-grade material.

On June 21, Reuters reported that the United States and China held secret bilateral nuclear arms control talks in March, the first such meeting in five years. The talks came as Beijing plans a massive expansion of its nuclear arsenal. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell characterized China as “reluctant” to discuss limitations on its nuclear arsenal but more open to discussions of the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in nuclear weapon launch systems. America favors strict limits on AI in these roles, while China disagrees.

Putin, meanwhile, said Moscow may revise its nuclear doctrine in response to what he characterized as the West’s “lowering the threshold for using nuclear weapons,” although he said he currently sees no need for nuclear use in Ukraine. In addition, Putin warned that Russia could transfer missiles to enemies of the West in retaliation for Western missile supplies to Kyiv.

Sunni Jihadism

The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force apprehended eight Tajik nationals with ties to the Islamic State’s branch in Afghanistan. The suspects were arrested in New York, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia on immigration charges. The Department of Homeland Security has reportedly identified more than 400 Central Asian immigrants who have been smuggled into the United States over the last three years by an ISIS-linked network.

Sayf al-Adl, al-Qaeda’s putative emir, called for Muslims to migrate to Afghanistan to “learn from its conditions, and benefit from [the Taliban’s] experience.” Adl said this knowledge and experience would equip the potential jihadists to attack Western and “Zionist” targets. Al-Qaeda operates training camps, safe houses, religious schools, a media operation center, and a weapons storage depot in provinces across Afghanistan.

The U.S. State Department offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the capture of Hamza Salih bin Sa’id al-Ghamdi, a veteran al-Qaeda member who now serves on the terror group’s executive leadership council.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Taliban’s deputy emir and interior minister and a close ally of al-Qaeda, traveled to Abu Dhabi and met with the country’s ruler. Afterward, Haqqani traveled to Saudi Arabia to attend the Hajj. Haqqani had been under a UN travel ban, but it was lifted, presumably with Washington’s consent. Meanwhile, representatives of the Turkish charities Hayrat Foundation and the Humanitarian Relief Foundation met with the Taliban Deputy Prime Minister Salam Hanafi in Afghanistan.

Finally, al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda’s branch in East Africa, advertised the creation of its “special forces” unit, which trains at the “Usama Bin Laden Military Academy.”

Syria

The House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2025, which includes several provisions related to Syria. The bill requires the Pentagon to lay out a plan for protecting the U.S. military garrison at al-Tanf in eastern Syria, a desert base subject to recurring attacks by Iran-backed militia. The legislation also gives the Pentagon 180 days to develop a strategy “to counter the Assad regime’s support and cooperation with Iran-backed militias in Syria.” With regard to policy, the bill prohibits the U.S. government from recognizing the government of Syria so long as Bashar al-Assad remains at the helm. Similarly, the legislation declares that the United States should actively oppose the “normalization of relations” with the Assad regime by foreign governments, which the Biden administration has quietly promoted.

It remains to be seen whether the Senate version of the annual defense authorization bill will contain similar provisions. In April, the White House leaned on its allies in the Senate to prevent the passage of another House-approved measure, the Assad Regime Anti-Normalization Act, which also sought to increase pressure on Damascus. On June 11, Secretary of State Antony Blinken formally acknowledged the death in captivity of Majd Kamalmaz, an American who vanished while visiting Syria to provide medical services to victims of its civil war. The last reported siting of Kamalmaz was at an Assad regime checkpoint. Speaking on Capitol Hill, his daughter called for the passage of the Assad Regime Anti-Normalization Act.

Turkey

On June 14, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned four individuals with links to the Islamic State for involvement in human smuggling. Treasury said the Turkish government had cooperated on the investigations that led to the designations and “is concurrently taking its own domestic action against this network.” In late June, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the international anti-illicit finance watchdog, announced it had removed Turkey from its so-called “grey list.” FATF had placed Turkey on the list in 2021 due to deficiencies in its safeguards against money laundering and terrorism financing. But during a visit to Turkey in May by FATF officials, the Paris-based body ruled that Turkey has made “significant progress.”

Despite the FATF decision, Turkey continues to support terrorist entities such as Hamas and Hezbollah. On June 24, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan expressed support for Hezbollah’s threat to attack Cyprus if it aids Israel in a potential war with the terror group. The Cypriot government should “stay away” and end its support for Israel, Fidan said.

Turkey has also failed to crack down sufficiently on Russian circumvention of Western sanctions and export controls. On June 12, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned numerous Turkey-based companies for “furthering Russia’s ability to wage its war against Ukraine.” The designated companies have allegedly supplied Russia’s military-industrial base with vital components, machine tools, and other equipment.

Disclaimer

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