Foreign Policy Blogs

Exploring Joe Biden's Worldview


Almost immediately after Senator Barack Obama named his running mate veteran news media began delving into newly-named Vice Presidential candidate Joe Biden's foreign policy outlook. There is a lot ot cover, thanks to his 36-year career in the Senate and his long-standing seat on the Senate Foreign Relations committee, which he currently chairs. 

First, an article in yesterday's New York Times:

“Both [Obama and Biden] fit into the mainstream of Democratic thinking on foreign policy and national security, which emphasizes working with allies and using force as a final recourse.

Mr. Biden is widely seen as a liberal-minded internationalist. He has emphasized the need for diplomacy but has been prepared at times to back it with the threat of force. An early advocate of military action to quell the ethnic fighting in the Balkans, he has not been averse to American military intervention abroad. As the debates over Kosovo and later Iraq showed, he has been loath to give the United Nations a veto over American policy decisions. But he has also sought to ensure that the United States acted in concert with other nations.

During his long Senate career, Mr. Biden has developed an extensive track record. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he has presided over more than 50 hearings since January 2007. He oversaw many more during his three previous stints as chairman of the panel's subcommittee on European affairs.

According to committee records, Mr. Obama, who holds Mr. Biden's old post as chairman of the Europe subcommittee, has presided over only three hearings: sessions that were convened to approve ambassadorial appointments.

Much of the focus during Mr. Biden's early career was on arms control. During the Reagan administration, he argued for strict adherence to the 1972 antiballistic missile treaty with Russia, which President Ronald Reagan's aides sought to loosely interpret, to make way for a space-based missile defense program…

…"Fundamentally, Senator Biden believes that American engagement in the world can make a big difference," said James P. Rubin, a former adviser to Mr. Biden and Clinton administration official. "But because he is a realist, he believes it is far better to take such actions with the support of our friends and allies."

Yesterday the Los Angeles Times also weighed in on Biden's foreign policy history:

“Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. joins the Democratic ticket as an acknowledged foreign policy sage whose 36-year record has won him bipartisan praise as a liberal internationalist who generally hews close to his party's center. But he has sometimes found himself at odds with members of his own party as well as with Republicans.

Biden has frequently favored humanitarian interventions abroad and was an early and influential advocate for U.S. military action in the Balkans in the 1990s. He also advocates U.S. action to stem the continuing bloodshed in Darfur.

What appears to bind Biden and Obama in the realm of foreign affairs, however, is a shared belief in strong cooperation with America's traditional allies and in the use of force only as a last resort. The Democratic standard-bearers reject the belief of President Bush and some other conservatives that the United States should not hesitate to act unilaterally if other nations demur.

John Isaacs, executive director of Council for a Livable World, which advocates arms control, said the Delaware Democrat “is someone who won't give the neocons the time of the day.”

In addition, Biden, who claims close relationships with many foreign leaders, has demonstrated a readiness to cooperate with Senate Republicans in search of compromise — a trait that meshes with Obama's pledge to reduce the level of partisan conflict and stalemate in Washington.

Now chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the famously talkative Biden has cooperated with influential Republican conservatives, such as the late Sens. Jesse Helms of North Carolina and Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, as well as moderates, such as Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the committee.”
Two trusted sources also published backgrounders on Biden's foreign policy track record.

The Council on Foreign Relations complied a lengthy analysis of Senator Biden's stance on a wide variety of foreign policy issues, including the United Nations, democracy promotion in the Arab world, terrorism policy, among many others.

Finally, the US Center for Global Engagement's website offers some great videos of Senator Biden in action, in addition to an analysis of this foreign policy-making career.



Melinda Brouwer

Melinda Brower holds a Masters degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She received her bachelor's degree in Political Science and Spanish at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She received a graduate diploma in International Relations from the University of Chile during her tenure as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. She has worked on Capitol Hill, at the State Department, for Foreign Policy magazine and the American Academy of Diplomacy. She presently works for an internationally focused non-profit research organization in Washington, DC.