The year 2021 poses an uncertain and highly volatile scenario for the world. For Argentina, foreign policy will be key when it comes to contributing to growth with comprehensive development of the country after a decline such as those of 2018, 2019 and, especially, that of 2020. The economic dimension will continue to be the strategic axis of the policy external and the needs to which it must respond. Debt-related concerns – with the settlement still pending with the International Monetary Fund – and the stimulus for foreign trade will continue to be among the main points on the Executive’s agenda. However, it is not only internal emergencies that will condition action outside. The redefinitions at the regional, hemispheric and global levels will play a crucial role, as well as the nuances that Alberto Fernández prints to the reading of the world.
Joe Biden shares with Fernández the need to strengthen multilateral and international cooperation organizations. Before assuming he had stated: “America is back” (America has returned). In clear reference to the international withdrawal that occurred during Donald Trump’s four years in the White House. The incoming Administration suggests that the US needs to resume its role as “leader of the Western Hemisphere.” The main question for this “return” of the United States to the international scene is, indeed, the world is willing to allow a return of Washington as global leader. In other words, how much the world situation resembles the times when Democrats were the tenants of the White House, prior to the arrival of Trump.
Biden, in this sense, may have an important link with the Argentine president. Meanwhile, Jair Bolsonaro continues without congratulating him and assures that “his sources” tell him that “there was fraud” in the US elections on November 3. This has already begun to be used by Fernández to become one of the main allies in the region of the new head of the White House. Beyond the subsequent “unforced errors” by Foreign Minister Felipe Solá, the one on December 2 was the first talk that the American had with a regional leader. If his Brazilian counterpart leaned on Trump, the Argentine could do so on the Democrat. For this, of course, the country is not in a position to afford more bankruptcies. In diplomacy, mistakes often pay dearly.
As for the Asian scene, at first glance surprises are rare. China remains the pivot of Argentina’s commercial insertion in the region. The passing of the pandemic and the consequences in Western economies contributed to strengthening Beijing’s role as the engine of the global economy, and of recovery. Internal economic measures will continue to impact every corner of the globe, and Argentina will not be the exception. It is probable that, given the overlap of local financial needs, the commercial concentration on the Asian giant, and having accessed the Asian Investment and Infrastructure Bank, the Argentine government will complete access to the New Silk Road. But China, despite its size, is only part of Asia. Thinking about commercial insertion is to shore up relations with countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia and India, which are positioned as the main destinations in Asia and generators of sustained surpluses. A strategy for China must contemplate a holistic vision of Asia Pacific.
Mercosur, as in 2020, appears as the space of greatest sensitivity in foreign policy. The difficulty of coordinating positions and decision-making mechanisms in the face of the health crisis, unlike regional blocs in other latitudes, shows the weakness of regional coordination. Political and ideological differences have marked stagnations and counter-marches in the last year, and this scenario does not seem close to being overcome. The change in the North American presidency will surely reduce the forcefulness of Brazil’s position in the region, and will force Bolsonaro to redefine some foreign policy axes, generating a window of opportunity for a rapprochement with Fernández, in the absence of other large partners. If so, pragmatism should prevail in local foreign policy, expanding channels of dialogue with the South American giant in the face of a period of economic recovery that cannot dispense with Brazil as the epicenter of the post-pandemic insertion strategy.
In this context, the challenges for the country for 2021 are complex and far-reaching. The axis in the commercial insertion to generate foreign exchange will be fundamental when facing internal problems and beginning to respond to structural issues of the Argentine economy. If this 2020 taught us something, it is that unpredictable events are the order of the day. Everything that is done in foreign policy, good or bad, will have repercussions in an internal environment of economic and social fragility. The change of external winds can bring new airs of opportunity to the government. Creativity and adaptability, as well as pragmatic equidistance, will be key elements to take advantage of these reconfigurations.
* CONICET Researcher and Director of the Doctorate in International Relations (UCC).
** Master in International Relations – Lawyer.