On November 7th, 2020, CNN projected that Joe Biden had won the US elections garnering 273 electoral votes. Following the projection, a CNN pundit wondered if world leaders would rush to congratulate Biden given that President Trump was unlikely to accept defeat. Moreover, while Biden was the projected winner, he was not yet the official winner, with Arizona and Alaska not called yet. Changes in administrations are often accompanied by congratulatory remarks. The German Chancellor calls the US President-Elect to share her congratulations and desire that the two countries will remain close allies. The President-Elect, on his part, thanks the Chancellor and suggests that they meet in Washington once the Inauguration takes place. And so lasts a long series of calls, the last one probably with the President of the Federated States of Micronesia.
One might expect things to work a bit differently in the digital age. Calls could be replaced by tweets seen not only by the two leaders but by the entire digital public. And yet, CNN’s pundit had a point. From the moment Biden was the projected winner, his legitimacy was openly questioned by the Trump administration. Assuming a long legal battle, world leaders may have chosen to be cautious and wait a few days before bidding a (generally fond) farewell to the Trump Presidency.
But that was not the case. Trump was projected the winner at 18:15 Israel time. Within the next two hours, 24 world leaders tweeted their congratulations at Joe Biden, as shown in the timeline below. First was the President of Zimbabwe who tweeted within minutes of CNN’s announcement. By 19:15, half an hour later, the leaders of Ireland, Canada, Germany and Greece joined the chorus. Next were Montenegro, Maldives and Namibia. The UK, slightly at odds with the future Biden administration given Boris Johnson’s populist streak, congratulated at 19:34. At around 20:00, an hour and a half after CNN’s projection, the EU, Austria, France and Sweden also took to twitter.
What was remarkable about this lightning fast process of congratulation and recognition, as these nations clearly recognized that Biden had won the election, was the diversity of leaders who took to Twitter spanning Africa, Asia, Europe and South America. Leaders congratulations tended to take three shapes: articulating shared interests, empathizing the need to tackle climate change and demonstrating close ties with Biden himself.
Take for instance the tweet below published by the President of Lithuania. There is both a congratulation and a clear emphasis on the shared security interests of both countries. While the Baltics are NATO’s eastern flank, the US is the ultimate guarantor of Baltic freedom.
Norway’s Prime Minister struck a similar tone stating that the US was Norway’s most ‘important ally’.
Germany’s foreign minister, on the other hand, prioritized financial interests. In a string of tweets, he argued that the ‘West’ must join to quicken the economic recovery from Covid. Hence the phrase ‘New Deal’.
The leaders of Portugal, Maldives and Iceland all mentioned the need to tackle climate change. No doubt, these leaders chose the topic of climate change given its urgency and the fact that the US has lost all interest in climate change under Trump. There was thus a signal here for Biden stating that the world awaits his leadership if climate change is to be reversed.
Finally, several leaders emphasized their personal relationship with Biden. Namibia’s leader stated that he knew Biden as a warrior against Apartheid, while others posted images with Biden, most likely taken when Biden was the Vice President. Such images were of domestic importance as leaders signaled that they personally knew the future ‘leader of the free world’. Domestically, such an association can be valued by voters.
One of the last world leaders to congratulate Biden was Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu. This may be linked to their close relationship, evident in Netanyahu’s Twitter profile picture. Some leaders have yet to tweet, many days after CNN’s projections. These include the losers from Biden’s victory- Putin, who will face a rational and intelligent opponent, and Saudi Arabia- who fear that Biden is a moderate when it comes to Iran.
Within hours of victory, Biden received wide international recognition as the President-Elect. Whether this will help obtain dometic recognition, opposite Trump, is another matter.