June 09, 2021

Why Biden Should Extend Vaccine Diplomacy to Sanctioned States Like Venezuela, Iran, and North Korea

By Jason Bartlett

While the United States focused all its resources on domestic vaccine production and distribution, both Beijing and Moscow began shipping their own vaccines abroad. A strengthened coalition of heavily sanctioned states could provide Beijing and Moscow with more opportunities to undermine important U.S. foreign policy objectives, including denuclearization deals with North Korea and Iran and restoring democracy in Venezuela. As a leading nation in domestic vaccine distribution, the United States can help alleviate COVID-19-related human suffering abroad and chip away at growing Chinese and Russian influence in sanctioned countries through vaccine diplomacy.

Extending vaccine diplomacy to heavily sanctioned countries will allow Washington to both hedge against growing Chinese-Russian influence abroad and help alleviate global human suffering, but the Biden administration must act quickly.

Over the last four years, the United States has imposed a series of harsh unilateral sanctions on Venezuela, Iran, and North Korea. During this time, Beijing and Moscow have been offering economic lifelines, surveillance technology, and military training programs to these countries in defiance of U.S. sanctions. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic also provided Beijing and Moscow with an opportunity to expand their influence abroad through vaccine diplomacy, particularly given the challenges current U.S. sanctions regimes present to sustained humanitarian assistance from the United States. China and Russia have already shaped the narrative on vaccination in Iran through state-controlled social media accounts and government initiatives in an attempt to discredit U.S. and UK vaccines. Reports also claim that China allegedly provided North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, and several senior-level officials, with an experimental Chinese vaccine in 2020, but some question whether Kim would take such a risk given his known pre-existing health issues.

Read the full article from The National Interest.

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