President Biden is expected to receive a warm welcome from EU leaders when he arrives in the UK on Wednesday to embark on a seven-day trip to three countries, and it’s no secret.
Unlike his predecessor, Biden is immediately familiar to most of his European Union counterparts and deeply committed to the transatlantic alliance which has been a pillar of the post-war democratic order for seven decades. He does not see NATO as “obsolete”. He also does not publicly rebuke Allied leaders, while embracing Russian President Vladimir Putin, perhaps the greatest threat to European stability.
But not being Donald Trump is the easy part.
Biden, whose itinerary includes the annual Group of 7 summit of leaders of major developed countries in Cornwall, England; a ceremonial visit with Queen Elizabeth to Windsor Castle; The NATO and European Commission summits in Brussels and a long-awaited meeting with Putin in Geneva have willing an ambitious goal for his first international trip as president – nothing less than rallying the world’s democracies “to both meet the challenges and deter the threats of this new era”.
But these challenges – including the lingering pandemic, climate change, cybercrime, and the containment of autocracies in Moscow and Beijing – are complex. They are all the more so by the cracks in the foundations of American alliances and of its own democracy, and by the uncertainty of the allies as to the American leadership which cannot be appeased simply by the rhetoric “America is back. “from Biden.
“There are real credibility issues for the United States that are not of Biden’s creation, as to whether the allies can be confident that the United States will not come back to Trump,” said Ben Rhodes, former National Security Assistant to President Obama. “Even after Biden’s victory, the United States does not seem the most functional [democratic] model.”
However, for administration officials, “all their costly international initiatives are much easier if they can be on the same page with European allies.”
Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, told reporters Monday that the best way to reassure the allies about the stability of American democracy was to “show the rest of the world what America is capable of.”
He highlighted the president’s early successes in slowing the spread of COVID-19 and winning early Congress passage of a $ 1.9 trillion relief plan. But now the rest of Biden’s agenda, from infrastructure to voting rights, has stalled on Capitol Hill.
“Europeans see very clearly the pressures this president is under at the national level,” said Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook, executive director of the Project on Europe and the Transatlantic Relationship at Harvard Kennedy School. “This honeymoon phase is very different emotionally, and it’s much shorter than the one we’ve seen with President Obama.”
Despite all the goodwill that Biden’s election has engendered at the international level, his unilateral approach on several fronts: the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, where European forces remain on the ground; maintaining Trump’s tariffs on European metals and banning travelers from Europe; Giving up intellectual property rights to COVID-19 vaccine supplies without warning and calling for the meeting with Putin – has left some allies “slightly disappointed,” said Benjamin Haddad, director of Center Europe at the Atlantic Council.
“Biden places a very strong emphasis on the personal relationship,” he said. “But that won’t get you far.”
Much has changed since the leaders of the world’s seven most powerful democracies last met in Biarritz, France in August 2019. The G-7 summit, which Trump canceled last year when allies have been reluctant to come to the United States during the pandemic, will be the first since Brexit, the United Kingdom’s withdrawal at the end of 2020 from the European Union. It comes at a time when continental politics are in flux, torn apart by the crossed currents of nationalism, nativism and ambivalence about the role of the United States within the European community.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, perhaps for years the most formidable power in the EU, is in the final months of her more than 15-year term. French President Emmanuel Macron, faced with rising nationalism at home, is eager to establish his independence from Washington. Yet NATO and EU officials continue to encourage the United States to play a leading role, especially given the threat an emboldened Putin poses to Eastern Europe. .
Given what European allies see as Biden’s “precarious domestic position”, they are inclined to “react more favorably” to his agenda, especially after the Trump years, Atlantic Council member Ash Jain said. . “Because they want Biden to be successful.”
At the G-7 summit, which begins Friday and ends Sunday, Biden is eager to push his allies to articulate a stronger position to oppose growing militancy and human rights abuses in China. But some allies resist, given their economic relations with China. In addition to the United States, the group includes the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan.
“Europe has privately expressed many of the same concerns about China’s actions,” Jain said. “The question is: to what extent will European leaders be prepared to continue to say this out loud?
Biden is sure to celebrate a deal, sealed last week by Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen and other G-7 finance ministers, to support a global minimum tax requiring multinational companies to pay at least a tax of 15% on income, regardless of where they are based. The aim is to make it less advantageous for companies to relocate to countries with lower taxation; for years, countries have fought to cut taxes at great cost to their budgets – in what critics call a race to the bottom.
But this tax change would require congressional approval, which is no guarantee given the Republicans’ anti-tax stance.
The withdrawal of China and the United States from Afghanistan will also be at the center of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Brussels on Monday. There, leaders from more than 30 member countries will also discuss updating the organization’s strategic concept to be more responsive to modern threats, including cyber warfare, artificial intelligence, disinformation and “disruptive technologies. emerging “.
“We face security challenges that no ally can tackle alone,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said after a meeting with Biden at the White House this week. “We have a much more complex and unpredictable security environment which makes it even more important to have strong international institutions.”
Although Biden reaffirms US support for Article V of the NATO Charter, which states that an attack on a member country is an attack on all, like Trump and Obama before him, he will push others countries to increase their spending on their own defenses.
It would have national benefits, said Charles Kupchan, a former National Security Council official under Obama, who is now a senior member of the Council on Foreign Relations. By emphasizing the importance of “burden-sharing,” Kupchan said, Biden can “make Americans understand that what he’s doing in Europe is good for them.”
The most anticipated part of Biden’s trip is the last, his stop in Geneva on June 16 to meet Putin face to face for the first time as president. After nearly a week of diplomacy affirming US alliances, Biden will arrive “with the wind in his back,” said Sullivan, his national security adviser.
Alexander Vershbow, former senior NATO official and US Ambassador to Russia in the George W. Bush administration, predicted the meeting will be a “combative and somewhat heated affair” given recent cyberattacks by Russian entities against American infrastructure, Putin’s military build-up threatening Ukraine, the poisoning and subsequent imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and the astonishing bet of the Belarusian leader backed by Putin last month, forcing the landing of ‘a European airliner to arrest a dissident journalist on board.
“Biden made it clear early on that there was a new sheriff in town,” Vershbow said. “At the same time, he tried to tone down the rhetoric” to work with Putin where interests overlap, notably on arms control and climate change and “to achieve a more stable and predictable relationship.”
“The problem,” Vershbow continued, “is that Putin doesn’t necessarily want a more stable relationship. He has sought to be deliberately provocative … and he wants the Russian people to see the United States coming to Russia as a supplicant.”
Biden, Sullivan said, does not meet Putin “despite the differences in our countries. He meets him because of the differences in our country.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.