Biden has set the stakes for his eight-day trip in radical terms, believing that the West must publicly demonstrate that it can compete economically with China as the world emerges from the coronavirus pandemic. It is an open repudiation of his predecessor, Donald Trump, who scorned alliances and withdrew from a global accord on climate change that Biden has since rejoined.
The president’s first stop was a visit with American troops and their families at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, where he laid out his mission for the trip.
“We are going to make it clear that America is back and democracies are united to face the toughest challenges and problems that matter most to our future,” he said. “That we are committed to leading with strength, defending our values and fulfilling our people.”
The challenges awaiting Biden abroad were clear as the president and audience wore masks, a reminder of the pandemic that is still ravaging much of the world even as its threat recedes within the United States.
“We have to end COVID-19 not just at home, which we are doing, but everywhere,” Biden said.
Shortly before the president spoke, people briefed on the matter said the Biden administration had negotiated a deal with Pfizer to purchase 500 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to be donated to 92 low-income countries and the African Union during next year.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters that Biden was committed to sharing vaccines because it was in the best interest of public health and the strategic interests of the United States. He added that Biden aims to show “that democracies are the countries that they can better provide solutions for people everywhere. ” ”
“As he said in his joint session (speech), we were the ‘arsenal of democracy’ in WWII,” Sullivan said. “We are going to be the ‘vaccine arsenal’ during this next period to help end the pandemic.”
With a view to his end-of-travel summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Biden will try to reassure European capitals that the United States can once again be counted on as a reliable partner in thwarting Moscow’s aggression on both its eastern front and its eastern front. on their battlefields on the Internet.
The journey will focus more on messaging than specific actions or offers. And the top priority for Biden is convincing the world that his Democratic administration is not just a fleeting deviation in the trajectory of an American foreign policy that many allies fear has irrevocably drifted into a more transactional perspective under Trump.
“The trip, at its core, will advance Joe Biden’s fundamental foreign policy drive,” Sullivan said, “to unite the world’s democracies to meet the great challenges of our time.”
Biden’s to-do list is ambitious.
At their face-to-face meeting in Geneva, Biden wants to privately pressure Putin to end countless provocations, including cybersecurity attacks on American companies by Russian-based hackers, the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei. Navalny and the Kremlin’s repeated overt and covert efforts to interfere in the US elections.
Biden also seeks to rally allies in his response to COVID-19 and urge them to unite around a strategy to control emerging economic and national security competitor China, even as the US expresses concern about Europe’s economic ties with Moscow. Biden also wants to push peripheral allies, including Australia, to make more aggressive commitments to the global effort to curb global warming.
The week-long trip is a great moment for Biden, who traveled the world for decades as vice chairman and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and now left Air Force One for international soil as commander-in-chief. He will face off against world leaders still grappling with the virus and shaken by four years of Trump’s introspective foreign policy and moves that strained long-standing alliances as the former Republican president reached out to strongmen.
The president first attends a summit of leaders of the Group of Seven in the United Kingdom and then visits Brussels for a NATO summit and a meeting with the heads of the European Union. The trip comes at a time when Europeans have lowered their expectations of what to expect from American leadership on the foreign stage.
Central and Eastern Europeans desperately hope to tie the United States closer to their security. Germany is looking to keep the US troop presence there, so it doesn’t need to increase its own. France, meanwhile, has taken the tactic that the US cannot be trusted as before and that the European Union must seek greater strategic autonomy in the future.
“I think the concern is real that Trumpian trends in the United States may return to normal in the midterm elections or the next presidential election,” said Alexander Vershbow, former US diplomat and once NATO undersecretary general. .
The sequence of the trip is deliberate: Biden consults with Western European allies for much of a week in a show of unity before his summit with Putin.
He is holding a meeting Thursday with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson a day before the G-7 summit to be held atop the rugged Cornish cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
Biden, the most tactile politician, has been frustrated by the dynamics of diplomacy through Zoom of the pandemic and has enjoyed the ability to once again have face-to-face meetings that allow him to assess and connect with world leaders. While Biden himself is a veteran statesman, many of the world leaders he will see in England, including Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron, took office after Biden left the vice presidency. Another, Germany’s Angela Merkel, will step down later this year.
There are several potential areas of tension. On climate change, the United States aims to regain its credibility after Trump withdrew the country from the fight against global warming. Biden could also feel pressure about the trade, an issue he hasn’t paid much attention to yet. And with the United States well stocked with COVID-19 vaccines but struggling to persuade some of its own citizens to use it, leaders whose inoculation campaigns have been slower have been pushing Biden to share more surpluses around the world. .
Another central focus will be China. Biden and the other G-7 leaders will announce an infrastructure financing program for developing countries that is intended to compete directly with Beijing’s Belt-and-Road Initiative. But not all European powers have seen China in such a harsh light as Biden, who has painted the rivalry with the techno-security state as the defining competition for the 21st century.
The European Union has avoided taking as strong a stance on Beijing’s crackdown on the Hong Kong democracy movement or the treatment of Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in western Xinjiang province as the Biden administration would like. But there are signs that Europe is ready to put Beijing under greater scrutiny.
Biden is also scheduled to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan while in Brussels, a face-to-face meeting between two leaders who have had many tense moments in their relationship over the years.
The end of the trip will be Biden’s meeting with Putin.
Biden has taken a very different approach to Russia than Trump’s friendly outreach. His only summit, held in July 2018 in Helsinki, was marked by Trump’s refusal to side with US intelligence agencies over Putin’s denials of Russian election interference two years earlier.