WASHINGTON – It shouldn’t be that difficult being an American leader visiting Europe for the first time since President Donald J. Trump.
But President Biden will face his own challenges as he leaves on Wednesday, especially as the United States faces a disruptive Russia and an emerging China as it seeks to reassemble and rally the shaken Western alliance after the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr. Biden, who will be coming to a series of summits backed by a successful vaccination program and recovering economy, will spend the next week making sure America is back and ready to once again see the West in a how-like manner he calls it waging existential collisions between democracies and autocracies.
The agenda includes meetings in the UK with leaders from the Group of 7 Nations, followed by visits to NATO and the European Union. On the last day of Mr Biden, he will hold his first meeting as President with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin in Geneva.
Mr Biden’s overarching role is to convey the diplomatic serenity that eluded such gatherings during the four years that Mr Trump destroyed longstanding relationships with close allies, threatened to withdraw from NATO, and hugged Mr Putin and other autocrats and admired her strength.
But the goodwill that Mr. Biden brings, simply by not being Mr. Trump papers, over persistent doubts about his durability, American reliability and the cost Europe is likely to pay. At 78, is Mr. Biden the last breath of an old-style internationalist foreign policy? Will Europe pay for a new Cold War with Russia? Will it be asked to sign up for a China Containment Policy? And will Mr. Biden deliver on the climate?
These questions will arise when he deals with disagreements over trade, new restrictions on investments and purchases in China, and his ever-evolving stance on a natural gas pipeline that will run directly from Russia to Europe, bypassing Ukraine.
Throughout this time, Mr. Biden will face European leaders who are suspicious of the United States in ways they have not been since 1945, wondering where we are headed.
“You saw the state of the Republican Party,” said Barry Pavel, director of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at Atlantic Council. “You saw January 6th. You know you could have another president in 2024.”
White House officials say stable American diplomacy has finally returned, but of course they cannot offer guarantees after January 2025. European officials are following the raging political clashes in the United States and finding that Mr Trump has a firm grip on his party are barely faltering.
Days before Mr Biden’s departure, Republicans in Congress opposed the establishment of a bipartisan commission to investigate the Capitol Rebellion. Republican lawmakers applaud Mr Trump’s false claims that the 2020 elections were stolen. The Democrats have stalled in their efforts to pass sweeping laws to counter attacks by Republicans on state suffrage.
Despite everything, Trump repeatedly points to a political comeback in four years.
“There’s a fear of American politics,” said Ian Lesser, vice president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. “Simple, what will happen in the midterm elections? Whether Trumpism will prove to be more permanent than Mr. Trump. What’s next in American politics? “
If the future of the United States is the long-term concern, dealing with a disruptive Russia is the immediate agenda. No part of the trip will be more expensive than a full-day meeting with Mr Putin.
Mr Biden called for the meeting – the first since Mr Trump accepted Putin’s denial of electoral interference at a summit in Helsinki, Finland three years ago – despite warnings from human rights activists that it would empower and encourage the Russian leader. Jake Sullivan, Mr Biden’s national security adviser, noted that American presidents met with their Soviet counterparts during the Cold War and then with their Russian successors. But on Monday he said Mr Biden would warn Mr Putin directly that without a change in behavior, there will be “answers”.
However, veterans of the Washington-Moscow battle say disrupting Putin is a true superpower.
“Putin doesn’t necessarily want a more stable or predictable relationship,” said Alexander Vershbow, who was ambassador to Russia under President George W. Bush. “The best case one can hope for is that the two leaders argue about many things but continue the dialogue.”
White House officials say the president has no intention of reshaping relations with Russia. After calling Putin a “killer” earlier this year, Mr Biden is clear about his adversary. They said: He regards Mr Putin as a die-hard mafia boss ordering beatings with the country’s nerve gas supplies than a national leader.
But Mr Biden is determined to guardrail the relationship and ensure some level of cooperation, starting with the future of their nuclear arsenals.
But there is a dawning awareness in Europe that while Putin values his growing arsenal, Russia’s nuclear capabilities are a strategic holdover from an era of superpower conflict. In what Putin recently called a new Cold War with the United States, the weapons of choice are cyber weapons, ransomware deployed by gangs operating out of Russian territory, and the ability to target neighbors like Ukraine by mass troops To shake the limit.
Mr Biden will adopt NATO and Article V of its charter, the section requiring every member of the Alliance to consider an armed attack on one as an armed attack on all. But it’s less clear what an armed attack is in this day and age: a cyberattack like the SolarWinds hacking that has infiltrated corporate and government networks? The transfer of medium-range missiles and Russian troops to the border of Ukraine, which is not a NATO member?
Mr Biden’s staff say the key for him is to make it clear that he has seen Putin’s courage before and that it does not concern him.
“Joe Biden is not Donald Trump,” said Thomas E. Donilon, who was a national security adviser to President Barack Obama and whose wife and brother are important helpers to Mr Biden. “You will not have this inexplicable reluctance of a US president to criticize a Russian president who runs a country that is actively hostile to the United States in so many areas. You won’t have that. “
However, when Mr Biden defines the current struggle as “a struggle between the benefits of 21st century democracies and autocracies,” he appears to be more concerned about China’s attractiveness as a trading partner and source of technology than Russia’s disruption. And while Europeans largely do not see China as the kind of growing technological, ideological, and military threat Washington is doing, that is an argument that Biden is starting to win.
The British have deployed the largest fleet of their Navy warships in the Pacific since the Falklands War almost 40 years ago. The idea is to restore at least one visitor presence in a region that was once part of his empire with stations in Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand. At the same time, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has endorsed Washington’s efforts, started by Mr Trump and accelerated by Mr Biden, to ensure that Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications company, does not win new contracts to install 5G cellular networks in the UK.
Some in Europe are following suit, but Mr Biden’s advisors said they felt taken aback last year when the European Union announced an investment deal with China days before Mr Biden’s inauguration. It reflected fears that European companies would bear the brunt of the brunt if the continent were drawn into the rivalry between the US and China, starting with the luxury auto industry in Germany.
The future of the deal is unclear, but Biden goes the other way: last week he signed an executive order banning Americans from investing in Chinese companies affiliated with the country’s military or selling surveillance technology used to deviate Oppress opinions or religious minorities inside and outside of China. But to be effective, the allies would have to join; So far, few have expressed enthusiasm for the effort.
Perhaps Biden’s commitment to tackling climate change can win over skeptics, even if he will wonder if he’s doing enough.
Four years ago, at Mr Trump’s first G7 meeting, six world leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement while the United States declared it was “unable to join the consensus”.
Reversing that stance, Mr Biden promises to cut US emissions 50 to 52 percent below 2005 levels by the end of the decade, and writes in one op-ed in the Washington Post before the summit, that the countries with the USA “have the chance to make ambitious progress” again.
However, world leaders said they continued to be suspicious of the United States’ willingness to pass serious laws to tackle its emissions and deliver on financial promises to poorer countries.
“They showed the right approach, not necessarily as much as they could,” said Graça Machel, Mozambique’s former minister of education and culture.
The key to achieving ambitious climate targets is China, which emits more than the US, Europe and Japan combined. Peter Betts, the former UK and European Union lead climate negotiator, said the test for Mr Biden is whether he can lead the G7 in a successful print campaign.
China, he said, “cares what developing countries think”.
Lisa Friedmann Reporting contributed.