Joe Biden will on Friday attempt to reinvigorate the transatlantic alliance and put America back at the heart of global diplomacy in his first major international engagements since becoming US president.
On a call with G7 leaders, hosted by the UK, Biden will address Washington’s role in leading the coronavirus response, including a $4bn contribution for global Covid-19 vaccines. He will also talk about the economic crisis caused by the pandemic and the climate crisis.
In a speech shortly afterwards at the Munich security conference, Biden will say the world’s main democracies and market economies must work together to deal with both “great power competitors like China and Russia” and transnational threats such as climate change, nuclear proliferation, global health and cyber security.
“He will look forward to driving home the core proposition that the transatlantic alliance is a cornerstone for American engagement in the world in the 21st century, just as it was in the 20th,” said a senior US administration official, previewing the speech. The official added that Biden was taking “a kind of virtual trip to Europe”.
Washington’s relations with Europe were among the most hurt of its traditional alliances during the Trump administration. Former president Donald Trump repeatedly railed against what he saw as the failings of Europeans to spend on their own defences and spearheaded a policy of “America First” isolationism that undercut the postwar transatlantic alliance.
While Trump regularly praised dictators over democratic leaders, Biden will seek instead to “make a strong and competent case that democracy is the model that can best meet the challenges of our time”, said the official.
In a sign of Biden’s embrace of multilateralism, the US will officially rejoin the Paris climate accord on Friday. The Biden team is also seeking to iron out Trump-era divisions with Europe over Iran by consulting allies about a return to the nuclear accord, which the US left in 2018. On Thursday, Washington said it would join multi-party talks.
But several issues threaten to strain the transatlantic alliance. Biden has already made clear he is opposed to a gas pipeline Russia is building to Germany, threatening a rupture in relations between Washington and Berlin.
Tom Wright, an expert in US-Europe relations at the Brookings Institution, said Biden administration officials were divided over the extent to which US engagement with Europe could produce transformative results, saying some were privately sceptical much could be accomplished.
“Biden is the most pro-European US president in 30 years but so far his administration is more focused on investing diplomatic resources in shaping the Indo-Pacific and the Middle East,” Wright said.
Trump’s hard line on China frequently came up against resistance in some European countries and Biden’s promise to shape a joint response to Beijing may prove an uphill task. The US remains the only country that has labelled Beijing’s treatment of Uighur Muslims in the western Xinjiang region as “genocide”.
The Biden administration has also yet to decide whether to reverse Trump’s promise to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan, leaving allies with a military presence in the country as part of the international coalition on tenterhooks.
Biden’s claim that America can lead the democracies of the world has met with derision in some capitals, where critics point to the deadly January 6 storming of the US Capitol by Trump supporters seeking to disrupt the certification of Biden’s election victory.
The senior administration official said Biden would acknowledge US democratic institutions were “under stress, under challenge”, but said he would argue America and others could renew and strengthen their democracies.
“He will say: ‘I am confident that we can do this,’” the official said.