(AP) — As he prepares to embark on his first overseas trip of his presidency, President Joe Biden
is eager to reassert the US on the global stage, reassuring European allies shaken by his predecessor and promoting democracy
as the only bulwark against rising authoritarian forces.
Biden has set lofty goals for his eight-day visit, believing that the West must publicly demonstrate its ability to compete economically with China
as the world recovers from the coronavirus pandemic
In the run-up to his trip-ending summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin
, Biden will seek to reassure European capitals that the US can once again be counted on as a reliable partner to counter Moscow's aggression on both the eastern front and the internet battlefields.
The trip will be far more about messaging than specific actions or deals, and Biden's top priority, as he departs on Wednesday for his first stop in the United Kingdom
, will be to persuade the world that his Democratic
administration is more than a blip on the radar of an American foreign policy
that many allies fear has irreversibly shifted toward a more transactional outlook under Trump
“At its core, the trip will advance the fundamental thrust of Joe Biden’s foreign policy,” said national security
adviser Jake Sullivan, “to rally the world’s democracies to confront our time’s great challenges.”
Biden has a lengthy to-do list.
Biden wants to privately press Putin during their meeting in Geneva to end a slew of provocations, including cybersecurity
attacks on American businesses by Russian-based hackers
, the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and repeated overt and covert attempts by the Kremlin to meddle in US elections
Biden also hopes to rally allies behind their COVID-19
response and persuade them to unite behind a strategy to check emerging economic and national security competitor China, even as the US expresses concern about Europe's economic ties to Moscow. Biden also hopes to nudge outlying allies, such as Australia
, to make more aggressive commitments to the global effort to combat global warming.
The week-plus journey is a watershed moment for Biden, who traveled the world as vice president and chair of the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee for decades and will now step off Air Force One on international soil as commander in chief, facing world leaders still grappling with the virus and rattled by four years of Trump's inward-looking foreign policy and moves that strained longtime allies.
“In this moment of global uncertainty, as the world still grapples with a once-in-a-century pandemic,” Biden wrote in a Washington Post op-ed previewing his diplomatic efforts, “this trip is about realizing America’s renewed commitment to our allies and partners, and demonstrating democracies’ capacity to both meet the challenges and deter the threats of this new age.”
The president will travel to Britain for a Group of Seven summit, then to Brussels for a NATO summit and a meeting with European Union
leaders, at a time when Europeans have lowered their expectations of US leadership on the international stage.
Central and Eastern Europeans are desperately hoping to bind the United States
more tightly to their security. Germany
wants the United States to maintain its troop presence there so that it does not need to build its own. France
, on the other hand, has taken the position that the United States cannot be trusted as it once was and that the European Union must pursue greater strategic autonomy in the future.
“I think the concern is legitimate that Trumpian tendencies in the United States could resurface in full force in the midterms or the next presidential election,” said Alexander Vershbow, a former US diplomat and former NATO deputy secretary general.
The timing of the trip is deliberate: Biden will spend a week consulting with Western European allies as a show of unity before meeting with Putin.
His first stop will be an address to US troops stationed in the United Kingdom late Wednesday, followed by a meeting with British
Prime Minister Boris Johnson
the following day, a day before the G-7
summit, which will be held above the craggy cliffs of Cornwall overlooking the Atlantic Ocean
While Biden is a veteran statesman, many of the world leaders he will meet in England
, including Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron
, took office after the pandemic and have grown frustrated by the pandemic's diplomacy-via-Zoom dynamics.
There are several potential points of contention. On climate change
, the United States is attempting to reestablish credibility after Trump withdrew the country from the fight against global warming. Biden may also face pressure on trade, an issue to which he has yet to devote much attention.
Another focal point will be China, with Biden and the other G-7 leaders announcing an infrastructure
financing program for developing countries that will compete directly with Beijing
's Belt-and-Road Initiative. However, not every European power has viewed China as harshly as Biden, who has painted the rivalry with the techno-security state as the defining competition for the twenty-first century.
The European Union has avoided taking a strong stance on Beijing's crackdown on Hong Kong
's democracy movement or on the treatment of Uyghur Muslims
and other ethnic minorities in western Xinjiang province as the Biden administration
would like, but there are signs that Europe is willing to put greater pressure on Beijing.
In March, the EU announced sanctions
against four Chinese officials involved in human rights
violations in Xinjiang, prompting Beijing to impose sanctions on several members of the European Parliament and other Europeans critical of China's Communist Party.
While in Brussels, Biden will also meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a face-to-face meeting between two leaders who have had many tense moments in their relationship.
Biden waited until April
to call Erdogan for the first time as president, during which he informed the Turkish leader that he would formally recognize the systematic killings and deportations of hundreds of thousands of Armenians by Ottoman Empire forces in the early twentieth century as “genocide” — a term for atrocities that his White House
predecessors had avoided for decades.
Biden's meeting with Putin will cap off the trip.
Biden's approach to Russia has been markedly different from Trump's friendly outreach; their sole summit, held in Helsinki in July 2018, was marked by Trump's refusal to side with U.S. intelligence agencies over Putin's denials of Russian election meddling two years earlier.
Unrest at home could pose a challenge to Biden, as Russia seeks to undermine the United States' position as a global role model by exploiting the Jan. 6 Capitol
insurgency and the debate over voting rights
. The American president, in turn, is expected to press Russia to end its global meddling.
“By and large, these are ‘get to know you again’ meetings for the United States and Europe,” said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. “It’s about sending a message to Putin, reviving old alliances, and demonstrating once more that the United States is on the right track.”