The United States has staged this Monday in Brussels a return of the prodigal son who, in this version of the parable, returns with the intention of becoming the head of the family. President Joe Biden has disembarked at the summit of the 30 heads of state and government of NATO to reinforce Washington’s commitment to the Atlantic Alliance after the stormy mandate of Donald Trump, who questioned the treaty, and also to promote a front against the two countries that focus the concerns of the first power: Russia and, above all, China.
The Xi Jinping regime is viewed in Europe with more suspicion than a few years ago and NATO has agreed at this meeting a statement highlighting the “systemic risks” created by the military advance of Beijing, which constitutes a political victory for the North American. But not all member countries embrace the idea of this pulse with the same intensity.
As soon as he stepped onto NATO headquarters and greeted his secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, Biden highlighted Washington’s loyalty to the treaty signed after World War II, a commitment that with his Republican predecessor was no longer obvious. “I want all of Europe to know that the United States is there,” said the Democrat. “We take Article V as a sacred obligation,” he added.
Biden appeared before the press at 9:30 p.m., more than two hours later than scheduled, after a long day of meetings. He insisted on that return from the United States, but he had to answer a difficult question that he has planned for Europe during this tour of the president and has to do with domestic politics: how can traditional allies trust Washington’s promises given the influence that Trump still shows among Republican voters, the attempt to reverse his electoral victory and the possibility that in 2024 a rupturist leader will once again install himself in the White House with the consensus reached now.
The president responded by underlining the values of American society, beyond the leaders. “I am not promising [al resto de líderes] nothing that I cannot accomplish, ”he began. “The leaders I deal with know our recent history and also what the American people are like, they know that we are an honorable nation,” he added, and stressed that the American people are not going to endorse certain behaviors. “When I said that we were going to beat the virus,” he gave as an example, “I said it for sure because I know the Americans.”
Trump pointed to NATO as an organization of countries that, more or less, took advantage of the large investments of the United States in defense, while failing to meet the goal of spending 2% of their gross domestic product (GDP) and pressed in a harsh way to increase the investment, threatening to ignore Article V of the treaty. This article, the founding pillar of the transatlantic organization, has only been activated once in history, precisely when the United States was attacked in the attacks of 9/11 in 2001. Biden recalled it yesterday in his greeting and stressed that NATO is “ essential for the United States ”.
There was no jostling this time in Brussels, at least in a literal sense, like the one Trump gave the prime minister of Montenegro in 2017 to put himself in the photo. There were also no threats to leave the alliance or public accusations to Germany, the main power of the European Union, of being a “captive of Russia” because of its energy dependence, as it did in 2018. No one called French President Emmanuel Macron “unpleasant” as he also made the former US president at the 2019 summit.
With Biden, traditional diplomacy has returned, or rather, plain diplomacy. And the United States, as the president himself says, has also returned. What remains to be seen is whether Europe is at the same point where Washington left it four years ago or at the point where the new White House wants it to be. Brussels, for example, is increasingly betting on its own defense fund. This first trip to Europe as president sees it as an opportunity to put himself at the head of the bloc of liberal democracies in the face of the authoritarian escalation in Beijing and Moscow. In an article published in The Washington Post Before starting the tour, he pointed out that the United States “must lead the world from a position of strength” in the face of the new challenges facing its citizens: the pandemic, the climate crisis or “the harmful activities of the governments of China and Russia.”
For now, the American has achieved a major diplomatic victory by getting the final NATO declaration to label China a “systemic risk” for Western democracies. The reference supposes a change of draft. It was not until December 2019, less than two years ago, when the Atlantic Alliance took on the rise of the Asian giant as a collective challenge. Before the summit, on Monday morning, Biden stressed that over the past two years “there has been a growing recognition that we face new challenges.” “We have Russia, which is not acting in the way we expected, like China,” he said.
NATO shares the essence of the approach. China “will soon have the largest economy in the world, it already has the second largest military budget and is investing in military capabilities, and does not share our values, we see it in how it liquidates the democratic protests in Hong Kong, in how it treats minorities like the Uighurs, or how it threatens Taiwan, ”Stoltenberg said last week in Washington.
Russia has also planned for Brussels. Biden will meet with the president, Vladimir Putin, this Wednesday in the city of Geneva (Switzerland) at a time of high tension due to the hostilities in Ukraine, the cyberattacks that Washington attributes to the Kremlin and the escalation of sanctions. At the press conference, the US president insisted that he does not seek conflict with the Russian leader, but that he will respond to the attacks. “I’m going to make it clear to him that there are areas where we can cooperate if he chooses,” Biden said, and that, at the same time, “there are red lines for those areas where we disagree.” The American described Putin as a “tough” and “brilliant” adversary. Biden warned that the death of opposition leader Alexei Navalni, whose health has suffered from a hunger strike protesting his imprisonment, “would be a tragedy that would damage Russia’s relations with the rest of the world.”
On a possible entry of Ukraine into NATO, Biden pointed out that the Kiev government has yet to demonstrate that it has managed to “fight” corruption to meet the entry criteria. “In the meantime, we will do everything we can to put Ukraine in a position that can withstand an aggression from Russia,” he explained. In 2014, as vice president of the Barack Obama Administration, the Democrat became very involved in the country and worked with other international figures to prop up the government that emerged after the so-called Maidan revolution, a pro-European social mobilization and anti-corruption that ousted the government from power. President to Victor Yanukovych, an ally of Russia. The annexation of Crimea by Russia is one of the open fronts with the Kremlin, which led to the expulsion from Russia of the group then called the G-8 group.