For Biden, Europe Trip has achieved 2 major goals. And then there is Putin and Russia.
GENEVA – President Biden had three main tasks to accomplish on his first trip abroad since taking office: convincing the allies that America was back, and for good; bring them together in a common cause against the growing threat from China; and to establish red lines for Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, whom he called a “worthy adversary”.
He has largely accomplished the former, though many European leaders still wonder if his presidency may be just an interlude, sandwiched between the Trump era and the election of another America leader. First indifferent to the Atlantic alliance, 72 years old.
It has made inroads on the latter, at least in parts of Europe, where there has been enormous reluctance to view China first as a threat – economically, technologically and militarily – and second as an economic partner. .
Mr Biden expressed cautious optimism about finding ways to reach a polite compromise with Mr Putin. But it’s far from clear that none of the modest initiatives the two men described on Wednesday, after a steep three-hour summit meeting on the shores of Lake Geneva, will fundamentally change a bad dynamic.
Mr Biden, a key aide said after the meeting ended, “is perpetually optimistic” that Mr Putin may, despite a long history of efforts to undermine the Western alliance, see an advantage in changing of cap.
“He might be the only one,” the assistant said.
It was Mr Biden’s return European tour, and he started in England, on the rocky shores of Cornwall, playing all the old crowd favorites – talking about friendship, alliances, counseling, courtesy and multilateralism. At each stop, he opened with the same three words: “America is back.
He quotes poets, mostly Irish poets. All of this was greeted warmly by European leaders, who had been beaten and bruised by President Donald J. Trump’s attacks on them for being weak, divided and selfish free-riders.
What Mr. Biden didn’t say was almost as important as what he said. He did not ask why he should commit to defending countries that have trade surpluses with the United States, a common theme for Mr. Trump. Instead, he spoke of the economic benefits of developing new forms of clean energy or joint projects in semiconductor manufacturing.
Yet when French President Emmanuel Macron said while sitting with Mr Biden that “it’s great to have the US president in the club,” it was a line that would clearly play out differently in different parts of the United States divided. Of the 74 million who voted for Mr. Trump last year, the “club” is the problem, a place where American interests are subjugated.
But Mr Biden never directly addressed – at least in his public remarks – the fundamental source of post-Trump traumatic stress disorder in Europe: doubts about the future of American democracy. Obviously, he can’t offer any predictions, let alone guarantees, of what will happen at the end of his term in January 2025. So he hasn’t tried.
“Don’t underestimate the Trump years as a shock to the EU,” said Rosa Balfour, director of Carnegie Europe, a Brussels think tank. “There is a shadow of his return and the EU will once again be left in the cold. The EU is therefore more cautious when it embraces American demands.
But Mr Biden argued to Europeans that the best insurance against another Trump-style president is to work with him to show that democracies work and to respond to the Chinese challenge.
Competition with China was at the center of an agreement to resolve the decade-long Boeing-Airbus dispute, a source of tariffs and complaints that dates back to 2004.
What ultimately solved the problem – and wiped out the implementation of $ 11.5 billion in tariffs – was a joint resolution to avoid relying on a Chinese supply chain for aircraft building and slow down China’s entry into the commercial aircraft sector. The subtext was to start engaging Europe in “decoupling” economic influence from China.
While there is a palpable sense of relief at the message that America is back, said Thomas Bagger, a German diplomat who is an adviser to the country’s president, “we have also noticed that the center of gravity of the US policy is changing, and the centrality of China’s rise to US interests will have profound consequences for Europe and any new German government. “
Mr Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel – who has always been the strongest voice in treating China as a partner first and a competitor second – expressed concern that a balance will be struck over China, which is an important trading partner, crucial to solving the climate crisis and not a military power in Europe.
“If you look at cyberthreats and hybrid threats, if you look at cooperation between Russia and China, you can’t just ignore China,” Merkel said. But she also said: “We shouldn’t overestimate him either – we have to find the right balance.”
Another sub-text of the trip was the unease of some European leaders at Mr Biden’s repeated statements that the struggle of the time was “democracy against autocracy.” It’s not that they disagree, several said on the sidelines of the meetings, but rather that Mr. Biden’s words could harden the division and usher in a new Cold War.
They say they understand Mr Biden’s concern that China’s technology strategy is to build a system of cellular networks, submarine cables and space assets that would give it the ability to cut or covertly monitor communications.
And they’re not challenging the White House’s efforts to stop U.S. investments in Chinese companies that sell facial recognition software and social scoring algorithms that Beijing uses to quell dissent and imprison its Muslim minority. But so far, they have not joined Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken when he calls Beijing’s actions against the Uyghur population and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities genocide.
So Mr. Biden toned down his autocracy versus democracy rhetoric for this trip. And it worked.
Yet while “Biden got words from Europeans, he didn’t get deeds,” said James M. Lindsay, director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “The resolution of some trade issues is a very good start. But it’s not how you start, it’s how you end, how you translate the feelings in the releases into common policies, and it will be very difficult. ”
Mr Biden carefully choreographed the trip to show off the repairs made to the alliance before meeting with Mr Putin. Mr. Biden has made it clear that he wants to present a united front to the Russian leader, to demonstrate that in the post-Trump era, the United States and NATO allies are as one.
This allowed Mr Biden to adopt a softer tone when he arrived in Geneva for the summit meeting, where he sought to portray Mr Putin as an isolated leader who must worry about the future of his country. When Mr. Biden said in response to a reporter’s question, “I don’t think he’s looking for a cold war with the United States,” it was a signal that Mr. Biden thinks he has it. influence that the rest of the world underestimated.
Mr Putin’s economy is “struggling,” he said, and he faces a long border with China at a time when Beijing is “bitter” to dominate.
“He is still, I believe, concerned about being ‘surrounded’,” Biden said. “He’s still worried that we’re actually trying to bring him down. But, he added, he didn’t think these security fears “are the driving force behind the kind of relationship he’s looking for with the United States.”
He defined as the first test of Mr Putin’s willingness to deal seriously with a consideration of how to improve “strategic stability”, which he described as controlling the introduction of “new weapons. dangerous and sophisticated that are now arriving on the scene. which reduce response times, which increase the prospect of accidental warfare.
This is territory that has been neglected, and if Mr. Biden succeeds, he could save hundreds of billions of dollars that would otherwise be spent on hypersonic and space weapons, as well as the development of new nuclear vectors.
But none of this is likely to deter Mr Putin in the world of cyber weapons, which are very cheap and give him an instrument of power on a daily basis. Mr Biden warned at his press conference that “we have significant cyber capability”, and said that while Mr Putin “does not know exactly what it is,” if the Russians “violate these standards of base, we will respond by cyber “. “
The United States has had these capabilities for years, but has been reluctant to use them for fear that a cyber conflict with Russia could escalate into something much bigger.
But Mr Biden believes Mr Putin is too invested in self-preservation to get there. Ultimately, he said, just before boarding Air Force One for the flight home, “You have to figure out what the other guy’s best interest is. Their personal interest. I don’t trust anyone.
David E. Sanger brought back from Geneva and Steven erlanger from Brussels.