When the Biden administration came to power last month, it had high hopes of restoring the transatlantic alliances that had faded away in the turmoil of the Trump years. In his first foreign policy speech as president, Joe Biden insisted that “America is back,” and “will rebuild the muscles of democratic alliances.”
But just weeks into the Biden presidency, those hopes have dwindled. Officials are said to be deeply disappointed by their European allies, who have kept turning away and showing an unwelcome affinity for China.
The administration’s early geopolitical troubles and frustration with the European Union could have unexpected benefits for one country: Britain.
Biden and his allies had had low regard for Brexit and Boris Johnson before taking office, but Britain’s increasingly assertive stance toward China and its thirst to prove itself as a useful and vital ally has regained some ground.
“Some of the people advising Biden wanted to downgrade relations with London because of the promises of Trump and Boris and Brexit,” said Eric Prattberg, director of the Europe program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. But there is a lot of appreciation in Washington for the new foreign policy signals coming out of London about confronting China and climate change. They have been encouraged by the UK approach so far. “
By contrast, one Biden foreign policy adviser described feelings toward their European allies as “angry and frustrated.” “There is frustration and impatience with the position of the European Union and Germany, especially with regard to China,” the consultant added.
Biden officials are particularly troubled by the European Union’s trade deal with China, which strengthened trade ties between the two powers and offered little in the way of sanctions. Human Rights Violations in China. This was despite protests from the new National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan.
Other alarm bells sounded in response to a speech by German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the end of last month, in which she told the World Economic Forum in Davos that she wanted to avoid “building blocks” and indicated that Germany is not. Automatically tends to side with America against China.
There is more concern about the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Germany and Russia, which the Biden administration is concerned will deepen European dependence on Russian energy. Biden called it “a bad deal for Europe” and is considering imposing sanctions on any foreign companies involved in the pipeline.
Last week, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier defended the project by saying that his country owed Russia guilt for the atrocities of World War II.
It is fair to say that things did not turn out as Biden had planned as far as Europe was concerned. One of the last articles widely shared in the influential Foreign Policy magazine was with the sad headline: “America is Back. Europe, Are You There?”
“The window of opportunity to reinvest in the transatlantic relationship is not indefinitely. It is time, dear allies, to join your efforts,” the article continued.
Prattberg suggested that the Biden team might have been a bit arrogant. He said, “There was an expectation that by coming and announcing that” America is back, “others would march in line and gather behind the American leadership.” “But when it comes to the transatlantic relationship, they may not have taken into account the sheer mistrust of American leadership.”
This week, Biden will deliver his first international speech as president of the Munich Security Conference, further evidence of his eagerness to return Europe to Washington’s embrace. However, the buzzword in European policy circles at the moment is “strategic autonomy,” which means in layman terms to be less dependent on the United States, especially when it comes to military matters.
“Europe is hedging its bets,” said foreign affairs writer Robert Kaplan. There has been significant damage to Trump’s reputation. Not because of his policies but because of his behavior. The images that emerged from the Capitol Hill riots were ruining the reputation. And once you lose a trademark, it’s hard to get it back. “
Meanwhile, British diplomats were pushing the message that while some on Biden’s team might prefer engaging with Brussels and Berlin, Britain is best to help them get things done. Although it is, of course, the early days of the Biden administration, which still holds lingering doubts about Brexit, there are some indications that this argument resonates.
“Even outside the European Union, the United States can still benefit from Britain as a kind of hubs with Europe,” Kaplan said. “If there was a war somewhere, a military confrontation, then Britain was always closer to the United States.”
As promised, the Biden administration was quick to make strong statements on human rights issues, such as the Alexei Navalny prison in Russia. But beyond rhetoric, America’s European allies are also concerned about the amount of time and energy the administration will actually devote to being the world’s policeman, given the massive challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic and the accompanying economic recession. The chaotic conclusion of the Trump years also exposed the fragility of American democracy, which helps explain European concern for strategic independence.
“You have to have a degree of realism about the bandwidth,” said Sir Nigel Sheinwald, the former British ambassador to Washington. Biden has to put domestic politics and the country’s unity first, because without that there is absolutely no chance of America having the will, patience and resources to become [dominant] An international player again. “
He added, “America remains indispensable for doing much in the world. I don’t think Biden will shirk his international responsibilities, but the rest of the world should realize that they are focusing internally at the moment. There is a limited capacity for major international initiatives.”