The New York Times

Biden tells allies “America is back,” but Macron and Merkel are pushing back

President Joe Biden used his first public meeting with America’s European allies to describe a new struggle between the West and the forces of autocracy. He declared that “America is back” and admitted that the past four years had marred his power and influence. His message of the importance of revitalizing alliances and renewing our efforts to defend Europe was predictably well received at a session of the Munich Security Conference that Biden addressed at the White House. But there have also been setbacks, in particular from French President Emmanuel Macron, who in his address passionately defended his concept of “strategic autonomy” vis-à-vis the United States and advocated that Europe can no longer be overly dependent on the United States because it is turns its attention more to Asia, especially China. Sign up for the New York Times’ The Morning newsletter and even Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is stepping down within the year, praised Biden’s decision to cancel plans to withdraw 12,000 US troops from the country with a warning ” Our interests will not always converge. ” It seemed to be an indication of Germany’s ambivalence towards China – an important market for automobiles and other German high-end products – and of the ongoing battle with the US over the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Russia. However, all three leaders seemed to realize that their first virtual encounter was a moment to celebrate the end of the America First era and that Macron and Merkel Biden, a politician they knew well from his senatorial days, again welcomed and vice president. And Biden seized the moment to warn of the need for a joint strategy to push back an internet-based narrative advocated by both Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Xi Jinping of China that the chaos surrounding the American elections is wreaking havoc another sign of a democratic nature is weakness and decline. “We have to show that democracies can still do something for our people in this changed world,” said Biden, adding: “We have to prove that our model is not a relic of history.” For the President, who himself regularly attended the conference as a private citizen after his work as Vice-President, the address was a kind of homecoming. The session was reduced to a video meeting of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, this year’s host, and European leaders decided to do the same for a short, closed meeting of the Group of Seven Allies, which Biden also attended. The next one in the UK is scheduled for a personal summit this summer, if the pandemic allows. Biden never mentioned his predecessor Donald Trump in his remarks, but rather framed them by eradicating the traces of Trumpism in the United States’ approach to the world. He celebrated the return of the Paris Climate Agreement, which came into effect shortly before the meeting, and a new initiative announced on Thursday evening to join the UK, France and Germany in diplomatic engagement with Iran to restore the 2015 nuclear deal that Trump left behind . Instead of setting out an agenda in detail, Biden tried to recall the first principles that led to the Atlantic Alliance and the formation of NATO in 1949, just before the start of the Cold War. “Democracy is no accident,” said the president. “We have to defend it. Strengthen it. Renew it. “In deliberate opposition to Trump, who talked about leaving NATO and repeatedly refused to recognize the United States’ responsibility under Article V of the Alliance’s charter to come to the aid of attacked members, Biden threw the United States as ready to assume their responsibility as the lynchpin of the alliance. “We will keep the faith,” he said, adding, “an attack on one is an attack on all.” But he also urged Europe about challenges new ways of thinking – unlike in the Cold War, even if the two biggest geostrategic opponents seem familiar. “We must prepare together for a long-term strategic competition with China,” he said, citing “cyberspace, artificial intelligence and biotechnology” as new territory for the competition, and he pleaded for pushing back against Russia – he called Putin by his last name without Title – specifically mentioning the need to respond to the SolarWinds attack that targeted federal and corporate computer networks. “Tackling Russia’s ruthlessness and hacking into computer networks in the US, as well as across Europe and the world, are critical to protecting collective security,” said Biden. The president avoided addressing the difficult question of how Russia can pay a price without escalating the confrontation. A senior White House cyber officer told reporters this week that the scope and depth of the Russian penetration are still being investigated and officials are clearly having difficulty finding options to meet Biden’s commitment to make Putin pay a price for the attack. But it was the dynamic with Macron, who made it a habit to criticize the NATO alliance as “brain-dead” and no longer “relevant” since the Warsaw Pact disappeared, that drew attention. Macron wants NATO to function more as a political body, a place where European members have the same status as the United States and less subject to the American tendency to dominate decision-making. A Europe that is better able to defend itself and to be more autonomous would make NATO “even stronger than before,” stressed Macron. He said Europe should be “much more responsible for its own security” and increase its defense spending commitments to “rebalance” transatlantic relations. This is not a widespread view among the many European countries that do not want to spend the money they need, and the nations of Central and Eastern Europe are unwilling to trust the United States with their security. Macron also urged that the renewal of NATO’s security capabilities should include “a dialogue with Russia”. NATO has always claimed that it is open to better relations with Moscow, but Russia is not interested, especially as international sanctions remain in place after Ukraine captured Crimea about seven years ago. However, Macron, who spoke in English to answer a question, also argued that Europe could no longer count on the United States as much as it had in previous decades. “We have to take more of the burden of our own protection,” he said. In practice, it will take many years for Europe to build a defense arm that will make it more independent. But Macron is determined to start now, just as he is determined to increase the technological capabilities of the European Union so that it becomes less dependent on American and Chinese supply chains. In contrast, Biden wants to deepen these supply chains – both hardware and software – among like-minded Western allies in order to lessen Chinese influence. He is preparing to propose a new joint project for European and American tech companies in areas such as semiconductors and the kind of software Russia has exploited in SolarWinds hacking. It was Merkel who dealt with the complexities of dealing with China, as it plays a dual role as a competitor and a necessary partner for the West. “In recent years, China has gained global clout, and as transatlantic partners and democracies we must do something to counteract this,” said Merkel. “Russia is constantly embroiling the members of the European Union in hybrid conflicts,” she said. “It is therefore important that we develop a transatlantic agenda for Russia that, on the one hand, makes cooperative offers, but on the other hand identifies the differences very clearly.” While Biden announced that he would keep an American pledge to donate $ 4 billion to the campaign to accelerate the manufacture and distribution of coronavirus vaccines around the world – a move made last year by a Democratically-run home and Approved by a Republican-led Senate – There were marked differences in approach during the meeting. Macron underscored the importance the European Union attaches to Africa and urged Western states to deliver 13 million doses of vaccine to African governments “as soon as possible” to protect health workers. He warned that if the Alliance did not do so, “our African friends would be pressured by their people to rightly buy cans from the Chinese, the Russians or directly from laboratories.” Vaccine donations would “reflect a common will to promote and share the same values,” Macron said. Otherwise, “the power of the West, Europeans and Americans, will only be a concept and not a reality.” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization, also on Friday urged countries and drug makers to accelerate the manufacture and distribution of vaccines around the world, warning that the world could be “back to number 1” if some countries have continued their vaccination campaigns, leaving others behind. “Vaccine capital is not only the right thing, but also the smartest,” said Tedros at the Munich conference. He argued the longer it would take to vaccinate the population in each country, the longer the pandemic would get out of hand. This article originally appeared in the New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company