In a powerful speech on Friday, President Joe Biden declared that the “transatlantic alliance is back” to restore the United States as the leader of the West against what he calls a global attack on democracy.
The address to the annual Munich Security Conference, which was held via video link because of the Covid-19 pandemic, coincided with the greeting given by Chancellor Angela Merkel, who welcomed a return to “multilateralism” after the years of confrontation with Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump.
Biden delivered his first major international foreign policy address since taking office in January, saying traditional US allies should regain confidence in Washington’s leadership.
“I’m sending a clear message to the world: America is back. The transatlantic alliance is back,” he said from the White House.
“The United States is determined to reconnect with Europe, consult with you, and regain our position as a trusted leader,” he said.
Biden, who had previously spoken to leaders of the G7 Club of Wealthy Democracies, said his administration had re-emphasized alliance-building, contrary to Trump’s isolated policies and aggressive treatment of US partners.
“Our partnerships have endured and grown over the years because they are rooted in the richness of our shared democratic values. They are not transactions. They are not extractive,” Biden said, citing Trump’s emphasis on redefining allies as economic rivals .
Collective strength, Biden said, is the only way to succeed when global competition between democracy and autocracy is at a “turning point”.
“Too many places, including Europe and the United States, are under attack on democratic progress,” Biden said.
“Historians will examine this moment and write about it. It is a turning point. And with every ounce of my being I believe that democracy must triumph.”
– Russia, China threats –
Biden said he did not seek a return to “the rigid blocks of the Cold War” and insisted that the international community must work together on issues such as the coronavirus pandemic and climate change, even if there are deep disagreements on other issues.
The United States’ return to the Paris Climate Agreement – effective Friday – is evidence of Washington’s intentions, he said.
“We can no longer stop climate change or do what is necessary to address it,” said Biden, calling it a “global existential crisis.”
But Biden warned sharply about the threats Russia and China pose.
“The Kremlin is attacking our democracies and arming corruption in order to undermine our system of government,” he said. President Vladimir Putin “tries to weaken the European project and our NATO alliance.”
Biden again pushed for Western unity, saying: “It is so much easier for the Kremlin to harass and threaten individual states than it is to negotiate with a strong, closely-united transatlantic community.”
Similarly, US partners should join forces to tackle “the Chinese government’s economic abuses and pressures that undermine the very foundations of the international economic system,” he said.
“Chinese companies should be kept to the same standard” as US and European companies facing severe restrictions on their presence in China, he said.
Regarding Iran, Biden reiterated his promise to return to international negotiations with Tehran on its nuclear program, but said: “We must deal with Iran’s destabilizing activities in the Middle East.”
Biden’s focal point are good reviews in Europe.
Germany’s Merkel told reporters after the earlier virtual G7 summit: “It is clear that multilateralism will have a better chance again.”
“Multilateralism in particular is reinforced by the change in the US administration – the Biden administration has already proven this in its first decisions,” she said, returning to the Paris Agreement and once again supporting the World Health Organization.
She also reiterated Biden’s warning against Russia, telling the Munich conference: “It is very important that we develop a transatlantic policy towards Russia.”