Biden goes to Europe, but is America really “back”?

Biden goes to Europe, but is America really “back”?

As he packs his bags for his first foreign trip, US President Joe Biden has some convincing to do.

On Wednesday he leaves on a weeklong journey to Europe, where he will meet with European allies, visit NATO headquarters, attend the G7 meetings in Cornwall, and hold a face-to-face with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva.

Biden's European hosts will be glad to see him. After four years of a Trump administration that treated most of them with contempt, here comes a US president who values Washington's traditional alliances and seems interested in working with US partners to tackle big global issues like climate change, technology regulation, a rising China, and a revanchist Russia. "America," Biden has said, "is back."

But there are thorny items on the agenda too.

UK on Thursday: keep the peace in Ireland, Boris. Biden is expected to warn UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson not to implement Brexit in any way that establishes a hard border between Northern Ireland (which is part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland which is an EU member. Doing so could jeopardize the increasingly fragile peace that has held there since the 1998 Good Friday accords. Johnson wants a juicy post-Brexit trade deal with Washington and can't afford to ignore Biden's warnings.

A G7 weekend: vaxes and taxes. Beyond the expected fence-mending with once-jilted allies, Biden is looking to rally rich countries to send more vaccines to low and middle-income countries — though the US itself has been slow to act. The group of the world's seven most advanced democracies will also discuss ways to ensure broader adoption of their recent proposal to set a global corporate minimum tax, a vision pushed by Biden.

NATO summit: what's it for? At the first NATO summit since 2018, members will be relieved to see a US president who doesn't trash the value of the alliance itself, but more important is whether they can answer NATO's existential question: what is the alliance's mission for the 21st century? With the Afghanistan operation winding down, NATO is now crafting a new purpose as, variously, a cyber alliance, a climate security pact, and a cautious counterweight to China.

Bonus meeting! Talking Turkey. Biden will also sit down with Turkish President Recep Erdogan. US-Turkey ties are strained over Erdogan's purchase of advanced weapons from Russia and US concerns about Ankara's human rights record. Biden also arrives just weeks after recognizing the Armenian genocide, a move that enraged the Turkish government. But is there a way they can cooperate on Syria or post-withdrawal Afghanistan?

EU-US Summit: a foreign policy for whom now? At the first US-EU summit since 2014, the main focus will be trade and technology, two areas where Biden isn't actually looking to snap back to pre-Trump norms. In fact, Biden has left in place Trump's steel tariffs on the EU, in part because the "Kid from Scranton" has a lot of support from steel country. But more broadly, Biden is pushing what he calls a "foreign policy for the middle class" that will prioritize US companies, workers, and suppliers in ways that could rankle Europe. And there are ongoing disputes about transatlantic norms on digital privacy and taxation of tech companies.

Meeting with a "killer." Expect an icy air when Biden closes his trip at a sit-down with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he has accused of murder. Biden has taken flak for meeting with Putin, particularly in the wake of several major recent crimes by criminal hackers that Washington says are based in Russia, and Moscow's support for the Belarusian state hijacking of a Ryanair flight last month. But Biden's team says they merely want a "stable and predictable" relationship with a cantankerous Kremlin: cooperating where they can, butting heads where they must.

Hanging over this entire trip will be two big issues.

First, China. Brussels and Washington agree on pushing back against China's unfair trade practices and human rights abuses, and Biden — unlike his predecessor — wants to work with allies to shape a united front on that. And amid growing diplomatic tensions with Beijing, Europe recently stalled ratification of a massive and long-negotiated EU-China trade and investment pact that Washington doesn't like.

But Biden has to tread carefully with European leaders, who are reluctant to be forced to "choose sides" in anything that looks like a new cold war. After all, many EU countries — particularly smaller and less wealthy ones — are eager to boost their economies with help from Chinese investment and technology.

Second, just how "back" is America really? The Europeans will be relieved to see Biden, but they'll also be skeptical. The 2016 election showed how quickly things can change in US foreign policy. And while nobody knows the odds of Trump(ism) returning to the White House in 2024, in a deeply polarized United States where the former president is still popular, it's entirely possible. Add the fact that it's not clear who will be running Germany or France by the end of next year either, and you've got a lot of uncertainty hanging over the world's most militarily and economically powerful alliance.

Eni is helping to bring stable energy sources to the communities of Ghana. This means vaccines for children can now be safely stored, businesses can operate more efficiently, and the economy, as a whole, is strengthened and improved.

Watch to learn how Eni helps businesses grow and build for the future.

This week, the US Senate passed the so-called Endless Frontier Act, a $250 billion investment in development of artificial intelligence, quantum computing, the manufacture of semiconductors, and other tech-related sectors. The goal is to harness the combined power of America's public and private sectors to meet the tech challenges posed by China.

In its current form, this is the biggest diversion of public funds into the private sector to achieve strategic goals in many decades. The details of this package, and of the Senate vote, say a lot about US foreign-policy priorities and this bill's chances of becoming law.

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What do America's policies around the world mean for jobs, the economy, and the future of the country's future? This Tuesday, June 15. at 11 am ET, GZERO Media presents a a live discussion on trade, immigration, and how domestic issues like racism and deep partisan divides impact America's standing in the world. Our event, which is sponsored by Carnegie Corporation of New York, is free and open to the public. Please register to attend.

Judy Woodruff, anchor of the PBS NewsHour, will moderate the conversation with:

  • Donna Edwards, Member of Congress (2008-2017)
  • Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group and GZERO Media
  • Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO, New America
  • Miriam Sapiro, Managing Director, Sard Verbinnen & Co. (SVC) and Former Acting and Deputy U.S. Trade Representative
  • Cecilia Muñoz, Senior Advisor, New America

Special appearance by Governor Thomas H. Kean, Chairman of Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Far Away and Close to Home: How US Foreign Policy Impacts All Americans

Tuesday, June 15, 2021 | 11 am - 12:30 pm ET

Register to attend

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Listen: Is there a path to democracy for Europe's last dictatorship, Belarus? Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya discusses her hopes and fears for the country with Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World Podcast. President Alexander Lukashenko has maintained a tight grip on power in Belarus for the last 26 years and rigged the results of his last election which led to widespread protest and unrest in his country, though few consequences globally. But will he now be held accountable after diverting a flight between two European capitals to arrest a dissident journalist? And just how close are he and Vladimir Putin?

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Nigeria's federal government earlier this month blocked Twitter from the country's mobile networks, after the social media company deleted a controversial post from President Muhammadu Buhari's account. The move by Africa's largest and most populous economy comes as many governments around the world are putting increased pressure on social media companies, with serious implications for free speech.

So what actually happened in Nigeria, and how does it fit in with broader trends on censorship and social media regulation? Eurasia Group analysts Amaka Anku and Tochi Eni-Kalu explain.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

What's the significance of the US-China bill, competition bill that passed the Senate earlier this week?

Well, the bill is a major investment in American technology, research and development, semiconductor manufacturing, and it's designed to push back on the China Made in 2025 push that lawmakers have become increasingly worried about in recent years. The opinion in Washington has shifted from seeing China as a strategic competitor to a strategic rival. And you're seeing what's now likely to be one of the only bipartisan bills in Congress now pushing back on that. Significant money for semiconductors in this bill, even though some of it was set aside for automotive purposes. That money's not going to come online fast enough to really make a difference to the current global semiconductor shortage, but it will help build up US long-term spending capacity and manufacturing capacity in semiconductors.

Other aspects of the bill, banned the application TikTok from going on government devices out of security concerns, created new sanctions authorities around Xinjiang and Hong Kong for human rights abuses, and mandated a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics, which is probably going to happen anyway once the Biden administration is able to align with its allies. Let the athletes play. Don't let any high level delegations go. This is probably the only bipartisan bill to happen this year, yet still, half of Senate Republicans voted against it because they were opposed to the kind of industrial policy they think this represents, but it does show the area where there's bipartisan agreement in a city that's very, very divided right now. China is the bad guy and Congress is moving in that direction.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Europe:

What do you expect from President Biden's first European trip since taking office?

Well, first, it will be sort of reconnecting with Europe, reconnecting with the European Union, with NATO, with the partners in the G7, and going really from the initial message, which was, "we are back," to a more concrete message, "here is what we could potentially do together." That is the expectations. And let's see how it turns out.

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Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

When President Biden and President Putin meet, will cybersecurity will be a key issue that they discuss?

Now, I'm sure that there will be many thorny issues on the table. But after American fingers pointed to Russia and hold it responsible for the SolarWinds hack, it's likely. Criminals in Russia were also not hindered when they held the Colonial Pipeline Company ransom through a ransomware attack. And really, when journalists and opposition leaders cannot speak a single critical word without being caught, how come cybercriminals can act with impunity in Russia? So the need for prevention and accountability really is significant. And I hope the President Biden can push and persuade Putin to change the confrontational and aggressive course that he is on.

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Watch "Far Away and Close to Home: How US Foreign Policy Impacts All Americans" live on Tuesday, June 15 |  11 AM – 12:30 pm ET


Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

Watch "Far Away and Close to Home: How US Foreign Policy Impacts All Americans" live on Tuesday, June 15 |  11 AM – 12:30 pm ET


Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal