June 15, 2021

CNAS Responds: Biden Meets with World Leaders on First International Trip 

By Richard Fontaine, Lisa Curtis, Michael Kofman, Martijn Rasser, Rachel Rizzo, Jacob Stokes, Jim Townsend, and Carisa Nietsche

This week, President Biden traveled to Europe in a week long tour of high-level summit meetings with leaders from key allies. In the advisory below, CNAS experts unpack the key developments and possible outcomes for journalists to watch. To arrange an interview, contact Shai Korman at comms@cnas.org.

  • Richard Fontaine, Chief Executive Officer, CNAS: "This week's fast-paced spate of multilateral diplomacy is striking for its focus on China. G7 summits and the like represent barometers of international concern - for years about terrorism and violent extremism, then Russian revanchism, and more recently rising illiberalism and protectionism. While the leaders this week talked of many things, including COVID and climate, it's clear they had China on the mind.

    "The G7 communiqué addressed Xinjiang, Hong Kong, unfair economic practices, the South China Sea and Taiwan. Washington wishes to rally NATO allies behind a common approach to the China challenge. The United States and European Union are set to launch a new trade and technology initiative that will compete more effectively with Beijing.

    "The Biden administration has placed a strategic bet: that well-functioning democracies, working together in multilateral fashion, are best placed to counter China in areas of key concern. The administration arrived at this week's summitry with a new tone and a broad agenda. What the partners now do differently in response will be the ultimate test of that bet's wisdom."
  • Lisa Curtis, Director, Indo-Pacific Security: "The G7 Communique demonstrates that President Biden has made progress in closing the gap with European partners on a coordinated approach toward China. The Communique’s references to human rights abuses in Xinjiang and the need to maintain Hong Kong’s autonomy, as well as the call for a second phase of investigation into the origins of COVID-19, signal that China’s attempts to divide and conquer the G7 nations will be more difficult during the Biden administration.

    "President Biden made clear the G7’s establishment of an infrastructure plan to marshal billions of dollars in financing for infrastructure projects in low and middle-income countries is a rejoinder to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The G7 infrastructure plan shows a willingness of the grouping to stand together to provide an alternative to China’s way of doing business and give developing nations choices that will help them maintain their own independence and sovereignty."
  • Michael Kofman, Adjunct Senior Fellow, Transatlantic Security: "President Biden’s upcoming meeting with Putin is an opportunity to begin stabilizing what will remain a principally adversarial relationship. The administration seeks to introduce guard rails, improve strategic stability, and pursue selective engagement on a narrow agenda. Agreeing on practical steps will prove important, establishing working groups, figuring out the scheme for arms control negotiations, and restoring the capacity of diplomatic staff in both countries. But the White House will have to grapple with a ‘no business as usual’ mantra among allies, and its own reticence to prioritize Russia on the foreign policy agenda."
  • Martijn Rasser, Senior Fellow, Technology and National Security: "The E.U.-U.S. Trade and Technology Council is a welcome, much-needed initiative. While the agenda for this council should be bold and broad, the immediate focus should be on tackling straightforward shared problems to serve as a proof of concept. The rare earths dilemma is such an issue. The problem—China dominates mining and processing—is acute and well understood. And the solution is readily apparent: a mix of investments in new mines and processing capabilities, collaborative rare earths recycling efforts, and longer-term research into man-made alternatives. Success here paves the way for fruitful collaboration on a host of other issues."
  • Rachel Rizzo, Adjunct Senior Fellow, Transatlantic Security Program: "During President Biden’s trip to Europe, he should make it clear that, yes, “America is back,” but also, that the US supports a stronger, more forward leaning Europe that takes on greater responsibility, especially in its own neighborhood. For Europe, it’s a chance to show how they plan to deliver on issues like defense spending without being constantly pushed by the United States. The two sides have a huge opportunity in front of them to begin to build a more equal partnership; they should seize on it."
  • Jacob Stokes, Fellow, Indo-Pacific Security Program: "President Biden’s trip to Europe highlights the salience of the China challenge for the world’s largest industrialized democracies in Europe and the Indo-Pacific. Even as their views on specific issues vary, European leaders increasingly recognize that Chinese power and influence is not confined to the Indo-Pacific region. Similarly, European leaders understand that what happens in the Indo-Pacific has important ramifications for Europe and the world overall. Those twin assessments have helped to galvanize meaningful action across a number of key areas to balance and counter Chinese behaviors that undermine the rules-based international order. President Biden is right that democracies standing together and helping to solve real-world problems at home and abroad is the best way to compete in a dynamic global landscape."
  • Jim Townsend, Adjunct Senior Fellow, Transatlantic Security Program: "With the wind in his sails, President Biden shoves off for his hardest meeting of the week, with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva. Over the past few days, Allies heard on a continuous loop that America was back; while not a new slogan, there is value in repeating this mantra, given the unease in some European capitals that while the US may be back, it could be just for a while. Last week’s meetings had substance: vaccines, climate commitments, a NATO innovation accelerator. The Alliance finally came together and agreed that China presents “systemic challenges to the rules based international order” — a good beginning but more work will be needed to translate what that will mean for NATO. But it’s the “family photos” in Cornwall and Brussels that count.

    "That sign of unity, even given the pro-Russia tilt by some allies, will be important for Putin to see. Like China, Putin needs to see his problem is not solely with the US. But what happens when Biden returns home? Are there engineers in the interagency that can take the aspirations of the past week and build the structures to bring them to life? To date there are not even ambassadors announced for key positions in Europe. The summits will only be a success if there are builders in the bureaucracy who can take the communiques and turn them into reality."
  • Carisa Nietsche, Associate Fellow, Transatlantic Security Program: "The flurry of international summits will test the Biden administration's guiding principle of foreign policy for the middle class. While the summits might result in some foreign policy wins, the hard work will begin when President Biden gets home. He will need to connect his foreign policy agenda to the American people. How will G7 economic, pandemic, and data wins be sold to the American people? This question is on the minds of Biden's European counterparts as well, with French President Emmanuel Macron highlighting how democracies have not been effective for their middle classes. Moving forward, liberal democracies should work together to address the disconnect between capitals and Main Street."

Authors

  • Richard Fontaine

    Chief Executive Officer

    Richard Fontaine is the Chief Executive Officer of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). He served as President of CNAS from 2012-19 and as Senior Advisor and Senior ...

  • Lisa Curtis

    Senior Fellow and Director, Indo-Pacific Security Program

    Lisa Curtis is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Indo-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). She is a foreign policy and national securit...

  • Michael Kofman

    Adjunct Senior Fellow, Transatlantic Security Program

    Michael Kofman serves as a Senior Research Scientist at the Center for Naval Analyses' Russia Studies Program, and a Fellow at the Kennan Institute, Woodrow Wilson Internation...

  • Martijn Rasser

    Senior Fellow and Director, Technology and National Security Program

    Martijn Rasser is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Prior to joining CNAS, Mr. Ras...

  • Rachel Rizzo

    Adjunct Fellow, Transatlantic Security Program

    Rachel Rizzo is an adjunct fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), working in the Transatlantic Security Program. Her research focuses on European security, N...

  • Jacob Stokes

    Fellow, Indo-Pacific Security Program

    Jacob Stokes is a Fellow in the Indo-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, where his work focuses on U.S.-China relations, Chinese foreign policy...

  • Jim Townsend

    Adjunct Senior Fellow, Transatlantic Security Program

    James Joye Townsend Jr. is an adjunct senior fellow in the CNAS Transatlantic Security Program. After eight years as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (DASD) for European ...

  • Carisa Nietsche

    Associate Fellow, Transatlantic Security Program

    Carisa Nietsche is the Associate Fellow for the Transatlantic Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). She specializes in European security; China’s ...