President Joe Biden arrives in Europe this week to engage with a range of global issues through meetings with the world’s pre-eminent economies, its foremost military alliance and Russia, an opponent of the rules-based order.
G7, Cornwall June 11-13
NATO, Brussels June 14
U.S.-EU, Brussels June 15
U.S.-Russia, Geneva June 16
CEPA fellows and staff members set out below what can be expected from the most intensive round of high-level, face-to-face engagement since the covid-19 pandemic began at the start of 2020.
Alina Polyakova, President & CEO, Center for European Policy Analysis
As President Biden heads to Europe, the U.S.-EU Summit may get lost in the noise, but that would be a mistake. Amidst all the summitry, the Biden administration has an opportunity to put cooperation on digital technology at the top of the transatlantic agenda. Last week, Executive Vice President of the European Commission for A Europe Fit for the Digital Age Margrethe Vestager announced that the EU and U.S. would unveil a new platform for tech cooperation — the Technology Trade Council (TCC). But the TCC will have to do more to establish a common dialogue. It will need to focus on the current issues driving a wedge into the EU-U.S. relationship.
- Data sharing: In 2020 the European Court of Justice invalidated the Privacy Shield agreement — which allowed data transfers between Europe and the United States, endangering transatlantic digital trade. Solving the privacy shield dilemma should be the top priority for the TCC.
- The EU is moving swiftly on an ambitious digital policy agenda. The Digital Services Act, and especially the Digital Markets Act (DSA and DMA), stand to transform the tech sector in profound ways. The U.S. should be at the table as the debate on the DMA continues in Europe.
- Perhaps most importantly, the United States and Europe must work together to ensure a stable and reliable marketplace for new technology. The only way to out-compete growing tech superpowers like China is to invest in technology and innovation.
As much as topics such as vaccine access and fighting climate change will feature in summit discussions, the real intended message from the meetings is what President Biden has been saying since his inauguration: “America is back.” The President wants to underscore that his administration believes in multilateralism and international cooperation to solve global problems. Just the fact of meeting will underscore the point.
Much more difficult, however, will be turning the symbolism and lofty words into action and accomplishment. Vaccine availability is limited in part due to costs and the pace of production. Some at the G20 summit in October will argue that waiving intellectual property (IP) protections would increase availability, while the U.S. and other developed economies will likely insist that IP must be protected to preserve incentives for future pharmaceutical research and innovation. The U.S. and European Union (EU) will set ambitious goals for greenhouse gas reduction, but unless China and India reverse course on emissions, it will just be hot air. NATO countries will call on Russia to end its aggression against Ukraine and Georgia, but Russia will pay no heed. And NATO allies will still waffle about spending enough on defense.
President Biden is right to seek international collective action. Getting such action will not be any easier just because America has a new President.
Park Russia. That is the Biden administration’s goal. Stable-but-chilly relations will be fine. Talk about a narrow range of issues such as nuclear weapons, climate, space, and agree to disagree on the rest. Depict that as a modest improvement, and get on with other things.
But Russia does not want to be parked. It wants to drive noisily down the middle of the road. After recent American sanctions, the Kremlin needs to show that it holds the initiative — and can exercise it.
That means rebuffing President Biden’s rebukes and reproaches. It means repeating allegations of American arrogance, meddling, and recklessness plus cooking up stories of rampant fascism in Ukraine. For Russia, an ill-tempered and unproductive summit is a vindication.
Europeans will watch this nervously. They should ask themselves why Russia feels so confident, and why the Biden administration is deprioritizing European security.
Regardless of which summit you are following, they are all interconnected and the buzz in Washington revolves around the three C’s — cybersecurity, China, and climate change.
Let me expound on the ramifications of the latter and the possible opportunities in the next fortnight. Climate change has impacted the entire globe, but it has been particularly evident in the polar regions. Less ice in the Arctic means more open water and this has brought the region to the forefront for policy-makers worldwide.
Leveraging off the most recent meeting of the Arctic Council, to include the passing of the chair from Iceland to the Russian Federation, there needs to be support for a different model for the Arctic in the form of the “Trans-Polar Bridge.” Simply put, like the institutions that support the Trans-Atlantic Bridge, i.e., the North Atlantic Council (NAC) and the Military Committee, the Trans-Polar Bridge would invigorate and empower the Arctic Council to engage more in economic, environmental and crisis response as well as reconvening the Arctic Chiefs of Defense Staff (CHOD) Conference (dormant since 2014) to address concerns about the rising militarization of the Arctic. The Arctic Ocean is the body of water that joins three trade routes from North America and Northern Europe to the Bering Sea and gateway to the Pacific and many non-Arctic nations are knocking at the door with both commercial and military interests. It will be important to adopt a summit agenda item to address issues and concerns before they become irreconcilable differences between like-minded Arctic nations, or those who wish to profit from access to the region.
Summits are intended to produce results, to become benchmarks for future reference and to create opportunities for leaders to establish and sustain relationships, and, if necessary, confront other countries with demands and expectations. They are also a time to clarify policy and strategy for international relations and security. President Biden has the opportunity to achieve all of these, in the next few days, with nearly every key leader with whom he will work for the entirety of his Administration.
While the White House may attempt to lower expectations ahead of these meetings, the President must accomplish three things or these Summits will be seen as failures or, at best, lost opportunities:
- Remove all doubt about America’s commitment to NATO and to European security, against the backdrop of acknowledgment of China as the long-term ‘pacing threat’.
- Build trust, confidence, and a “way ahead” with European leaders and G7 Leaders to gain economic leverage over the Chinese Communist Party and hold the Chinese accountable for human rights violations, illegal economic activity, and aggressive behavior in the Indo-Pacific region.
- Confront President Putin’s violations of international law, aggression in Ukraine, interference in U.S. domestic affairs and make it clear that Putin and his key supporters in the Kremlin will pay a very heavy price if their behavior does not change.
One of the major themes going into this week’s NATO and EU summits is the idea of updating the “rules of the road”. This is an incredibly important task as both the threats and the opportunities in global politics have shifted drastically in recent years. But the most important meeting on the trip for this theme will be the summit in Geneva with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
After all, it is Russia, its allies, and those the Kremlin protects that are most egregiously violating the existing rules, as with the hijacking of an EU flight to arrest a journalist; providing a safe haven for hackers to attack critical infrastructure ranging from energy security to food security; interfering in democratic elections; and even potentially attacking U.S. diplomats with targeted energy waves, to take just some of the most recent examples. Meanwhile, Russia is cracking down on political dissent and free media at home, most notably through the imprisonment and treatment of Alexei Navalny. This is not a time for business as usual, but a time to update the new rules and enforce existing ones.
After four years of transatlantic tumult, the June 14 NATO Summit is an opportunity for America to re-embrace the Alliance — not only as a collective defense mechanism, but as an essential political forum. Striving to keep NATO fit for purpose in an increasingly competitive world, allied leaders will look to leverage the event to consult on a much wider set of transatlantic challenges with security implications. The most significant deliverable from the summit could be the formal commissioning of a new NATO strategic concept, which would fundamentally reshape NATO’s future agenda. Building on the NATO 2030 Reflection Process, we can expect NATO to take on a larger role in managing China’s rise, fostering innovation, tackling climate change, strengthening resilience, and countering sub-threshold hybrid threats, in addition to its conventional defense responsibilities.
The June summits represent a catalyst to reassert confidence in U.S. leadership around the globe, and to demonstrate the U.S. commitment to multilateralism as a means to promote American interests and to resolve global challenges. Support for the NATO 2030 agenda will be particularly important given its emphasis on revitalizing the transatlantic alliance, which should be a top priority for the U.S. Demonstrating U.S. leadership will require a clear vision about the future, and building consensus on strategic threats and opportunities. It will also necessitate presenting specific goals on how to tackle ongoing and future threats, stretching from the Covid pandemic to climate change. Lastly, the U.S. should not shy away from difficult conversations with our allies and partners about democratic backsliding and its implications.
With an extensive series of high-level summits with the United States’ closest European partners and allies — as well as a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin — just days away, June 2021 could prove to be a consequential turning point in President Biden’s quest to solidify transatlantic security and stand up to the looming threat posed by autocratic regimes around the globe.
Among the most pressing priorities must be a focus on a Transatlantic consensus to push back on Russia’s and China’s weaponizing of critical infrastructure investments, economic deals, and emerging technologies to project malign influence, elite capture, and strategic corruption in the West. Especially when meeting Putin, President Biden should make clear that unless there is real, verifiable action by the Kremlin to change its malign behavior (e.g. ceasing cyberattacks, releasing opposition leader Alexei Navalny, exiting Ukraine, etc.) the United States is prepared to increase sanctions pressure, starting with lifting the recent sanctions waiver the U.S. Administration granted to Kremlin-backed Nord Stream 2 AG and its CEO.
The first EU-U.S. summit since 2014 is a prime opportunity to revitalize relations strained over the past seven years. A core part of that will be prioritizing the fundamental democratic values that are the foundation of the transatlantic relationship. Both sides of the Atlantic have suffered from the growth of anti-democratic movements, noxious conspiracies, and the proliferation of disinformation. Now more than ever, the alliance needs to re-center democratic values and develop a common strategy that effectively promotes and preserves resilience among member states, while observing its common values and principles. This has the potential to be a defining moment for Western democracies.
The summits are a chance to really deliver on ambitious transatlantic rhetoric. For the NATO summit, beyond launching the expected revision of the Strategic Concept, we should aim for a clear political mandate to take the relationship to the next level. Rethinking burden-sharing is a comprehensive way to do that. NATO 2030 already includes a dimension of rethinking defense and deterrence for the 2030s, but incentivizing allies to act upon the newish issues that NATO cares about — resilience, climate change, economic security — besides territorial defense and deterrence, requires something better than the current spending target of 2% of gross domestic product.
My shooting star wish for the EU-U.S. summit is to break the ceiling and launch a security and defense dialogue. This would display a mature relationship, willing to work out differences and adapt to new power distributions and ambitions. It’s about time.
Since World War II, the USSR has always had a sphere of influence in what was formerly known as the Eastern Bloc. Despite much of its political and military decline since 1989, the West has implicitly allowed the retention of this sphere of influence (albeit somewhat diminished).
Vladimir Putin’s claim on the so-called “sphere of Russian exclusive influence” has been used to create one crisis after another, with Belarus the latest example. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov constantly repeats that Western interference in the internal affairs of Belarus is unacceptable, while Russia itself can freely interfere as a natural right.
It is high time to reconsider the status quo. The U.S. should make it absolutely clear that Russia’s only sphere of exclusive influence is Russia itself and its aggressive actions in neighboring countries will no longer go unpunished.
It is heartening to see the Biden administration work to arrange a summit with President Putin to engage in a face-to-face dialogue.
I hope both Presidents really listen to one another. It will be important for President Biden to seek to understand what Putin’s objectives are. This can be gleaned in several ways: what Putin says, what Putin does not say, and how he says it.
My hope would be that President Biden speaks very candidly and directly to President Putin and explains that actions Russia takes to undermine world order will have consequences. The main topics should be the illegal annexation of Crimea and the continued action of Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine, government-sanctioned violence and intimidation against Putin’s political opponents, and the cyberattacks that have waged against the United States and other NATO allies from Russia-based hackers.
I believe that dialogue with competitors and adversaries is important and constructive, even if for nothing else, to keep lines of communication open.
During the NATO summit on June 14 we hope and expect to see President Biden reaffirm the U.S’s commitment to our NATO allies and the strategic defense of their borders. While this affirmation will be much welcomed, what NATO really needs, and what we as a nation should really hope for, is action.
Given recent events in Belarus and Ukraine, and the increasing frequency of cyberattacks against state and private enterprises, NATO needs to take impose coordinated sanctions against Russia, as well as unified action regarding cybersecurity. The key questions are:
- can all NATO members come together to sanction Russia?
- will NATO take concrete, unified cybersecurity measures together for the first time? and
- can NATO continue to evolve and be relevant for warfare in the 21st century?
I believe the answer is yes, but action must start now. There is no time to lose.
The U.S. plans to share at least 80 million vaccine doses with the rest of the world by the end of June. This is smart policy from both a public health and soft power perspective. By engaging its G7 and EU partners, the U.S. can advance global public health without countries having to be concerned about political strings or quid pro-quos from Russia and China.
When the U.S., Japan, India and Australia (the Quad) announced a plan in March to distribute vaccines around the Indo-Pacific, it sent a powerful message that the Biden administration will prioritize working with allies, partners and multilateral institutions to help speed the recovery from covid-19. With help from our allies, in President Biden’s own words, we can: “Lead the world in bringing an end to the pandemic, with the power of our example and with our values.”
The upcoming summits promise major developments in digital rule-making, including a potential agreement on a 15% global minimum tax (with big implications for multinational tech companies) as well as a potential new venue for technology cooperation between the United States and the European Union. Yet for all the interest in being friends again, there is still an ocean of difference between the two sides.
Earlier in the month, European officials made clear they were targeting American tech firms with strict new legislation, while the U.S. languishes with little hope of a new federal tech policy. New dialogue will not be enough — my hope for the summit is real, concrete commitments towards new cooperation on digital policy.
A Biden-led U.S. will be a welcome sight for many EU member states at the June 15 EU-U.S. summit in Brussels. But can Biden’s charm with the Europeans help to translate rhetoric and dialogue into effective, coordinated joint policies? If EU bureaucracy and the U.S. political division have anything to say, the answer is, No.
A focus on Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia is likely and would be understandable, but where will China fit in, if at all? If left unaddressed, China’s political, economic, and technological activities in Europe — from Huawei 5G tech, to Chinese espionage activities — will continue to divide Europe and the U.S. Thus, while China may not have thousands of troops on Europe’s doorstep like its Russian neighbor, it remains a security threat. Will this summit lead to a joint recognition of that threat? Possibly, but given the lack of unified U.S.-EU response to China up to this point, don’t hold your breath.