President Joe Biden wrapped up six days of summits on the shores of Lake Geneva this week following meetings with leading economic and military powers, and with President Vladimir Putin of Russia.
CEPA fellows and staff explain what the meetings in the UK, Belgium, and Switzerland have revealed.
President Biden did exactly what he sought to do on his multi-summit European trip: re-establish America’s commitment to engaging in multilateral diplomacy, demonstrate American leadership (even if modest) in increasing vaccine availability, affirm America’s commitment to NATO while pointing the alliance toward dealing with China and a new Vision 2030, renew direct U.S.-EU engagement, and establish a new tone in relations with Russia. President Biden’s language was reassuring and the symbolism of all the meetings hit the right notes.
That is a good start to diplomatic dialogue and follow-up at lower levels is of course the next step. But the question nagging even Biden’s supporters is what will now be different on the substance. In some ways, the U.S. reassurance may have perverse effects: NATO allies who are facing challenges rebooting their economies after the pandemic may feel they can reverse plans to spend 2% of GDP on defense. Despite calling a truce on Boeing/Airbus tariffs for five years, no underlying agreement was reached, and U.S.-EU trade will be a hard sell on both sides of the Atlantic. Russian President Vladimir Putin may well conclude that without any new U.S. sanctions or other action, he can continue everything he was doing before the summit — such as attacking Ukraine, occupying parts of Ukraine and Georgia, harboring cyber-criminals, supporting repression in Belarus, and steering Alexei Navalny toward a slow death in prison.
The Biden Administration gets high marks on language and symbolism; now the key will be turning words into accomplishments.
The Geneva Summit presented a difficult diplomatic needle to thread for President Biden. On the one hand, the goal of the summit was to reduce tensions with Russia and open a line of communication with the eventual goal of stabilizing the relationship. On the other hand, Biden had to confront Putin on a litany of sensitive issues ranging from election interference, cybersecurity, targeting dissidents with chemical weapons on NATO soil, potential attacks against American diplomats with targeted energy, and a brutal crackdown on democracy and opposition leaders like Alexei Navalny at home. Relations could not be normalized under these circumstances, and Biden needed to avoid granting Putin his sought-after prize of appearing as a powerful statesman on par with the President of the United States.
This was a difficult task that Biden ably handled on Wednesday in Geneva. Now comes the difficult work of implementing a Russia strategy to enforce the newly established redlines when Putin crosses them (as he will), defends democracy against attacks, and protects American and European security interests.
It all started very well for Putin. The Kremlin had made a big point about Biden initiating the meeting, and Biden began the summit by granting Putin a gift, when he said that Russia and the United States were “two great powers.” Add to that the heated debates in the US preceding the meeting, the photographs of the 1985 Geneva meeting between Gorbachev and Reagan circulating on social media, all of that seemed to set the stage for the face-to-face meeting of the leaders of two equal superpowers, just like the good old days.
Yet Putin looked very uneasy when he emerged after the summit to face journalists’ questions. He seemed jumpy (so much so that his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, tried to curtail the press conference) before rediscovering his balance.
The Biden press conference made clear why Putin was so nervous.
To Putin, great power status means Russia is granted the right to be consulted about other countries’ business, whether it be North Korea, Iran, or Afghanistan. That is why Putin’s entourage included the chief of the general staff and officials in charge of Ukraine and Syria. Instead, Biden chose to talk, at least in public, only about the problems in Russia or what was coming from Russia. The result is that Putin remained in a box marked “Russia problem.” It’s a rather big box, but still a box.
President Biden solidified America’s triumphant return to NATO, restoring solidarity with Europe as the bedrock of the Alliance. In harmony, allied leaders commissioned a long-awaited new strategic concept, to be released in 2022, which will shape a bold and broad agenda for NATO’s next decade. But behind the rosy smiles and handshakes, a lot of business was left unfinished. Many key decisions — how to approach China, increase common funding, and strengthen democratic values inside NATO — were put on hold until next year. Graceful language in the summit communique reiterated or modestly strengthened current NATO policies on Russia, cyber, arms control, capacity-building, and partnerships. Two new outcomes were the creation of a transatlantic defense accelerator and innovation fund to strengthen NATO’s technological edge, along with an action plan to reduce military emissions and address security aspects of climate change. Looking ahead, President Biden’s biggest obstacle may be convincing European allies to elevate the China challenge. China was only mentioned 10 times in the communique — and with a softer touch than Russia, which received 62 call-outs. Overall, the mood music is once again jovial. Repairs on the transatlantic bridge have begun, but much of the hard labor is yet to come.
The Defense Innovation Accelerator and NATO Innovation Fund announced at the NATO summit are welcome developments. For these initiatives to succeed in developing and deploying emerging and disruptive technology (EDT), they must be given novel administrative powers and tap non-traditional sources of talent.
First, these efforts should operate independently with a direct line into the most senior decision-makers (the Secretary General, SACEUR, Supreme Allied Commander Transformation — SACT, etc.). Similar U.S. efforts, like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), are successful in part because they exist outside of traditional bureaucracies. Further, the new NATO bodies need to have the authority to invest in or provide support to initiatives and startups without requiring external permission or consensus. This will enable NATO to more readily identify, develop and deploy emerging and disruptive technologies.
Second, these efforts must attract external talent to help staff them. It is not enough to build new organizations in the traditional manner. To realize their full potential, NATO must attract individuals from startups and venture capital and pair them with top subject-matter experts from R&D communities (government and commercial).
Including “values” in the second paragraph of the NATO summit communiqué, signals a recognition of the need for strong leadership to protect not just territory but also shared principles. However, translating statements into practice remains a major challenge, under-addressed for too long in technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI). How these values are interpreted and implemented in technology building can create barriers to allied interoperability. This challenge is apparent in diverging U.S.-EU approaches to personal data, especially since the implementation of the European Union’s (EU) GDPR. NATO has a key role, not just in the high-level alignment of values but also in guiding the practice. Its initiatives on consultation, resilience, deployability, interoperability, R&D, innovation, and timely implementation provide the framework within which this guidance functions. Now that NATO has talked the talk, it must show that it can walk the walk.
NATO summits are widely covered in the media. The 2018 NATO Summit reached an estimated audience of 1.3 billion people — that is, one in every six people on earth. Moreover, the fact that NATO decisions are made by consensus means that the alliance’s collective message carries weight. One of the key messages that emerged from this summit is its characterization of China. The Brussels summit communiqué noted: “China's stated ambitions and assertive behavior present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to alliance security. We are concerned by those coercive policies which stand in contrast to the fundamental values enshrined in the Washington Treaty.” In context, NATO only mentioned China’s impact for the first time in its December 2019 communiqué but merely stated that China’s “growing influence and international policies present both opportunities and challenges.” Clearly, NATO has redefined its relationship with China, which will have major policy implications across the Atlantic.
This week, U.S. President Joe Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met on the sidelines of the June 14 NATO Summit. In President Biden’s public remarks, it was disappointing that there was no reference to the serious human rights challenges in Turkey including the muzzling of civil society, repression of opposition parties, and prosecution of U.S. consular employees. Recent events have shown that a constructive dialogue with Erdoğan on disagreements will not irreversibly damage U.S. security interests. Since the U.S. recognized the Armenian genocide in April 2021, instead of further damage to Turkey’s commitment to transatlantic interests, Turkey has strengthened ties with Ukraine, sold drones to Poland, and offered to protect Kabul airport after U.S. and NATO troops depart. Given that the administration has made democracy a core pillar of U.S. foreign policy, it should condemn human rights abuses from allies and adversaries alike.
The U.S.-EU summit resulted in an agreement to renew the transatlantic partnership and sets out a joint agenda for a post-pandemic era. The leaders have pledged to uphold a rules-based international order, reinvigorate and reform multinational institutions, and cooperate with all who share these objectives. This declaration of commitment to enduring values is a good start, but concrete action should follow. Policy-makers should work quickly to enact legislation that will deliver on these promises and return the allies to a position of global leadership in the struggle to preserve democracy.
Throughout President Biden’s attendance at core multilateral formats — the G7, NATO, and EU — he rightfully emphasized a return to traditional engagement with Europe. The Administration has focused heavily on addressing the “four C’s” challenging transatlantic national security objectives: corruption, China, climate, and COVID-19. Given that Russia and China continue to weaponize critical infrastructure investments to project malign influence, strategic corruption, and for elite capture in the West, this focus couldn’t be more vital, and the vow by the G7 to focus on these issues and in particular to counter China’s Belt and Road initiative is welcome, although action will need to follow. Regarding corruption, the Transatlantic community should focus first on countering the ongoing “Schröderization” of Europe, especially with the announcement that France’s pro-Russian former premier, François Fillon, had been hired by a Russian state-owned oil group. Finally, while the summit meeting between President Biden and President Vladimir Putin was largely uneventful, Team Biden should not relent in holding the Kremlin to account for its extensive and ongoing malign actions against Transatlantic security.
The Brussels Summit rounds off the NATO 2030 Reflection Process initiated in December 2019. Commissioned to elevate the alliance’s political dimension following its rapid post-2014 military adaptation, many of the Reflection Group’s key recommendations were transferred to the Brussels summit communiqué and will guide the next Strategic Concept and beyond. More important is the subtle yet unambiguous message of NATO’s enduring purpose and relevance — and that it remains the bedrock of the political West. This should give cause for optimism in an era of rising geopolitical uncertainty, particularly with a firmly Atlanticist U.S. administration removing excuses for Europeans to answer this rallying call.
NATO highlighted concerns about China, and also emphasized positives in NATO maritime efforts.
- China: the growing challenges beyond NATO’s borders including those emanating from China, should be addressed “together as an Alliance.”
- Maritime: the importance of NATO’s maritime posture, protection of vital sea lines of communication, the new Maritime Security Center in Turkey, and cooperation with Colombia. Vitally, it notes the benefits of expanded NATO-EU maritime cooperation.
What should be done:
NATO and the EU should establish a continuous maritime presence in the South China Sea to augment the U.S. presence. Several allies already support freedom of navigation and exercise presence in the region. A 365-day schedule can be organized, much like NATO’s Baltic Air Policing.
The arguments for this move are compelling:
- About 40% of Europe’s foreign trade sails through the South China Sea, more than that of the U.S.
- The Law of the Sea must be defended as eventually, it will be in jeopardy closer to home, e.g., the Arctic.
- The U.S. carries a major security burden for Europe; a NATO/EU mission augmenting the U.S. in the South China Sea would increase alliance solidarity
Ionela Maria Ciolan
The NATO Summit was hit and miss for Black Sea security. Despite the Kremlin’s encroachments, the region still receives less attention from the alliance than the Baltic states. Yet the Black Sea marks the intersection of liberal values, autocratic regimes, frozen conflicts and hybrid activities, and is the frontier of three NATO littoral states (Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey), two NATO partner countries (Georgia and Ukraine) and Russia.
The NATO summit did recognize the importance of the Black Sea region, pledged a maritime security center in Turkey, and noted the increasing Russian military build-up in Crimea.
Nevertheless, more can be done. The allies should build a coherent Black Sea Strategy, develop a unified forward presence in Eastern Europe, and establish a Black Sea maritime patrol mission. It is due time for NATO to act and provide the same defense and deterrence from Vilnius to Varna.
China and climate loomed large in the G7 communiqué. One of the most substantial initiatives to come out of Cornwall was the Build Back Better World (B3W), an investment plan to fill the estimated $40 trillion infrastructure gap by encouraging capital-rich democracies to spearhead funding. B3W puts a premium on values, environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standards and transparency. The project isn’t inherently anti-Chinese, but against the backdrop of criticism over China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), many will conclude that this is a reaction to China. Indeed, some G7 countries are content with interpretations that frame the B3W as a joint push to contain China. Others are uncomfortable with the anti-Chinese spin. For now: the B3W is a promising project, but the G7 shouldn’t allow dueling narratives over China to create a rift down the road. When so much is at stake that requires global solutions and collaborative action, it is risky to over-geopoliticize.
At the G7 summit, democratic leaders pledged an initiative devoted to the infrastructure needs of developing countries globally. The Build Back Better World (B3W) partnership demonstrates a much-needed level of ambition, which even manages to compensate for its cringey name. It’s a call to the wealthiest democracies to mobilize and coordinate capital in support of “climate, health, digital and gender equality” projects in low- and middle-income countries and can be seen as a welcome attempt to offer a global alternative to China`s infamous BRI. The U.S. and its allies should quickly follow up with more clarity on finance, logistics, and transatlantic coordination. The G7 leaders in particular should mobilize sufficient resources and not allow the B3W to become a mere virtue-signaling exercise for domestic audiences.
The newly launched Trade and Technology Council (TTC) should consolidate the transatlantic relationship by increasing global cooperation on shaping standards, regulatory policy and developing a common framework for approaching China. The most tangible element negotiated at the summit (and the U.S.’s first priority) was cooperation on securing the semiconductor supply chain. And the key to this objective is the Dutch company ASML which produces the world’s most advanced photolithography systems.
The other issues will prove more challenging. Framing China as a common enemy is insufficiently substantial to create a solid base for cooperation because China is a competitor and a partner at the same time. It is also unclear so far how the two parties will align on regulatory policy, data governance, and privacy, as they have approaches to these issues.
As expected during the NATO summit on June 14, we saw the transatlantic community welcome President Biden and renew their commitment to the NATO alliance.
Cybersecurity was accorded a small but new role in the discussions and deliberations, with both a commitment to establish cyberdefenses and condemnations of Russian state-sponsored cyberaattacks and its harboring of malign cyber hacking groups.
Of particular note, the agreement to establish a NATO Innovation Fund “to support dual-use emerging and disruptive technologies” is welcome. The alliance must stay at the forefront of cyber and emergent technology if it is to have any hope of meeting the challenges of this decade and beyond.
Three for three. The NATO, G7, and U.S.-EU Summits have all explicitly acknowledged the issue of China, with the summit statements and communiqués mentioning the country by name 10, four, and three times, respectively. But while the West has acknowledged the need for a common approach to China, a bold set of policy responses is still lacking. Furthermore, this past week has shown that the West still hesitates to define China as an outright rival. To inform good policy, the West will likely have to make a choice sometime soon, lest it leave this great power unaddressed.
The NATO, EU-U.S. (and let’s not forget,) EU-Canada summits send a clear message that transatlanticism is back. Even if our individual wishlists for the summits might have not been fully realized, a more mature transatlantic relationship is in sight. Yet the hardest part – accommodating each other’s ambitions and visions for 2030 while keeping the partnership alive — is yet to come.
The Biden–Putin summit in Geneva was about red lines rather than achieving concrete results. In this sense, the meeting seems successful. The two sides managed to make their positions clear and reiterate thresholds, which must not be overstepped. The mere fact that this conversation happened — and that both leaders assessed it as frank and constructive — is positive in order to try and stop things from deteriorating further.
Putin cares far more about his regime’s survival — he faces presidential elections in 2024 — than about his international image. He knows that Biden has very few direct means of making him change his behavior.
The U.S.-EU Brussels summit on 15 June generated few headlines, but two elements are worthy of note: the technological cooperation in the U.S.-EU joint statement on the transatlantic partnership and the point(s) that it misses. First the good news: the Trade and Technology Council (TTC) has been established. But to impact the governance of the digital space, it should also focus on a safer internet and be a platform for proposals from both sides, including the EU’s Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act. The need for an emphasis on human rights and fundamental freedoms should be obvious. If they establish direct communication channels to exchange openly and matter-of-factly, explain their approaches, and listen to each other, the transatlantic relationship could go beyond a beautiful friendship and perhaps set a blueprint for global digital governance.
(The views expressed here are the author’s and do not reflect those of her employer)
The U.S.-EU summit made a significant step in the right direction by incorporating the struggle hybrid threats in its statement. Such threats have become more common and thus require harmonized and multilateral responses. This recognition shows the EU-U.S. partnership is finally back on track through the commitment to fight disinformation and build resilience on both sides of the Atlantic. What’s even better is that it’s no longer just “fake news” or disinformation, but also a whole range of other threats in focus.
Simona R. Soare
The EU-U.S. summit was an opportunity for EU and U.S. leaders to broaden the transatlantic partnership, not least by elevating the role of EU-U.S. security and defense cooperation. The summit achieved noteworthy but incremental progress by agreeing the establishment of a dedicated dialogue on security and defense, a High-Level Dialogue on Russia, working towards an association agreement between the U.S. and the European Defence Agency and building a more ambitious EU-NATO strategic partnership.
Despite these signs of progress, the summit missed the opportunity to set a more focused and substantive agenda. This could have included unequivocal U.S. support for EU defense initiatives, clear goals for a more ambitious EU-NATO partnership, and enhancing operational cooperation in the Mediterranean and the Sahel. Overall, the summit focused more on new organizational processes than on political guidance for EU-U.S. defense cooperation, which remains vague, fails to delineate priority areas, and lacks specific timelines.
Photo: U.S. President Joe Biden speaks to the media before boarding Air Force One at Geneva airport, as he leaves Geneva after the U.S.-Russia summit, Switzerland, June 16, 2021. Credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
June 17, 2021