Finally, There’s Trust Again

“America is back,” new U.S. President Joe Biden declares. He wants to renew the transatlantic alliance. Can he count on Europeans for this?

The world looks to Washington whenever a new president is inaugurated, but rarely, if ever, was a Jan. 20 as yearned for, as anticipated even, around the globe as this year. No more disaster on the last stretch of the Donald Trump presidency! Finally, the end of these awful four years!

At least that’s what America’s old allies hope for, most of all Europeans. They hope that Joe Biden will call out to them — preferably from the steps of the Capitol: “We’re back: You can count on us again.” That’s how he once put it himself. Biden never left any doubt that he sees the United States as having an obligation to its allies. Now, its allies are counting on him to keep his promise.

On the first day of his term in office, the United States wants to immediately return to the Paris Climate Agreement. Biden announced this just under a year ago in an article about his foreign policy. His government wants to rejoin the World Health Organization as well; likewise, it wants to renew its signature on the nuclear deal with Iran, provided that Tehran holds to its side of the agreements.

High on Biden’s agenda, as it is especially urgent, is the extension of the New START Treaty about strategic nuclear weapons that was negotiated by Barack Obama in 2010. The agreement with Russia is the last remaining significant arms control agreement between the two countries. In two weeks, on Feb. 5, it will expire. If it were to stay like this, the entire disarmament architecture that since the end of the 1960s was painstakingly established brick by brick by the leaderships of the two nuclear superpowers would collapse in on itself. And this at a time when nuclear wars have become more likely again.

Every single decision — from climate to nuclear weapons — would be a significant step on America’s long road back to predictability in foreign policy. Thus, trust could finally return to the transatlantic relationships that went to the dogs under Trump. He considered NATO to be unnecessary, and in the EU he saw an enemy of the United States. Four more years of Trump, and not much of the alliance between America and Europe would have remained. Biden, who has conducted foreign policy for more than 40 years, is a staunch transatlanticist and a multilateralist who knows the value of alliances and treaties. The EU commission greeted the newly elected president at the beginning of December with an “EU-US agenda for global change,” in which it invoked “shared history, shared values and shared interests.”

A Hopeful New Beginning

Those were the words. What about the actions? On the second to last day of the year under pressure from the German council presidency, the EU agreed to an investment agreement with China — against the express wish of the incoming government in Washington. One of the most important foreign policy goals of the Biden administration will be to find a common answer for the West to the brash authoritarian regime in Beijing. A unified attitude not just toward trade and investment, but also toward violations of human rights, the dismantling of democracy in Hong Kong, forced labor in Xinjiang, threats against Taiwan or the militarization of the South China Sea.

The EU, too, has always eloquently denounced China’s domestic repression and its outward aggressiveness. However, at that moment when it could have acted jointly with America, it sees only its own economic advantages — an incomprehensible strategic error.

At the same time, in its “agenda for global change,” the commission wrote about a “joint commitment” in a world “where authoritarian powers seek to subvert democracies, aggressive actors try to destabilize regions and institutions, and closed economies exploit the openness our own societies depend on.” Just words.

Will the EU prove to be a similarly unreliable partner in the Biden administration’s second big foreign policy project? Right in the first year of his term, the new president wants to arrange a summit for democracy. He wants to bring the world’s democracies together and commit himself to three goals: a battle against corruption, a defense against authoritarianism and a commitment to human rights. Here as well, in its “global agenda,” the EU applauded the plan. We will see how it acts once it’s concrete.

Europe and America became strangers to each other under Trump, a process that had already begun much earlier and accelerated in George W. Bush’s presidency. And one that could of course resume if both sides let their old friendship waste away.

But for a start, this Jan. 20 is a good day. A hopeful new beginning after four lost years. Whether that hope remains, however, won’t be decided in the United States alone. If Europeans squander the opportunity that presents itself with Biden’s government, then good luck. A second Trump will rise quickly.

About this publication

About Michael Stehle 54 Articles
I am a graduate of the University of Maryland with a BA in Linguistics and Germanic Studies. I have a love for language and I find translation to be both an engaging activity as well as an important process for connecting the world.

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