In a keynote speech on foreign policy, the new American president announced his goal of “reclaiming […] credibility and moral authority” of the United states. Joe Biden clarified what this new course will look like in practice.
For now, the United States will not withdraw troops from Germany. In his keynote speech to diplomats on Thursday, newly elected President Joe Biden said that he halted the withdrawal plans of his predecessor, Donald Trump. First, the Pentagon would need to evaluate the stationing of American troops worldwide. According to Biden it should be congruent with Washington’s strategic goals and foreign policy — suggesting that, in this regard, he values Germany higher than Trump did.
In his speech, Biden announced a return to a closer cooperation with allies in the future. The “credibility and moral authority” of the United States, corroded under Trump, will be restored, he said. America will be a leading global power again, in order to fight against crises like the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. America would once again become the guardian of democracy and human rights, so Biden stated. “America is back,” Biden said. “Diplomacy is back.”
He also clarified what this new course would mean in practice. Biden warned the Chinese and Russian governments that, in the future, America would meet them with more resistance. He called on Moscow to immediately release the recently convicted dissident Alexei Navalny. Furthermore, he made it very clear to Russian President Vladimir Putin that the days of the United States backing down to Moscow are over. He told the regime in Beijing that the United States is prepared to defend its economic and strategic interests.
Biden had a message for Riyadh, which had maintained close ties with Donald Trump, as well: According to the president, America would no longer continue to support Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen.
Withdrawal of Troops as Trump’s Punitive Measure
Biden had a more pleasant message for America’s allies in Europe who had suffered tremendously under Trump’s rumblings, Germany in particular. Last summer Trump had announced the withdrawal of 12,000 American troops from Germany, one-third of all soldiers remaining in the Federal Republic. Some of these soldiers were supposed to return to the United States; some units were to move to other European countries.
Back then, Trump’s withdrawal plans were less the result of military strategic considerations than a decidedly punitive measure against the allegedly unruly administration in Berlin. From the beginning of his presidency, Trump had been upset about the fact that Germany spends less than 2% of its economic output on defense and doesn’t meet the NATO benchmark that had been affirmed several times. The former president saw this as confirmation that the European NATO states were taking advantage of the United States. Trump kept accusing Berlin of not paying its “share,” and said that Germany “owed” America several billion dollars.
In July 2020, when Trump announced his plans for a partial withdrawal from Germany, he made his motivation clear: “We don’t want to be the suckers any more,” he said back then. “We’re reducing the force because they’re not paying their bills; it’s very simple.” The president acted against the advice of his generals and many security experts, who had reminded him that the United States didn’t station the troops there to do Germany a favor, but as a deterrence against Russia and in order to be strategically flexible in the Middle East.
The New President Believes in Trans-Atlantic Cooperation
It had been the expectation in both Washington and Berlin that Biden wouldn’t continue Trump’s policy of confrontation. The new president believes in trans-Atlantic cooperation and has, time and time again, expressed his commitment toward NATO and the European Union.
But the demonstrative way in which Biden courted the administration in Berlin and other European countries on Thursday remains, nonetheless, remarkable. He emphatically praised Germany for being one “of our closest friends.” He used the same term for the North Atlantic alliance — a praise unthinkable during Trumpian times. The fact that Biden, in addition, canceled this decision of his predecessor, aimed clearly at Germany, can almost be interpreted as a gesture of reconciliation.
And as a promise to treat allies with a little more finesse in the future. “America’s alliances are our greatest asset,” Biden proclaimed on Thursday. After years of neglect and contempt by Trump, he wants to be “standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies and key partners once again.”