Biden, Europe, and No Prospect of Détente With Russia
When it became apparent that Joe Biden is to be the next president of the United States, no matter the petulant protestations of the present incumbent, who is best forgotten, there was cautious optimism that there might be resetting of relations with various countries, but unless he has had a radical rethink, it may in general be business as usual.
In February 2019 Foreign Affairs carried a piece by Joe Biden and Michael Carpenter (a notably anti-Russian intellectual) titled How to Stand Up to the Kremlin. Under the headline was a photograph of a protestor being detained in St Petersburg in 2014, so the tone was set for such comments as “the United States and its allies must improve their ability to deter Russian military aggression and work together more closely to strengthen their energy security and prevent Russia’s non-military forms of coercion.” The polemic was interesting, not least for its lack of evidence for the many accusations of perfidy and worse, but if Biden genuinely believes what he wrote or endorsed with Carpenter, then there are rocks ahead because he claimed that Russia had refused cooperation with the West at the end of the Cold War and was now “brazenly assaulting the foundations of Western democracy around the world.”
The claim concerning Russia’s alleged refusal to cooperate with the West at the end of the Cold War is in line with the sort of outrageous nonsense the world has been accustomed to hear from Trump, but perhaps enough people have pointed this out to Biden to have him refrain from repeating such obvious misstatements. It seems, however, that he does believe Russia is in some fashion “assaulting democracy” and that his partiality for confrontation will continue. (If anyone is assaulting democracy at the moment it is Trump Washington, with its savage treatment of those who demonstrate against persecution of Black people and absurd post-election fandangos that have attracted so much derision around the world.)
It is also likely that a Biden administration will refrain from insulting close US allies such as Germany, which will help create a more positive atmosphere in Europe, and it is most encouraging that Biden declared he is determined to “elevate diplomacy as the United States’ principal tool of foreign policy”, which will make a most refreshing change — so long as he includes all countries in his determination. The Europeans are not altogether optimistic and the BBC pointed out that a poll by Pew Research Group in September found that only 26% of Germans and 31% of French citizens viewed the US favourably, which is not surprising.
On 11 November Time magazine reported the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, as saying “it is not a secret that in the past 4 years things have become complicated,” but “you can rest assured that we are ready to engage fast with the new administration,” which sentiment in Brussels is likely to be welcomed by Biden although he is not giving any signals of compromise on such matters as trade. It is early days, but one matter that can be predicted with confidence is that a Biden administration is not going to give any ground in trade negotiations with anyone.
On 8 November Al Jazeera noted that “when asked late last year which foreign leader he would call first if he won the election, Biden said he would call a meeting of NATO leadership to ‘make clear that we’re back’,” but this did not happen. He was welcomed, naturally, by the Nato Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, who declared that “I look forward to working very closely with President-elect Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and the new administration to further strengthen the bond between North America and Europe” and it is apparent that Biden administration relations with Nato will be cordial, not only because the president-elect said “we’re back” but because he has supported Nato expansion since it began in the 1990s. One of his campaign committee’s publications included the observations that “Joe Biden’s long-term support for the Baltic States and his trust in U.S. commitment to its NATO allies is contrary to that of Donald Trump, who has started to question the value of NATO alliances,” while “in May 2003 Biden enthusiastically voted for Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian accession to Nato. Since then, Biden’s commitment to Baltic security has only increased.”
As Obama’s vice president Biden was a major supporter of the so-called European Deterrence Initiative, a scheme specifically intended to build up the US-Nato military presence round Russia’s borders. Among other things, as noted by the US Embassy in Estonia, “In recent years, U.S. aircraft, such as the F-35A Lightning II, F-15E Strike Eagle, and MC-130J Commando II, have used Estonian airspace and Ämari Air Base to conduct joint training with the Estonian Defence Forces. In May and June 2020, U.S. based B-1 Lancer and B-52 Stratofortress bombers partnered with aircraft from the Baltic Air Policing mission at Ämari Air Base and the Estonian Defence Forces to conduct interoperability training…” This type of provocative military operation will certainly continue under Biden, and the result will be increase in tension and encouragement of Russia to increase its annual defence budget, which stands at 65.1 billion dollars, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
This amount is substantial — but insignificant when compared to the $732 billion of the United States and the $307 billion of other Nato countries (as calculated by Nato). It is barely credible that any serious analyst could suggest that a country with a defence budget of $65 billion could menace an alliance of 30 nations who spent a total of over a trillion dollars on their military forces in 2019.
There is no possibility, however, that president-elect Biden will be swayed by facts and statistics in regard to Russia. While he will in some respects restore more cordial relations with European countries, he will maintain his historically anti-Russia stance as a supporter of the new Cold War. There is no thought of compromise or détente. And it is hardly coincidental that during the election campaign, donations by arms manufacturers totalled $2.4 million for Biden compared with $1.6 million to Trump.
The US television programme Sixty Minutes interviewed Biden on 25 October and recorded him saying “think the biggest threat to America right now in terms of breaking up our– our security and our alliances is Russia” which is a statement of direct and uncompromising confrontation. The Cold War is back in spades and the possibilities of détente under a Biden administration are negligible. He has embraced Trump’s disposition for international polarisation and condemned European nations and Russia to further expenditure on their armed forces at the expense of their citizens. And this is before he’s even got into the White House.