“America is back” to help Europe protect herself against Russian aggression, US president Joe Biden has said in a keynote foreign policy speech.
“The message I want the world to hear today: America is back”, he said at the State Department in Washington on Thursday (4 February).
“American leadership must meet this new moment of advancing authoritarianism, including the growing ambitions of China to rival the United States and the determination of Russia to damage and disrupt our democracy,” he said.
He called China America’s “most serious competitor” for global power.
But he described Russia as one of its “adversaries” in a harsher tone.
“I made it clear to [Russian] president [Vladimir] Putin, in a manner very different from my predecessor [former US president Donald Trump], that the days of the United States rolling over in the face of Russia’s aggressive actions – interfering with our elections, cyberattacks, poisoning its citizens – are over. We will not hesitate to raise the cost on Russia and defend our vital interests,” Biden said.
He called on Putin to free opposition hero Alexei Navalny “immediately and without condition”.
“And we will be more effective in dealing with Russia when we work in coalition and coordination with other like-minded partners,” Biden added, saying he had spoken to French, German, UK, and Nato leaders about “rebuilding the muscle of democratic alliances that have atrophied over the past few years of neglect and, I would argue, abuse”.
Biden’s “America is back” slogan stood in contrast to Trump’s “America first” policy, which had alienated allies.
Trump had insulted EU leaders, while cozying up to Putin at press briefings.
He had also ordered 12,000 US soldiers to be pulled out of Germany in what was seen as a gift to Moscow in Nato circles.
But a Pentagon review of US forces might overturn that “and while this review is taking place, we’ll be stopping any planned troop withdrawals from Germany”, Biden said.
The US president said he aimed to “reclaim … [our] moral authority, much of which has been lost,” on the world stage.
He pledged to take in 125,000 refugees next year and overturned Trump’s “hateful, discriminatory” travel ban on people from some majority-Muslim countries.
He also promised to defend LGBTI rights and overturned a ban on transgender soldiers.
And he denounced the coup in Burma and called for aid to Yemen.
But he was softer on China than on Russia in moral terms.
He accused Beijing or “attacking” human rights, but he did not name its grotesque abuses against the Uighur minority, the way he named Navalny.
“We are ready to work with Beijing when it’s in America’s interest to do so,” he also said.
And he gave Saudi Arabia a free pass despite its egregious record, for instance on women’s rights, in a display of Realpolitik.
“We’re going to continue to support and help Saudi Arabia defend its sovereignty and its territorial integrity and its people,” he said.
Meanwhile, Biden’s speech comes at a time when France and Germany, among others, are calling for EU “strategic autonomy” after Trump showed the risk of Europe’s dependence on US power.
The EU recently irked the US by signing an investment treaty with China without waiting for the Biden administration to take office.
The EU’s top diplomat also went to meet Russia’s foreign minister in Moscow before he had first met Biden’s secretary of state.
And Biden did not mention two potentially divisive issues among Western allies: Nord Stream 2 and Iran.
Trump imposed sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 Russian gas pipeline to Germany in a move which Berlin has lobbied Washington to also overturn.
And Trump walked out of an EU-led nuclear non-proliferation deal with Iran, amid hopes that Tehran and Washington might also see eye-to-eye now that Trump is gone.