The leaders of the world’s wealthiest democracies are expected to pledge one billion doses of Covid vaccines to poor and middle-income countries on Friday as part of a campaign to “vaccinate the world” by the end of 2022.
The stakes could hardly be higher.
“This is about our responsibility, our humanitarian obligation, to save as many lives as we can,” President Biden said in a speech in England on Thursday evening, before the meeting of the Group of 7 wealthy democracies. “When we see people hurting and suffering anywhere around the world, we seek to help any way we can.”
It is not just a race to save lives, restart economies and lift restrictions that continue to take an immeasurable toll on people around the globe.
Since Mr. Biden landed in Europe for the start of his first presidential trip abroad on Wednesday, he has made it clear that this is a moment when democracies must prove that they can rise to meet the world’s gravest challenges. And they must do so in a way the world can see, as autocrats and strongmen — particularly in Russia and China — promote their systems of governance as superior.
Yet the notion of “vaccine diplomacy” can easily be intertwined with “vaccine nationalism,” which the World Health Organization has warned could ultimately limit the global availability of vaccines.
When Mr. Biden announced on Thursday that the U.S. would donate of 500 million Pfizer-BioNTech doses, the president said they would be provided with “no strings attached.”
“We’re doing this to save lives, to end this pandemic,” he said. “That’s it. Period.”
But even as wealthy democracies move to step up their efforts, the scale of the challenge is enormous.
Covax, the global vaccine-sharing program, still remains underfunded and billions of doses short.
The International Monetary Fund estimates that it will cost about $50 billion to help the developing world bring the pandemic to an end. In addition to the countless lives saved, the I.M.F. says that such an investment could bring a dramatic return: $9 trillion in increased global economic growth.
While the pandemic is at the center of Friday’s G7 agenda, with the leaders of the nations meeting face to face for the first time since the coronavirus essentially put a stop to handshake diplomacy, a host of other issues are also on the table.
Finance leaders from the G7 agreed last week to back a new global minimum tax rate of at least 15 percent that companies would have to pay regardless of where they locate their headquarters.
Beyond the specific issues, the summit will be a test of how institutions created in another era to help guide the world through crises can stand up to the challenges of today.
On Thursday, Mr. Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain turned to a World War II-era document to provide inspiration for a new generation of challenges, renewing the Atlantic Charter eight decades after it was signed to take into account the threats of today: from cyberattacks to nuclear, climate to public health.
The gathering of the G7 is also, in many ways, a relic of another era. It was created in the 1970s to provide economic solutions after a shock in oil supply triggered a financial crisis.
Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, said in a preview of the conference on Thursday that the “return of the United States to the global arena” would help strengthen the “rules-based system” and that the leaders of the G7 were “united and determined to protect and to promote our values.”
Few images captured the rupture in trans-Atlantic relations better than that of President Donald J. Trump in 2018, arms folded across his chest as he resisted Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and other Group of 7 leaders in their doomed effort to salvage their summit meeting in Canada.
As the same countries’ leaders reconvene in Cornwall, England, on Friday, President Biden is aiming reverse the body language, replacing impasse with embrace. But beneath the imagery, it is not clear how much more open the United States will be to give-and-take with Europe than it was under Mr. Trump.
The trans-Atlantic partnership has always been less reciprocal than its champions like to pretend — a marriage in which one partner, the United States, carried the nuclear umbrella. Now, with China replacing the Soviet Union as America’s archrival, the two sides are less united than they were during the Cold War, a geopolitical shift that lays bare longstanding stresses.
So a lingering question looms over Friday’s G7 summit in England: Will this show of solidarity be more than a diplomatic pantomime — reassuring to Europeans traumatized by Mr. Trump’s “America First” policy but bound to disappoint them when they realize that the United States under Mr. Biden is still going its own way?
“America’s foreign policy hasn’t fundamentally changed,” said Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the British Parliament. “It’s more cooperative and inclusive, but substantially it’s the same.”
For three days, beginning Friday, some of the world’s most powerful leaders are descending on a small Cornish village for a series of meetings as part of the Group of 7 summit, which brings together the heads of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.
So what exactly is the G7, and why does it matter?
The nations belonging to the club are the world’s wealthiest large democracies, close allies and major trading partners that account for about half of the global economy.
With broadly similar views on trade, political pluralism, security and human rights, they can — when they agree — wield enormous collective influence. Their heads of government meet, along with representatives of the European Union, to discuss economic issues and major international policies.
Those attending this years’ gathering include leaders from the G7 member countries — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — plus the European Union, guests Australia, South Africa and South Korea, along with India via video link.
The group, whose origins go back to the 1973 oil crisis, grew out of an informal gathering of finance ministers from Britain, the United States, France, Japan and what was then West Germany — initially known as the Big Five — as they tried to agree on a way forward.
Since the 1970s, the group and its later additional members have met dozens of times to work on major global issues that affect the international economy, security, trade, equality and climate change. In 2015, the summit paved the way for the Paris agreement to limit global emissions, which was decided later that year.
For a time, the group had eight members — remember the G8? — but Russia, always something of an outlier, was kicked out in 2014 amid international condemnation of President Vladimir V. Putin’s annexation of Crimea. Last year, President Donald J. Trump said he believed Russia should be reinstated.
Atop the agenda this year will be the coronavirus pandemic and its effects on the global economy, with a focus on worldwide recovery and vaccination.
This summit, hosted by Britain, which currently holds the group’s presidency, is the 47th of its kind and will continue through Sunday. Last year’s summit was canceled because of the pandemic, making this gathering the first in-person G7 Leaders’ Summit in almost two years. The last was in August 2019 in Biarritz, France.
The most pressing, vexing item on President Biden’s agenda while in Europe may be managing the United States’ relationship with a disruptive Russia. He will seek support from allies to that end, but no part of the trip promises to be more fraught than the daylong meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin on June 16.
On the eve of meeting with European leaders rattled by Russia’s aggressive movement of troops along Ukraine’s borders, Mr. Biden said the world was at “an inflection point,” with democratic nations needing to stand together to combat a rising tide of autocracies.
“We have to discredit those who believe that the age of democracy is over, as some of our fellow nations believe,” he said.
Turning to Russia specifically, he pledged to “respond in a robust and meaningful way” to what he called “harmful activities” conducted by Mr. Putin.
Russian intelligence agencies have interfered in Western elections and are widely believed to have used chemical weapons against perceived enemies on Western soil and in Russia. Russian hackers have been blamed for cyberattacks that have damaged Western economies and government agencies. Russian forces are supporting international pariahs in bloody conflicts — separatists in Ukraine and Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria.
Mr. Biden called for the meeting with Mr. Putin despite warnings from rights activists that doing so would strengthen and embolden the Russian leader, who recently said that a “new Cold War” was underway.
Mr. Putin has a powerful military and boasts of exotic new weapons systems, but experts on the dynamics between Washington and Moscow say that disruption is his true power.
“Putin doesn’t necessarily want a more stable or predictable relationship,” said Alexander Vershbow, who was United States ambassador to Russia under President George W. Bush. “The best case one can hope for is that the two leaders will argue about a lot of things but continue the dialogue.”
White House officials say that Mr. Biden has no intention of trying to reset the relationship with Russia. Having concurred with the description of Mr. Putin as a “killer” in March, Mr. Biden is cleareyed, they say, about his adversary: He regards him more as a hardened mafia boss than a national leader.
At nearly the same time Mr. Biden was delivering his remarks on Wednesday, a Russian court outlawed the organization of the jailed opposition leader Alexei A. Navalny, potentially exposing him and his supporters to criminal charges.
But Mr. Biden is more focused on Russian actions abroad than its domestic repression. He is determined to put what his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, calls “guardrails” on the relationship. That includes seeking out some measure of cooperation, starting with the future of the countries’ nuclear arsenals.
Mr. Biden’s associates say he will also convey that he has seen Mr. Putin’s bravado before and that it doesn’t faze him.
“Joe Biden is not Donald Trump,” said Thomas E. Donilon, who served as national security adviser to President Barack Obama and whose wife and brother are key aides to Mr. Biden. “You’re not going to have this inexplicable reluctance of a U.S. president to criticize a Russian president who is leading a country that is actively hostile to the United States in so many areas. You won’t have that.”