Joe Biden will fully consult with fellow heads of state at his first Nato summit as US President before meeting Vladimir Putin, to ensure that there is “full support and solidarity” among Western allies when he meets with the Russian leader later in the week.
President Biden’s approach is in direct contrast to that of Donald Trump, who also went to a Nato conference before his first summit with Putin in Helsinki.
At that meeting in Brussels Trump attacked European allies, with Germany’s Angela Merkel a particular target, while declaring that dealing with the Russian president might be easier than leaders of the alliance.
Trump’s visit to the 2018 Nato conference was a particularly acrimonious point in a relationship with the organisation marked by friction, insults, accusations and recriminations.
There was even a walkout by him at the 70th anniversary of the alliance, in England, at a perceived slight after calling Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “two-faced” and French President Emmanuel Macron “nasty”.
At times, Trump had threatened to pull the US out of the organisation altogether, while at the same time being remarkably uncritical of its main adversary, Putin’s Russia.
Jake Sullivan, the US national security advisor, outlined the very different approach being taken this time.
“President Biden is heading to Brussels for his first Nato Summit with the overriding objective of sending a clear message to allies and adversaries alike that the United States regards Nato as the foundation for our security – not just in the Euro Atlantic, but worldwide – and that we will be there for our allies. We will have their backs just as they’ve had our backs,” he said.
Mr Sullivan continued: “He’ll have the opportunity to speak to all of the allies about what he intends to talk to Putin about. So, they get both to hear from him about his intentions with respect to the summit, and he gets to hear from them as well, so that he will go into Geneva with the full support and solidarity of all of our Nato allies.”
Speaking to journalists travelling with the US president, Mr Sullivan also said that Biden will make a point of meeting with Nato leaders of the former Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact states, which had traditionally pushed for a strong stance against Moscow.
“He will meet on the sidelines of the summit with the Baltic presidents, who are a powerful example of democratic governance on Nato’s eastern flank,” said Mr Sullivan. “And he will speak with them about a range of issues, including the challenge and threat posed by Russia about issues related to cyber and emerging technology, on which they are leaders.”
Mr Sullivan also stated that China will feature prominently at the Nato Summit, and that dealing with Beijing would be a key part of a new Strategic Concept due to be announced by Nato next year.
The US administration, which is carrying out a pivot to the Asia Pacific, wants Nato to join it in confronting the increasingly aggressive posture of China.
Some member countries have responded, including Britain, which is sending its new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, with a supporting fleet, to East Asian waters. But not all allies are happy with this, with some not wanting to risk their economic ties with Beijing.
The US national security advisor said: “China will feature in the communiqué in a more robust way than we’ve ever seen before. What we will see coming out of this is a commitment by leaders to a new Strategic Concept process that will result in the release of a new Strategic Concept at a Nato Summit next year, in 2022.
“The last Strategic Concept was done in 2010, and, among other things, referred to Russia as a “constructive partner”, and really didn’t talk about China at all.
“So it’s time for an update to that Strategic Concept for Nato. And he [the president] will consult with Allies and partners at the summit about this.
“Nato has a role in information sharing about the nature of the security challenges that China poses. It imposes challenges to individual Allies in both common and distinct ways. And so, a broader, common picture of that challenge will be very important… China is growing much more sophisticated in its war-fighting capabilities and methods, including in the nuclear sphere.
“And Nato has to play a role in developing inter-operable capabilities to be able to deal with a challenge from China that is going beyond the region and extending much more broadly.”
Arriving at the summit in Brussels, Jens Stoltenberg, the Nato Secretary General, said: “We know that China does not share our values… We need to respond together as an alliance. China is coming closer to us. We see them in cyberspace, we see China in Africa, but we also see China investing heavily in our own critical infrastructure.”
The US will also continue to demand that there is a thorough independent investigation into the origins of Covid 19, said Mr Sullivan.
He acknowledged, however, that there was no consensus reached at the G7 summit in Cornwall as to whether the pandemic was the result of a leak from a Chinese laboratory.
But, he said that the G7 had “agreed about a WHO-led phase two investigation that should get to the bottom of things in China, including the original data that was withheld in the first study, but all of the countries also pledged that they would have their national systems try to share analysis and information in the weeks and months ahead, both with that international investigation and with each other.”
He added: “So I think there was a common sense that we’ve all got to dig deeper ourselves, as well as supporting this international effort, and then pool our knowledge so we can get the best, most clear, most evidence-based picture of what actually happened with the outbreak of Covid.”