United Kingdom Thursday: peacekeeping in Ireland, Boris. Biden is expected to warn British Prime Minister Boris Johnson must not implement Brexit in such a way as to establish a hard border between Northern Ireland (which is part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland which is a member of the EU. This could jeopardize the increasingly fragile peace that has been maintained there since the 1998 Good Friday accords. Johnson wants a juicy post-Brexit commercial agreement with Washington and cannot afford to ignore Biden’s warnings.
A G7 weekend: vax and taxes. Beyond the expected redress with once rejected allies, Biden seeks to rally rich countries to send more vaccines to low- and middle-income countries – although the United States itself has been slow down to act. The Group of Seven Most Advanced Democracies in the World will also discuss ways to ensure wider adoption of their recent proposal to establish a global minimum corporate tax, a vision championed by Biden.
NATO summit: what is it for? At the first NATO summit since 2018, members will be relieved to see a US president who does not denigrate the value of the alliance itself, but more important is whether they can answer the existential question. NATO: What is the Alliance’s mission for the 21st century? As the operation in Afghanistan draws to a close, NATO is now giving itself a new objective as, variously, a cyber alliance, a climate security pact and a cautious counterweight to China.
Bonus meeting! Talk about Turkey. Biden will also meet with Turkish President Recep Erdogan. U.S.-Turkey relations are strained over Erdogan’s purchase of advanced weapons from Russia and U.S. concerns over Ankara’s human rights record. Biden also arrives just weeks after recognize the Armenian genocide, a gesture that enraged the Turkish government. But is there a way for them to cooperate on Syria or post-withdrawal Afghanistan?
EU-US summit: a foreign policy for who now? At the first US-EU summit since 2014, the focus will be on trade and technology, two areas where Biden isn’t really looking to revert to pre-Trump standards. In fact, Biden left Trump’s steel tariffs on the EU in place, in part because the “Kid of Scranton” has a lot of support from the Country of Steel. But more broadly, Biden is push what he calls a “foreign policy for the middle class” that will prioritize American businesses, workers and suppliers in a way that could anger Europe. And there are ongoing disputes over transatlantic standards on digital privacy and taxation of tech companies.
Meeting with a “killer”. Expect freezing air as Biden ends his trip during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which he has accused of murder. Biden has been criticized for meeting with Putin, especially following several recent major crimes by hackers which Washington says are based in russia, and Moscow’s support for the Belarusian state’s hijacking of a Ryanair flight last month. But Biden’s team says they just want a “stable and predictable” relationship with a cantankerous Kremlin: to cooperate where they can, to get their act together where they need to.
During this whole trip there will be two big problems.
First, China. Brussels and Washington agree to tackle China’s unfair trade practices and human rights abuses, and Biden – unlike his predecessor – wants to work with allies to form a united front on this. And amid mounting diplomatic tensions with Beijing, Europe recently blocked ratification of a massive and long-negotiated EU-China trade and investment pact that Washington doesn’t like.
But Biden needs to be cautious with European leaders, who are reluctant to be forced to “take sides” in anything that looks like a new Cold War. After all, many countries in the EU – especially smaller and less wealthy ones – are eager to boost their economies with the help of Chinese investment and technology.
Second, how far back is America really? Europeans will be relieved to see Biden, but they will also be skeptical. The 2016 election showed how quickly things can change in American foreign policy. And while no one knows the chances of Trump (ism) returning to the White House in 2024, in a deeply polarized United States where the former president is still popular, it is entirely possible. Add in the fact that it is also unclear who will rule Germany or France by the end of next year, and you have a lot of uncertainties hanging over which alliance is the most powerful militarily and economically of the world.