U.S., G7 & NATO

Biden revives Western alliance, slams China & Russia

Print edition : July 16, 2021

US President Biden with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the U.S.-Russia summit in Geneva, Switzerland on June 16. Photo: Denis Balibouse/REUTERS

Leaders of the G7 at Cornwall, United Kingdom on June 11. Photo: Phil Noble, Pool via AP

U.S. President Joe Biden and other NATO heads of state at the Alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on June 14. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Pool via AP

United States President Joseph Biden attempted to close ranks at the G7 and NATO summits by emphasising on multilateralism while continuing with his predecessor’s policy of taking aim at both China and Russia.

Joseph Biden had a busy week in the beginning of June as he embarked on his first overseas visit after taking over as President of the United States. The United Kingdom, which hosted the G7 summit and which prides itself as the U.S’ “closest ally”, was his first destination. The European leaders in attendance made no attempt to hide their happiness at seeing an old-style liberal interventionist at the helm of affairs in Washington. Donald Trump, his predecessor, had annoyed most of the G7 leaders with his brusque diplomatic style and his questioning of the relevance of institutions such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the European Union. On arrival in London, Biden declared: “America is back”. Speaking to the U.S. troops based in the U.K., Biden said that it was his nation’s “one truly sacred obligation is to equip and prepare its armed forces”.

The G7 summit was the first major meeting of Western leaders since the COVID-19 pandemic. The G7 countries had spectacularly failed to control the pandemic, with the U.S. recording the highest mortality rate. By mid-2020, the Trump administration had started blaming China for the outbreak. By then, Washington had already started its trade war with Beijing. U.S. scientists and epidemiologists as well as the mainstream political establishment had poohed-poohed the idea that the new coronavirus was created in a lab in Wuhan from where it then escaped.

Unhappy allies

But with the Biden administration’s decision to continue with the broad contours of the Trump administration’s anti-China policy, Washington is now seeking to spread the theory that China was indeed responsible for the spread of the virus globally. Right-wing leaders all over the world have embraced the demonisation of China, hoping that their incompetence and mismanagement that resulted in the deaths of more than four million people globally will thereby be overlooked. One million of those who died due to the pandemic were citizens of the G7 countries. The cost of vaccinating the global population is estimated to be only around $60 billion.

But the G7, which comprises the wealthiest nations of the world, did not come out with a viable plan to combat the pandemic. It has offered one billion vaccine doses that will be fully distributed to the developing world by end-2022. The amount is only 10 per cent of what is needed to effectively vaccinate the world’s population. The U.S. has pledged to donate $5 billion for the global vaccine programme. This amounts to less than 1 per cent of its military budget. The Biden administration proposes to spend a record $753 billion on the U.S. military next year.

At the G7 summit, Biden tried to forge closer unity in the Western alliance by emphasising on multilateralism and trying to paper over the deep differences that had emerged during the four years of the Trump presidency. Germany, France and Italy are not too happy with Washington’s renewed hostility with China and the rising tension between the U.S. and Russia. The European countries with the strongest economies have strong economic links with China. The Europeans also fear that the Biden presidency will be a one-term affair and only a prelude to the return of either Trump or a similar political character who may ride roughshod over their sensibilities and strategic interests.

Even Japan is loath to antagonise China at this juncture despite being a close U.S. military ally. Big Japanese conglomerates have huge investments inside China. For that matter, even South Korea and South Africa, which were special invitees at the G7 summit, along with Brunei and India, are in no mood to rub Beijing the wrong way. Brunei represented the member-countries of ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) which are against antagonising Beijing. Even India, despite being part of the U.S.-led Quadrilateral military alliance, has refused to participate in the U.S.-led maritime drills in the South China Sea. Both South Africa and India are part of the important BRICS grouping along with China, Brazil and Russia.

Also read: Advantage China

Within the G7, the U.K. has a prickly relationship with France and Germany over Brexit and related issues. French President Emmanuel Macron caused quite a stir when he told British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that Northern Ireland can no longer be considered a part of the U.K. Although the U.K. has left the E.U., Northern Ireland continues to be part of the E.U’s customs union. This has created a regulatory border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.

The U.S. was, however, able to convince the other G7 members to sign a joint statement that was tantamount to the declaration of open hostilities with China. The statement endorsed the Wuhan lab conspiracy theory by calling for “the investigating, reporting and responding to (pandemic) outbreaks of unknown origin”. It called on the World Health Organisation (WHO) to carry out yet another investigation into the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic. The WHO, after its investigations earlier this year, had said that there was no evidence to support the allegations being made against the Chinese authorities.

The communique also took aim at China’s ambitious and successful Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The West has put forward a specious argument that the BRI is driving developing countries into a debt trap. The G7 accused China of practising non-market policies which “undermine the fair and transparent operation of the global economy”. At the G7 summit, the U.S. announced that it was launching its own global initiative to counter the BRI. The Biden administration has given it a grandiose name—Build Back Better World (B3W) development project. The U.S. has been caught on the back foot by the wide-ranging success of the BRI and has not been able to mount a coherent response to the pan-Eurasian economic strategy of the new rising power, China.

China was also specifically singled out on human rights issues at the G7 summit. Since the Trump administration declared the beginning of a new cold war against a rising China, the Uyghur issue and Xinjiang have become the main talking points of the West. Washington and its allies have at the same time been noticeably silent on the egregious human rights violations that are occurring in countries that have governments friendly to Washington. The other so-called issue that figured prominently in the G7 communique was the “importance of ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific” and “peace and stability along the Taiwan straits”. The statement emphasised that the G7 was “seriously concerned” about the situation in the East and South China Sea.

Reacting angrily to the joint statement, China has accused the G7 of meddling in its internal affairs and called on them instead to focus on encouraging international cooperation. It said that the G7 used the Xinjiang, Taiwan and Hong Kong-related issues to engage in political manipulation, and that the joint statement only exposed “the sinister intentions of a few countries like the United States”.

NATO summit

Biden’s next important stop was Brussels to attend the summit meeting of the 30-member NATO military alliance and participate in a U.S.-E.U. summit. The alliance, which until recently was fixated on the so-called threat from Russia, abruptly turned its attention to the latest military threat conjured up by Washington—China. The joint statement issued at the end of the NATO summit said that China poses “systemic challenges” to the rules-based international order. Biden said that it was the job of the U.S. “to organise the world to take on China”. At the last summit in 2019, China was mentioned only once. In this year’s summit communique, China has been mentioned more than a dozen times. Before the summit, the U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin declared that China had become the principal focus of the American military.

This did not mean that Russia was off the NATO radar. The country had the distinction of figuring more than 60 times in the NATO document issued after this year’s summit. Russia, among other things, was accused of “aggressive actions (which) constitute a threat to Euro-Atlantic security”. Tougher language was used against China. NATO pledged “to engage China with a view to defending the security interests of the Alliance”. China has also been accused of “cooperating militarily with Russia, including through participation in Russian exercises in the Euro-Atlantic area”.

Also: South China sea in troubled waters

From Brussels, the Biden flew to Geneva for his first summit meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. The meeting came just a couple of months after Biden used harsh and undiplomatic language to describe the Russian President. During the Trump years, the mainstream Democrats were busy denouncing Russia, blaming Putin, among other things, for helping Trump win the elections in 2016. The Trump administration was, in fact, very tough on Russia, introducing more stringent economic sanctions and aggressively deploying NATO forces and missiles along Russia’s borders. But with Washington reshuffling its foreign policy priorities and deciding to focus on China, there seems to be an attempt to reset relations with Moscow once again.

Biden meets Putin

The Biden-Putin meeting ended with statements from both sides that the talks were “positive” and “quite constructive”. A wide range of issues were discussed during the meeting which lasted for more than two hours. The topics included economic ties, nuclear issues, the conflict in Ukraine, cybersecurity and the contentious issue of human rights. No major diplomatic breakthroughs were made but the two sides agreed to send back their ambassadors to their posts. Both Russia and the U.S. had temporarily withdrawn their ambassadors following Biden’s description of Putin as a “killer” in March and disputes over human rights.

After the meeting, it was announced that the new START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) between the two sides would be extended until 2024. The two sides have agreed to set up working groups to look into issues concerning cybercrimes and ransomware attacks. Without providing any evidence, Washington has routinely accused Russia of complicity in these attacks. Interestingly, no mention was made of Crimea or the Black Sea in the statement issued after the talks. Instead, both sides reiterated their commitment to the Minsk agreement that laid down the road map for a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Ukraine’s Donbass region. Washington has been funnelling sophisticated arms and military funding to the right-wing Ukrainian government to fight the pro-Russian separatists in the Donbass region. The Ukrainian government is also critical of the Minsk accords.

In his interaction with the media, Biden said that Putin had offered assistance on issues relating to Afghanistan, Iran and Syria. The U.S. President also talked about his country’s immense capabilities to wage cyberwarfare and the potential damage it could inflict on its adversaries, particularly on Russia’s big oil and energy infrastructure. In a separate press conference, Putin was critical of the double standards displayed by the U.S. on the issue of human rights. As an illustration, Putin gave the examples of “Black Lives Matter”, the killing of innocent civilians in U.S. drone attacks and the existence of CIA torture sites.

Also read: Kissinger's China

China may be the U.S’ new strategic and military rival but this has not stopped Washington from deploying troops in Ukraine, the Black Sea and the Arctic. NATO has been conducting its biggest military exercise even as the U.S. and Russian Presidents were meeting in Geneva. Biden’s National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, announced in the third week of June that Washington was planning to impose more sanctions on Moscow. Russia has announced that it will be deploying 20 new anti-NATO army divisions along its Western borders.

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