WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Joe Biden warned allies that the world is at an “inflection point” in the ideological battle between democratic and autocratic values, and called on them to join with Washington in defending freedom.
In a speech delivered on February 19 to the Munich Security Conference, Biden also sought to dispel any concerns in Europe about Washington’s commitment to the transatlantic relationship, saying it was vital to containing threats posed by China and Russia, which he accused of seeking to undermine democracy and weaken NATO.
This year’s annual gathering of the world’s top national security and military leaders is being held online due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The U.S. president told the conference that many countries are now engaged in a debate about whether autocracy is the best way forward in a world facing monumental upheaval caused in part by revolutionary technological change and a deadly pandemic.
He said there was no doubt that democracy was “essential” to meeting such challenges.
“In so many places, including in Europe and in the United States, democratic progress is under assault. Historians are going to examine and write about this moment as an inflection point and I believe with every ounce of my being that democracy will and must prevail,” Biden said in his first foreign policy address to an international audience since his inauguration last month.
His administration is seeking to mend relations with Europe, strengthen NATO, and support democratic values around the world following criticism that all three have been atrophied under the leadership of former U.S. President Donald Trump.
Trump was accused of cozying up to authoritarian leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdogan, undermining NATO, and testing relations with close allies such as Germany and France.
The former president publicly harangued European countries for not meeting NATO defense spending levels and sought to rewrite trade terms with the EU to help U.S. companies.
In an indirect reference to Trump’s policies, Biden said relations with Europe were "not transactional" and "not extractive."
“I know the past few years of strain has tested our transatlantic relationship. But the United States is determined to reengage with Europe. To consult with you. To earn back our position of trust and leadership,” he told the conference.
He pointed out as an example his decision to overturn a Trump administration plan to cut the number of U.S. troops in Germany.
'Economic Abuses And Coercion'
Biden highlighted China and Russia as key challengers that the U.S. and Europe need to address together.
He accused China of “economic abuses and coercion” and said its companies must play by the same rules as U.S. and European countries.
The U.S. president accused Putin of trying to “bully and threaten individual states” rather than negotiate “with a strong and closely united transatlantic community.”
Biden cited Ukraine as an example, saying the defense of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity from Russian aggression was of “vital concern” to the United States and Europe.
Despite highlighting the need for competition with the Kremlin, Biden said it must “not lock out cooperation” with Russia on issues of mutual concern such as nuclear proliferation and Iran’s nuclear program.
Addressing the Munich Security Conference, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg accused China and Russia of working against the international order.
"Europe and North America must defend the international rules-based order, which is being challenged by authoritarian powers," Stoltenberg said, adding that China and Russia “are trying to rewrite the rules of the road to benefit their own interests."
Russia is set to remain NATO's main adversary during this decade, and the 30-member alliance is considering including China in its official master strategy document, its Strategic Concept, to face up to the country’s military rise.
Biden said that Washington is prepared to reengage with international partners in the so-called P5+1 group -- China, France, Russia, Britain, the United States, plus Germany -- on Iran's nuclear program.
Biden also said his administration is going to work with Europe and “other partners” to address Iran’s “destabilizing activities across the Middle East.”
The P5+1 group in 2015 signed a landmark agreement with Tehran that called for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of international sanctions.
But Trump in 2018 pulled his country out of the accord and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran. In response, Tehran has increasingly breached limits it had agreed to under the pact.
Th president concluded by saying Europe’s contribution to the successful landing of a NASA robotic rover on Mars on February 18 underscored the ability of the transatlantic relationship to meet “any challenge” it faces.
“The United States will do our part. We will stand with you. We will fight for our shared values and meet the challenges of this new moment in history,” he said.