Four US summits

Hussein Haridy
Thursday 24 Jun 2021

US President Joe Biden took part in four major summit meetings this month that will decide the shape of international relations for years to come

Six months into his first term in office, US President Joe Biden flew to Europe in early June to attend four summit meetings with the aim of reclaiming America’s leadership in the world and reaffirming America’s commitment to its allies in NATO and the European Union.

In other words, he put the transatlantic alliance back at the centre of US foreign policy after four critical years under former president Donald Trump that had tested US relations and treaty commitments with its allies like no other time since the establishment of NATO in 1949.

It was Biden’s maiden foreign trip after entering the White House, and the world was watching how the new US president would handle the myriad challenges facing not only the West but also the world as a whole as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change, and the US’s poor relations with Russia and China.

Our part of the world had not expected much from the June summit meetings, knowing that the Indo-Pacific region has now become the new centre of international rivalry between the West and China. One basic US objective is to form an “alliance of democracies” against autocracies in general and China in particular.

The G7 summit was hosted by post-Brexit Britain in Cornwall. Because of the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, the G7 meeting did not take place last year. The White House made clear on 12 June that the US would be rallying “democracies” around the world to meet the great challenges facing it and to reaffirm “shared values” among the G7 group’s member countries.

According to the White House statement, Biden also discussed with the G7 leaders, in addition to the leaders of South Africa, South Korea and India, countries that were invited to the summit meeting as guests, strategic competition with China. The G7 then launched a new initiative to counter the Belt and Road Project pursued by China in the shape of the “Build Back Better World” Project, or B3W, that will extend from Latin America through the Caribbean to Africa and the Indo-Pacific region benefitting 100 of the world’s poorest countries and some middle-income countries as well.

The G7 also pledged to provide one billion anti-Covid-19 vaccine doses worldwide, with the US providing 500 million Pfizer vaccine doses.

The second summit meeting attended by the US president was a NATO summit on 14 June in Brussels, where he met the leaders of the 30 countries in the alliance. Last February, Biden said the transatlantic alliance was the “bedrock” of the collective security of the countries in NATO. He added that the partnership between the US and Europe was the cornerstone of what the alliance needs to accomplish in the 21st century. 

The NATO countries agreed to work on a new Strategic Concept for the alliance to be submitted to the next summit meeting in 2022. The proposed changes will take into consideration the new strategic environment in the light of “aggressive actions” by Russia and the challenges posed by China in terms of Western security, prosperity and values. This is in addition to transnational threats such as terrorism, climate change and cyber-warfare.

From the US point of view, the fact that NATO has tackled China for the first time since 1949 is a great achievement from the standpoint of Western strategy in the years to come. 

The US-EU summit meeting, the third of the four important meetings, released a statement on 15 June about a “renewed transatlantic partnership.” The meeting reaffirmed the importance of transatlantic relations, and Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, warmly welcomed Biden by saying that “America is back on the world scene,” adding that this was “great news for the world.” Biden said that the US was “reasserting the fact that it is overwhelmingly in the interest of the United States to have a great relationship with NATO and with the European Union.”

The Americans and Europeans agreed to end trade differences over the aircraft manufacturers Boeing and Airbus and to set up a Trade and Technology Council that will aim to counter China in the field of technology and unfair trade practices.

On 16 June, the first US-Russian summit under the Biden administration took place in Geneva. Over the past six months, relations between Washington and Moscow have become very tense after Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “killer” in an interview. Expectations concerning this summit meeting between the US and Russian presidents were low.

No one expected breakthroughs in bilateral relations or in the two countries’ ability to work together to solve crises such as those in Ukraine, Syria or Libya. However, there have been other areas where the two superpowers can cooperate, like in Afghanistan after the pullout of American and NATO forces scheduled before next 11 September (some press reports have raised the possibility that the withdrawal could be complete by next month) or in the ongoing talks in Vienna regarding the US rejoining the Iranian nuclear deal and Iran reversing its violations of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the official name of the nuclear deal from which the Trump administration withdrew in May 2018.

Maybe Biden had this in mind when he told reporters before his summit meeting with his Russian counterpart that “Putin and I share a unique responsibility to manage the relationship between two powerful and proud countries – a relationship that has to be stable and predictable.”

The meeting lasted almost three-and-a-half hours and ended with a US-Russian Statement on Strategic Stability in which the two sides stressed that they have demonstrated in the past that they are “able to make progress on our shared goals of ensuring predictability in the strategic sphere” and reducing the risks of “armed conflicts and the threats of nuclear war”. They committed themselves to embarking on an “integrated bilateral Strategic Stability Dialogue” that will seek to lay the groundwork for “future arms control and risk-reduction measures.”

Taken together, the four summits could be described as foundational in the sense that they have laid down parameters in strategic and non-strategic fields that can guide relations between the US-led West and its adversaries, mainly Russia and China, the latter likely being target number one for decades to come. However, the world is not reverting to a second Cold War. The areas of convergence between the US, the West, Russia and China are so many that managing their complex relations properly will benefit them all, even if they are in fierce and “peaceful” competition about who owns the future of Planet Earth.

For Jake Sullivan, the US National Security adviser, the bottom line of the first foreign trip made by Biden since he became president is that he has “confidently and skillfully donned the mantle of the leader of the free world.”

Multilateralism and international diplomacy were the great beneficiaries of the four June summits. It is up to the Third World countries, including Egypt, to decide how best to navigate and benefit from the new parameters in great-power competition without getting entangled in fleeting alliances that could backfire and harm their national interests.

*The writer is former assistant foreign minister.


*A version of this article appears in print in the 24 June, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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