In the last two decades, Europe has had its major problems, but compared to the weakening of US global power that allowed the rise of China, its situation seems almost a triumphant march, writes The Guardian columnist Timothy Garton Ash.
Assuming that all legal disputes over the election will be resolved by the time of the investiture, Joe Biden will take over a divided country, a divided congress and a less united Democratic party.
The US under President-elect Joe Biden will be a leader of a network of democracies, because it will be an America after its decline, which occurred in the last 20 years, but also after the Trump presidency caused indescribable damage to the American international reputation. .
The United States is no longer the hyperpower of the beginning of the century, as it has suffered a decline, while other powers have risen. The COVID-19 pandemic management mode has confirmed a society with profound structural problems from public health, racial tensions and infrastructure to media-fueled superpolarization and a dysfunctional political system.
A recent EU poll found that half of Europeans consider US democracy “inefficient”. It happened before the presidential election after which Trump decreed as fraud the counting of all the votes received in the polling stations. These days, the lessons of US democracy are politely received: “Doctor, heal yourself” – or, during Vietnam and Watergate, the US did not reach such a low level of diplomatic power.
Internally, Joe Biden’s ability to bring about necessary reforms will be slowed or even blocked by a Republican control of the Senate, but a freer room for foreign policy is possible, where Biden comes with a lot of experience. His team defines the three strategic challenges as the three big “C’s”: covid, climate change and China. It is an agenda that European and Asian allies will gladly share.
Although NATO will continue to be key to European security against Russia’s aggression, the key to regaining disillusioned Europeans will be a redefined partnership with the EU. Biden could begin by showing appreciation for the way the EU has kept liberal internationalism afloat while the US under Trump has been concerned about something else. A first visit to Europe could include the European institutions in Brussels and could be the beginning of an equal partnership – the US would no longer be at the forefront of the post-hegemonic US era.
For their part, Europeans should do more to ensure their own security, while it would not be a good idea for Biden to insist on the idea of that 2% of GDP for defense. German strategist Wolfgang Ischinger suggested instead 3% of defense, diplomacy and development, a good reframing of the problem. An EU with its own geopolitical style should take on a greater burden in its extended neighborhood to the south, along the Mediterranean to the Middle East and North Africa, and to the east in relations with Belarus, Ukraine and aggressive Russia, respectively. but weakened by Vladimir Putin.
A new focus on the EU will provoke some irritation among the dominant ultra-Brexiters in the Johnson administration. But it is not without its own good ideas that could meet the new role of the United States: the expansion of the G7 summit this year, the future to include major democracies in Asia.
It would be perfectly in tune with a central theme of Biden’s team, namely collaboration with other democracies, in the context in which the USA is already working in SQUAD format in a coalition that includes Japan, Australia and India. These countries will prove to be at least as important as the EU and the United Kingdom in terms of their position on China.
A wise vision of the Biden administration would be to consider a network of democracies rather than a fixed alliance or community of democrats. The president-elect of the United States would prepare a “summit of democracies”, but it is a scheme that would involve delicate choices between who should be invited and who should be excluded. On the other hand, a network would be one that would allow greater flexibility with regard to those who would like to take part, ie coalitions decided on the basis of issues and finer strategies on borderline cases. For example, India is not a model of liberal democracy, but it is indispensable for the three Cs on the priority agenda of the Biden administration.
The US and the EU should begin to identify the relevant democracies for the problems to be solved without stopping at them, as it cannot ignore the illiberal and anti-democratic regimes with which it will have to deal with, including China, the supreme geopolitical challenge of our times. China is also indispensable to the triad of problems, being one of them. China is a more formidable strategic and ideological competitor than the former Soviet Union, at least since the 1970s, but its cooperation is proportionally essential in a wide range of fields.
In terms of a dual strategy of cooperation and competition, the US has unique advantages, writes The Guardian columnist Timothy Garton Ash. Although as the “largest army in the world” they have lost a war with technologically inferior opponents in Iraq, the United States remains the only military power that could stand in the way of Xi Jinping’s takeover of democratic Taiwan. The US leads the world in the technology industry through Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and Google, and in terms of artificial intelligence, Europe is far behind China and the US.
However, given the domestic difficulties, the US cannot cope alone with China, already a multidimensional power, requiring the network of European and Asian partners to the same extent that they need the US. The democracies of the world could reach out to a good man in the White House and invite big changes.