President Biden’s administration will use the upcoming NATO meeting to begin efforts to rebuild confidence with European allies.
Anonymous administration sources told Reuters that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will highlight the U.S. commitment to the transatlantic alliance following the open hostility of ex-President Donald Trump.
The NATO Defense Ministerial Meeting, which will take place on 17-18 February, will be the first major European event since Biden’s inauguration. The President will deliver a speech at the virtual meeting of the Munich Security Conference on 19 February.
The Biden Pentagon will not stop pushing for NATO defense spending targets, but will focus on making progress in strengthening collective defense, sources said.
“Trust cannot be built overnight, it takes time. This requires not just words, but action, ”said an anonymous source at the US Department of Defense.
To highlight Biden’s position on NATO, the White House took the rare step of publishing a video of the president’s first conversation with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, in which he used the word “sacred” to describe collective defense commitments.
However, Biden may face a difficult road to restoring relations with Europe after Trump violated a number of obligations to European allies, including withdrawing from the nuclear deal with Iran and the Paris climate agreement.
“Trump and his unpredictability have accumulated in the European defense community,” said a European diplomatic source at NATO. – We have not communicated with each other for four years, and the world has changed during this time. Biden has a lot to restore in relations with Europe. “
Portuguese Defense Minister João Gomes Cravinho, speaking at the European Parliament on January 28, called Trump’s presidency years “an ideological experiment” that had “devastating consequences in terms of the credibility of the United States and its strength at the international level.”
The recent Capitol riots have also seriously damaged America’s image in the world, analysts say.
One of Biden’s biggest challenges will be convincing allies that in four or eight years the US will not be back in the Trump era.
“These are well-founded fears,” said Rachel Rizzo, a researcher at the Center for a New American Security. In her opinion, it will take a long time to prove the reliability of the United States as an ally.
French President Emmanuel Macron even said that Europe needs its own sovereign defense strategy, independent of the United States. Meanwhile, Eastern European countries wary of Russia say European defense plans should only complement NATO, not replace it.
The NATO Defense Ministers meeting is expected to address a number of issues, including efforts to end the two decades of war in Afghanistan.
It is assumed that during the ministerial meeting, targets for defense spending will also be discussed: according to previously reached agreements, all NATO members must spend at least 2 percent of GDP on defense by 2024.
According to forecasts released by NATO in October, Germany, Italy and Spain will not be able to achieve this goal by 2024. Germany pledged to hit the target by 2031, after which an outraged Trump ordered the withdrawal of about 12,000 troops from Germany.
According to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, during the ministerial meeting Austin will emphasize that many allies have already achieved the goal, while others are “striving for it.”
Even with the additional economic burden from COVID-19, the Allies are expected to increase defense spending, another source in the US government noted. Washington will try to emphasize that the health crisis must not be allowed to turn into a security crisis.
“However, the tone will be different, and much more attention will be paid to other areas,” said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity. “This question will not be used as a weapon against the allies.”