Transatlantic Relations after the Biden Victory

In this article our senior Fellow Anders Åslund is outlining what we could expect of Transatlantic relations after the Biden victory.

President Elect Joe Biden Photo: Phil Roeder

I danced in the streets of Kyiv at the end of the Orange Revolution in December 2004. I danced again on Saturday night; my wife and I could not help walking down to the White House. The music was loud and thousands of people were dancing. The biggest sign said, “You are fired!”

The DC police were there in force, but peacefully and without weapons. All the policemen we saw were black. Nobody was arrested. It was sheer joy. This was happening not only in Washington but all over the USA and even in many European capitals. For the first time ever, Europeans were dancing in the streets to celebrate the victory in an American presidential

American-Europeans have many reasons to rejoice over the victory of Joe Biden. No prior American president has visited Europe so much or been so knowledgeable about our continent, and Biden is fully committed to the transatlantic partnership.

Biden’s victory reconfirms that the US remains a democracy, which Donald Trump so obviously opposed. Once again, the US will stand up for the proliferation of democracy and freedom in the world. President-elect Biden has promised to hold an early international conference of democracies. It will be a shame not to be invited. Will Poland and Hungary be invited? And what
about Turkey? Europe will get strong support for the democratic lifting that it so badly needs.

The most fundamental question for any country is its national security. For Europe, it has long been based on most countries’ membership of NATO and its mutual defence commitment as formulated in its Article V. Trump wanted the US to abandon NATO and not commit itself to defend small countries far away, such as Montenegro. Biden is the opposite. He has always been
fully committed to NATO and its mutual defence. The US is back!

When Trump was running for president in 2016, he was trying to get Vladimir Putin’s permission to build a skyscraper in Moscow, which he kept quiet about. Throughout his term, Trump has refused to say one single critical word against Putin, and has had many private phone calls with the Russian president. We have no idea what private business deals Trump has with
Putin, but we have reasons to expect the worst.

Biden is a completely different quantity. For years, he has taken pride in being a hardliner on Russia. Barack Obama selected him as his vice president candidate very late, on 23 August 2008, after Russia had fought a war with Georgia (8-12 August 2008). Biden had stood up as the main democratic defender of Georgia in the USA. Obama chose Biden primarily because he
needed credibility on foreign policy against Biden’s good friend John McCain, and Biden provided him with this important quality.

Under Obama, Biden led US policy on Russia and Ukraine. Biden was at the centre of the skillful sanctions on Russia in 2014. Trump intentionally messed up these sanctions to make them an incomprehensive and ineffective maze. Biden is set to sort these sanctions out to let the Kremlin know what punishment it is likely to face for what crime, but also offer incentives to behave to ease US sanctions. When Biden was vice president, he managed the close coordination of all sanctions on Russia with the European Union. He is likely to do so again. Coordinated US-EU sanctions are likely to be more effective and possibly compel Russia to concessions.

While Trump tried to flatter Putin, he also made a mess of the US-Russia arms control treaties. Since this is in the interest of both countries, Biden can convince the Kremlin to prolong the lapsing new START treaty on strategic nuclear arms, conclude a new bilateral treaty on intermediary nuclear missiles and restore the open skies treaty on free overflights.

No country is likely to benefit more from a Biden presidency than Ukraine. For Trump, Ukraine was just a channel for Russian intelligence disinformation on Biden, and thus he abandoned Ukraine. Fortunately, he was not strong enough to make the United States support Russia. Biden knows Ukraine very well, having visited the country five times as vice president. He will assure Ukraine of substantial US military support, and he will also fight corruption and Russian influence inside the country.

Since Biden is on Europe’s side for the important questions, he will make sure that the US returns to the World Health Organization and global cooperation against pandemics, to the Paris accord on climate change, and to the joint nuclear deal with Iran. Trade conflicts might persist but they will be rationally handled.

Finally, but possibly most importantly, Biden supports the EU. He would never support Brexit, which Trump did. Biden’s support will make it easier for the EU to become more effective.

Anders Åslund

Senior Fellow at Stockholm Free World Forum and Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington. His most recent book is “Russia’s Crony Capitalism: The Path from Market Economy to Kleptocracy.”