Biden walks a trans-Atlantic tightrope, balancing domestic, foreign concerns

Kimberly Adams Feb 19, 2021
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In his virtual appearance at the Munich Security Conference, President Joe Biden emphasized the United States' commitment to NATO. Anna Moneymaker/Pool/Getty Images

Biden walks a trans-Atlantic tightrope, balancing domestic, foreign concerns

Kimberly Adams Feb 19, 2021
Heard on:
In his virtual appearance at the Munich Security Conference, President Joe Biden emphasized the United States' commitment to NATO. Anna Moneymaker/Pool/Getty Images
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President Joe Biden made his first big international appearance as president Friday, attending — virtually, of course — the meeting of the Group of Seven leading industrial nations and giving a foreign policy speech to the Munich Security Conference.

The goal was clear: to reset trans-Atlantic relationships, especially with NATO security partners.

And even though much of the conversation was about cybersecurity, health security, climate change and old-fashioned military issues, the global economy was right there in the mix. 

Biden emphasized his commitment to NATO, a strategic alliance that in recent years was sometimes subject to economic coercion.

“The way the Trump administration approached it was to sort of use the threat of some other action, like tariffs or something, to force countries to increase their spending. And that wasn’t taken very well by our allies,” said Matthew Goodman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Even though Biden is taking a very different approach to the relationship, he’s constrained by some domestic realities, according to Marina Henke, who runs the Hertie Centre for International Security in Berlin.

“What hasn’t changed is the American economic and societal landscape. You have certain states which suffer, and they benefit from tariffs and other restrictions,” Henke said.

The Biden administration says it wants to return to working with the World Trade Organization, but when it comes to rolling back the Trump trade agenda, “they don’t want to engage in trade negotiations until the investments have been made at home that help American workers get, you know, our economy more competitive,” Goodman said.

Which means the Biden administration is going to have to walk a trans-Atlantic tightrope, protecting the American economy without coming off to wary allies as too protectionist.

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