NextGen’s 7 Things to Watch on President Biden’s Trip to Europe

June 9, 2021

NextGen’s 7 Things to Watch on President Biden’s Trip to Europe

Washington, DC – Recognizing that young voices are often excluded in debates on U.S. foreign policy, Foreign Policy for America launched its inaugural NextGen cohort of young experts and policymakers committed to advancing principled American engagement in the world. In advance of a busy week of European diplomacy, here are some insights from NextGen members, 7 Things to Watch on President Biden’s Trip to Europe:

1. Addressing the China challenge together

In the past months, Europe has inched closer to the United States’ assessment that China poses a threat to the transatlantic alliance. This trip presents an opportunity for the Biden administration to galvanize allies and set a common agenda to address the China challenge. A successful summit for the Biden administration will yield a clear statement from European leaders that they will work with the United States and coordinate their approach on China.

Carisa Nietsche is a Co-Chair of the Europe Working Group for Foreign Policy for America’s NextGen Initiative.

2. Biden-Putin meeting is about talking … and that’s OK. 

President Biden will benefit from much-needed diplomatic tailwinds as he enters his final (and most difficult) meeting of the trip with Russian President Vladimir Putin. This face to face is about communicating America’s intentions towards Russia. It will neither result in a slate of concrete deliverables nor magically repair the bilateral relationship. Critics will no doubt label Geneva a failure. This view is wrong. Indeed, President Biden’s willingness to engage the Russian leader despite the potential political costs personifies his commitment to leading with diplomacy. Detractors would be wise to remember former President Obama’s maxim: “It. Is. Not. A. Reward. To Talk. To. Folks.”

Itai Barsade leads Foreign Policy for America’s NextGen Initiative. He is also a researcher for the executive vice president of The German Marshall Fund of the United States. 

3. Will ‘Global Britain” be a triumphant debut or a flop?

Boris Johnson has been busy making the case for a bold post-Brexit UK foreign policy, publishing an Integrated Strategy Review and making a series of aggressive moves on China, human rights, corruption, and climate change. But as the UK projects confidence globally, unresolved issues from Brexit continue to strain relations with its neighbors. Will Johnson’s summitry enable the UK to stay relevant and advance its agenda? Or will Brussels, Paris, and Berlin push London to the margins?

– Scott Bade is co-author, with ex-Downing Street chief strategist Steve Hilton, of “More Human: Designing a World Where People Come First.”

4. Political consolidation for NATO 2030

The NATO Summit is the first substantive political test of NATO’s ambition to build a new Strategic Concept, NATO’s foundational strategic document. The Reflection Report laid the intellectual foundation for an agenda for 2030. Now, Secretary General Stoltenberg has a chance to build the political framework for the guidance that will pave NATO’s path ahead. Coming out of the summit, leaders will demonstrate the degree to which members agree on priorities and strategies, foreshadowing how ambitious the Strategic Concept can be.

– Katherine Kjellström Elgin, a post-doctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins SAIS, is the co-editor of the forthcoming book, “NATO 2030: Towards a New Strategic Concept and Beyond.”

5. Confronting anti-democratic trends in Europe

This trip will test President Biden’s willingness to hold not only America’s adversaries, but its allies and partners, accountable for antidemocratic behavior. Europe and Eurasia are experiencing a long-term shift toward authoritarianism that could have far-reaching implications, as authoritarians learn from each how to consolidate power and suppress dissent while avoiding repercussions. Given the past 15 years of democratic decline worldwide—including among some members of NATO—and the growing trend of authoritarians reaching across borders to silence dissent, bolstering freedom and democracy in Europe and among our NATO allies should be a top priority for the Biden administration.

– Elizabeth Rosen is a communications specialist at Freedom House. Previously, she served as executive advisor to the NATO Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy.

6. Defining the structures of transatlantic cooperation beyond defense

President Biden’s impressive slate of meetings in Europe reflects an effort to reshape how U.S. and Europe will work together to confront a growing range of issues. While NATO and its focus on defense and security fit the needs of the Cold War period, President Biden now must determine how to best leverage American alliances – one of our strongest assets – in areas including climate change, democracy, cyber security, China, and technology competition. The upcoming summits will indicate which areas will be the focus of NATO, which will be driven by U.S.-EU cooperation, and which are better left to bilateral engagement.

– Thomas Schoenfelder is Chief of Staff of the DC office of Teneo, the global CEO advisory firm and a NextGen fellow with Foreign Policy for America, where he serves on the Europe Working Group. 

7. The need for a 21st century transatlantic relationship

President Biden’s first overseas trip presents an opportunity to devise a more ambitious transatlantic partnership. President Biden has told European allies that “America is back.” But simply being “back” isn’t enough. Today’s challenges are complex and interlocking, running the gamut from the decay of democracy on both sides of the Atlantic to systemic competition with authoritarian rivals like China and Russia. A successful summit will see the United States and Europe work creatively to craft a new transatlantic relationship for the 21st century.

– Sam Denney is a Co-Chair of the Europe Working Group for Foreign Policy for America’s NextGen Initiative.