WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden’s summer of love for Europe appears to have come to an abrupt end.
After promising European leaders that “America is back” and that multilateral diplomacy would guide American foreign policy, Biden angered many allies with an autonomous approach on key issues, the most recent being a new security initiative for the Indo-Pacific which excluded in particular France and the European Union.
Some have compared Biden’s recent actions to those of his predecessor, Donald Trump, under Trump’s “America First” doctrine. This is surprising for a president steeped in international affairs who has come to the White House promising to restore shaken ties with his allies and restore America’s credibility on the world stage.
While it is impossible to predict whether any damage will be lasting, the short-term impact appears to have rekindled European suspicions about US intentions – with potential implications for Biden’s broader goal of uniting democracies against it. authoritarianism, mainly focused on China and Russia.
Just three months ago, on his first visit to the continent as president, Biden was hailed as a hero by his European counterparts eager to overcome the transatlantic tensions of the Trump years. But that palpable sense of relief has now faded for many, and its only winner, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, is on the verge of passing away.
Since June, Biden has infuriated the United States ‘oldest ally, France, left Poland and Ukraine to question the United States’ commitment to their security, and upset the European Union more broadly with unilateral decisions ranging from Afghanistan to East Asia. And, while Europe applauded when Biden pledged to resume nuclear negotiations with Iran and relaunch Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the two efforts remain stalled nine months after his administration began.
The seeds of discontent may have been sown in the spring, but they began to bloom in July following Biden’s approval of a Russia-Germany gas pipeline that will bypass Poland and Ukraine, and a month later in August with the chaotic withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan. who left Europe scrambling to follow after expressing reservations about the withdrawal.
Once again this week, Biden infuriated France and the European Union by announcing that the United States would join Britain and Australia after Brexit in a new Indo-Pacific security initiative aimed at countering the increasing aggressiveness of China in the region.
Unsurprisingly, China has reacted with anger, accusing the United States and its English-speaking partners of embarking on a project that will destabilize the Pacific to the detriment of global security. But the reactions from Paris and Brussels were just as harsh. Both complained that they were not only excluded from the deal, but also consulted about it.
The White House and Secretary of State Antony Blinken said France was made aware of the decision ahead of its announcement on Wednesday, although it is not known exactly when. Blinken said on Thursday there had been conversations with the French about it over the past 24 to 48 hours, suggesting that there had been no in-depth consultation.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who praised in June “the excellent news for all of us that America is back”, expressed his “total incomprehension” at the announcement of the initiative. “It was really a stab in the back,” he said. “It sounds a lot like what Trump did. “
France will lose an almost $ 100 billion deal to build diesel submarines for Australia under the new AUKUS initiative, which will see the United States and Britain helping Canberra build submarines. nuclear powered sailors.
As such, French anger at a purely commercial level would be understandable, especially since France, since the surrender of Hong Kong to China by Great Britain in 1997, is the only European nation to have territorial possessions. significant or permanent military presence in the Pacific.
But French and European Union officials went further, saying the deal called into question the entire cooperative effort to blunt China’s growing influence and underscored the importance of languid plans for strengthen Europe’s defense and security capabilities.
In a joint statement with Le Drian, French Defense Minister Florence Parly said that this decision “only reinforces the need to raise the question of European strategic autonomy loud and clear. There is no other credible way to defend our interests and values in the world, including in the Indo-Pacific.
In Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell echoed the remarks. “I guess a deal of this nature was not concocted the day before yesterday. It takes a while, and despite that, no, we were not consulted, ”he said. “This forces us, once again… to reflect on the need to put European strategic autonomy at the top of the agenda.
Indeed, the European Union with 27 members, Thursday unveiled a new strategy for strengthening economic, political and defense ties in the Indo-Pacific, just hours after the announcement of the United States, Britain and Australia. The EU said the aim is to strengthen and expand economic relations while strengthening respect for international trade rules and improving maritime safety. He said he hoped the strategy would result in more European naval deployments in the region.
U.S. officials dismissed complaints from France and the EU on Thursday, echoing Biden’s brief comments on Wednesday that nodded to France’s role.
Speaking alongside Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Australian Defense and Foreign Ministers, Blinken said there was “no regional divide” with Europe on the Indo-Pacific strategy . “We welcome the European countries playing an important role in the Indo-Pacific”, he declared, describing France as “essential partner”.
Biden said on Wednesday that “France, in particular, already has a substantial Indo-Pacific presence and is a key partner and ally in strengthening the region’s security and prosperity. The United States looks forward to working closely with France and other key countries as we move forward. “
But how well they will work together remains to be seen.
AP editors Sylvie Corbet in Paris and Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.