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Biden assures US allies he will reverse Trump’s policies and legacy

Photograph: Getty Images

Joe Biden has pledged “unshakable” US support for the transatlantic alliance in what he portrayed as an epoch-defining struggle to safeguard democracy.

Biden used his virtual debut on the world stage on Friday, in videoconference remarks first to the G7 and then the Munich Security Conference, to assure America’s allies of his determination to bury the legacy left by his predecessor.

Donald Trump was not mentioned but almost every sentence of Biden’s speech to the Munich conference was framed by how the new US president would reverse the policies and approach of the past four years.

In the wake of an insurrection in Washington in which Trump’s supporters had attempted to overturn the result of the US election by force, Biden said neither he nor Europe’s leaders could take democracy for granted.

“In so many places, including Europe and the United States, democratic progress is under assault,” Biden said. “Historians are going to examine and write about this moment as an inflection point and I believe with every ounce of my being that democracy will and must prevail.

“That, in my view, is our galvanizing mission,” the president said, in a livestreamed speech to Munich, where he shared the virtual stage with Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron. “Democracy doesn’t happen by accident. We have to defend it, fight for it, strengthen it, renew it.”

Whereas Barack Obama had made a trademark of Martin Luther King’s optimistic quote insisting “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”, four years on, Biden said that the world’s democracies now “have to prove that our model isn’t a relic of history”.

He said the US would have to work to earn back the trust of its allies if it was to resume a position of leadership, and listed all the concrete steps he was taking to repair the many gashes left in the transatlantic partnership.

He noted that the formal US return to the Paris climate agreement took place on Friday, and that the previous day, the US had announced its readiness to re-enter multilateral nuclear talks with Iran, hosted by the EU. Both moves reversed Trump policies.

Related: Iran nuclear deal: US agrees to join talks brokered by EU

So, too, did the US return to the World Health Organization, and Biden made clear that he was urgently funnelling money into the collective fight against Covid. He announced $4bn in new support for the global vaccine effort, Covax – $2bn immediately and another $2bn over the next two years, once other donors had delivered their pledges.

In his own remarks, Macron argued that providing money was not enough. The west, he said, had to deliver doses of vaccines to Africa, or else Africans would use western money to buy Russian and Chinese vaccines, making western influence “a concept but not a reality”.

Much of the Munich speech focused on bolstering Nato, an alliance Trump had viewed with suspicion, frequently portraying it as a European scam to get the US to pay for the continent’s defence. Biden’s predecessor called into question US commitment to the defence of some of the smaller member states, casting doubt on the principle of collective defence encapsulated in article 5 of Nato’s founding treaty. His former national security adviser, John Bolton, had predicted the US could leave Nato altogether if Trump was re-elected.

Conceding that “the last four years have been hard”, Biden’s language was emphatic in addressing European misgivings.

“The US will keep faith with article 5,” the president said. “It’s a guarantee an attack on one is an attack on all. That is our unshakable vow.”

He confirmed he had reversed Trump’s order last year to cut US troop levels in Germany – an order issued without consultation with Berlin, reportedly out of irritation with Merkel for her reluctance to attend a G7 summit he wanted to host during the pandemic.

The reinvigoration of the Atlantic alliance was essential to beating back Russian sabotage of western democracies and to rising to the longer-term challenge posed by China, Biden argued. His sharp words for Vladimir Putin and support for Ukraine marked another stark contrast with Trump, who avoided all direct criticism of the Russian president, and had used US backing for Kyiv as leverage to try to acquire compromising material on Biden.

“Putin seeks to weaken the European project and our Nato alliance. He wants to undermine the transatlantic unity, and our resolve, because it’s so much easier for the Kremlin to bully and threaten individual states than it is to negotiate with a strong and closely united transatlantic community,” Biden said. “That’s why standing up for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine remains a vital concern for Europe and the United States.”

Merkel endorsed Biden’s call for a united stand towards Russia, calling for a “joint agenda” that took in opportunities for dialogue and acknowledgment of differences. She did not mention German support for the Nordstream 2 gas pipeline from Russia, opposition to which is one of the few things Biden and Trump agree on.


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