The U.S. president is taking a leadership role among western democracies that was sorely missed. But these complicated times also call for a Europe that does more than just cheer from the sidelines.
Joe Biden's visit to Europe, which began in the United Kingdom and takes him next to Brussels and Geneva, is about "demonstrating the capacity of democracies to both meet the challenges and deter the threats of this new age."
So he wrote in the Washington Post shortly before departing on what is his first trip outside the country since becoming president of the United States earlier this year. And it's a message that the West is eager to hear, a signal that Washington is going back to assuming its position of democratic leadership.
The temptation to settle back into the comfort of the American promise of protection and dream of the good old days.
Unlike Donald Trump, Biden actually believes that the United States has a mission in the world that goes beyond mere national self-interest. He knows, like many presidents before him, that freedom and democracy in the world are not well established if America does not see itself as an anchor and defender of these values; and if the United States does not defend the space of freedom against the attacks of autocrats and dictators.
Biden is deeply rooted in transatlantic relations, and seems bent on again giving the United States the central role it had occupied in Europe for decades. But for the old continent, this also presents a dangerous temptation: the temptation to settle back into the comfort of the American promise of protection and dream of the good old days.
The problem is that mixed in with that promise is an illusion. With China, the West now has a dangerous competitor that is aggressively appearing on the world stage much sooner than any had expected. Increasing cooperation, furthermore, between Beijing and Moscow is a serious concern, and not only for NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
The Johnsons meet the Biidens outside Carbis Bay Hotel, Cornwall, on June 10 — Photo: Toby Melville/PA Wire/ZUMA
To meet these challenges, the West needs more than just a self-confident leader. It also needs a Europe that develops a strategic culture that is both adequate and compatible with Washington. Unfortunately, there is still little evidence of this in Germany, the leading European power, which continues to see foreign policy primarily as foreign economic policy, as evidenced too clearly by the geostrategic disaster of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
America is back as a leading power. That's good news. But it is now up to Europe to become an active partner in foreign and security policy, to offer more, in other words, than it has in the past, especially when it comes to defending the West and its values against the new challenges.