The rancor and bluster is gone.
From now on, under the administration of President Biden, NATO will be treated as a respected ally, not a punching bag.
How utterly refreshing. How novel. How truly progressive.
According to a report in Breaking Defense, heading into this week’s highly-anticipated NATO defense minister meetings, US officials are looking to project an aura of competence.
No more threats and demands from the adversarial Trump administration, instead, a message of calm consultation among allies.
It’s almost like they know what they’re doing.
The Pentagon views the meetings as a way to reset the alliance after years of disruption, and a chance to set new goals on confronting China, combating climate change and bringing NATO-aligned countries like Finland and Sweden closer to the alliance, Breaking Defense reported.
Biden also will deliver remarks to the annual Munich Security Conference at the end of the week.
Some things will stay the same, however.
The goal of each NATO member spending 2% of their GDP on defense, and 20% of that on modernization efforts, will remain a core policy goal for the alliance, as it has since the 2014 Summit in Wales, Breaking Defense reported.
“Two percent wasn’t something the Trump administration came up with,” a senior defense official made a point of mentioning to reporters.
“It was something that was informal. Then, in 2014, all NATO states agreed to commit to work towards 2% and 20%, so that is something that’s been consistent.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg suggested as much in his own curtain-raiser press conference this week, where he praised member states for continuing to work to meet those thresholds, even if some — like Germany — are moving more slowly than others.
Stoltenberg also called for sweeping changes in how the alliance pays for troop deployments and protects its technology base against foreign investment, setting the stage for what could be some of NATO’s most significant reforms in decades, Breaking Defense reported.
“You have such a huge difference between Donald Trump and Joe Biden in their attitudes towards Europe,” said James Goldgeier, a professor of international relations at American University in Washington, DC.
“It makes a big difference that we now have a president who is committed to transatlantic relations,” Goldgeier told Al Jazeera, adding that Biden has been “steeped in these issues for decades so that’s a relief for the Europeans.
“Trump was the most anti-European president of the post-World War II era. He viewed allies as harmful,” Goldgeier said.
A second defense official suggested that the Pentagon’s surprise announcement of a planned withdrawal of 12,000 US troops from Germany in July 2020 isn’t something the new administration is interested in pursuing, however, Breaking Defense reported.
“To be very clear, the posture in Europe is critical to US national security interests and I would in no way expect it to be anything that would look like, say a withdrawal,” the official said.
Earlier this month, the head of European Command, Gen. Tod Wolters, confirmed that the Biden team had already halted planning for that withdrawal.
The official repeatedly said the American goal in the talks will be to “revitalize” the transatlantic relationship, after the “last four years [when] the public perception of the US commitment and our intent may have been a little bit unclear.”
“And so I think what you’ll hear from Secretary Austin (Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III) is a change in tone and a change in approach, while also building on and recognizing the tremendous progress that NATO has made since 2014.”
That new tone could include increased efforts in the Black Sea region, which is seen as a “launching pad” for the Kremlin’s activity in Ukraine, Georgia and Syria.
Last month, just days after President Biden confronted Russian President Vladimir Putin over Russian activities in the region, the US sent three ships – including two destroyers – into the Black Sea, marking the first time in three years the US deployed two destroyers in the waterway.
The Biden administration is also reviewing a peace agreement between the Afghan government and the Taliban that calls for a withdrawal of all foreign troops by May 1, Al Jazeera reported.
Lately, the Taliban has been ramping up attacks on civilian targets, leading Biden officials and Stoltenberg to condemn the level of violence in Afghanistan as “unacceptable.”
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said at a press conference on February 12 that Biden had made no decisions on troop levels in Afghanistan. Austin would use the consultations with his NATO counterparts to help formulate any recommendations to Biden, Kirby said.
“Nothing has changed about the fact that we continue to review the status of the agreement and the degree of compliance by parties and no decisions have been made on force structure.”
Sources: Breaking Defense, Military.com, Al Jazeera, US Dept. of Defense