Addressing the G7 security conference on Feb. 19, President Biden said that “America is back,” adding that the United States is “determined to reengage with Europe, to consult with [them], to earn back our position of trusted leadership.”
It was, in the words of the German magazine Der Spiegel, “… exactly the speech that many Europeans wanted to hear — an America that pats you on the shoulders, that doesn’t criticize or demand.”
Europe is eager to embrace Mr. Biden’s return to the status quo ante-Trump, i.e., the foreign policy of former President Obama. Each of his foreign policy moves so far — trying to rejoin Mr. Obama’s nuclear weapons deal with Iran, coddling Europe, speaking tough about China and Russia without doing anything to offend either — were principal features of Mr. Obama’s failed foreign policy.
With Mr. Obama, Europe could, and did, comfortably ignore its own defense. Europe could trade with Russia and China without limit or fear of criticism and, as France did, maneuver the U.S. into helping overthrow Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi despite the fact that we had no national security interest in doing so.
There is much consternation and confusion among the EU nations (and within the Biden administration) about Russia’s persecution of Alexei Navalny, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s principal political opponent.
The Putin regime first tried to poison Mr. Navalny with the Novichok chemical weapon, a favorite of Mr. Putin’s cronies. When Mr. Navalny survived, he was imprisoned by the Putin government. He recently lost an appeal of his phony conviction and is going to serve more than two years in Mr. Putin’s modernized gulag.
Mr. Navalny is a major political force in Russia. In the tens of thousands, Russians have engaged in a mass protest against Mr. Putin’s treatment of him. Thousands have been arrested. To the Russian people, and the world, Mr. Navalny is a powerful symbol of what the former can get away with. That, apparently, is quite a lot.
Mr. Biden has called for Mr. Navalny’s immediate release and has threatened to raise the cost to Russia for such actions but, like Mr. Obama, his words portended no action. When the EU threatened Russia with sanctions over the Navalny case, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov threatened to cut all economic ties with the EU if it did. To its credit, the EU said last week that it will impose those sanctions. Why should it act when Mr. Biden won’t?
In November 2017, this column discussed Russia’s gradual assertion of sovereignty over much of the Arctic and the enormous oil reserves under it (nearly 20% of the world’s untapped oil and gas), Russia’s new bases in the Arctic and its development of new weapon systems designed to function in Arctic temperatures. Though we have conducted some military maneuvers in the Arctic, we have done nothing to seriously counter Russia there.
In January, this column began to illuminate Mr. Biden’s enormous errors of foreign policy, such as granting a five-year extension of the “New START” arms limitation treaty to Russia on Russia’s terms without getting anything in return.
In early February, the annual report of the Norwegian Intelligence Service (NIS) informed us of Norway’s perception of the dangers of new nuclear-capable Russian weapons systems. Referring to Russia’s Poseidon underwater drone and its nuclear-powered hypersonic Skyfall cruise missile, the NIS chief, Vice Adm. Nils Stensones, said, “It is our worry that the New Start Treaty is not sufficient enough to cover the new technological developments,” adding that the agreements should be updated.
The Poseidon is about 80 feet long and seven feet in diameter. It is nuclear powered meaning its range is almost unlimited. (The nuclear-powered hypersonic Skyfall also has effectively unlimited range.) Both are first-strike weapons.
Adm. Stensones was absolutely right in saying the New START treaty needed to be updated to include these kinds of weapons. But it wasn’t and Mr. Biden agreed to the extension on Russia’s terms.
Mr. Biden and the EU need to get serious about Russia the arms race Russia is running alone. Both should begin by imposing sanctions on Russia for its persecution of Mr. Navalny. They should not, as Mr. Trump did, bend over backwards to befriend Mr. Putin. Mr. Biden should, as Mr. Trump did, demand more investment in defense by the NATO members directed specifically at countering Russia’s new weapon systems.
Instead, as Der Spiegel implied, Mr. Biden is returning NATO to the Obama policy of allowing NATO members to ignore their defense obligations. Mr. Biden, whose mind doesn’t relate trade and domestic policy to national defense, is constitutionally unable to demand that Europe’s leaders make that connection.
We have yet to see a defense budget from Mr. Biden and his team which could, at least partially, make up for the mistakes. Will it require investment in defenses against weapons such as Poseidon and Skyfall or will it simply ignore these threats? Will we undertake to dispute Russia’s Arctic claims?
Little more than a month into his presidency, Mr. Biden has made several serious mistakes on foreign policy and apparently plans to make many more. Many of us derided Mr. Obama’s mistakes and learned from them. It is apparent that Mr. Biden, who participated in Mr. Obama’s decisions, learned nothing from those mistakes.
• Jed Babbin, a deputy undersecretary of Defense in the George H.W. Bush administration, is the author of “In the Words of Our Enemies.”