Long featured in international summits, Biden’s return to the table has represented more than an elderly statesman finally taking his place among the club of world leaders. For the White House, it also marked a return of the United States to the type of consensual diplomacy shunned by former President Donald Trump.
Like any return to high school, Biden found some familiar things: the stilted family photo, the quick diplomatic withdrawals, German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
But he also found that some things had changed. Loyal American allies, reeling from the political upheavals of the Trump era, are increasingly struggling to shape their own foreign policy independently of a country whose domestic policy remains mired in dysfunction.
Global earthquakes like Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic had yet to happen the last time Biden attended a diplomatic summit as elected leader and were major talking points in Cornwall.
As Biden heads to Brussels for a NATO summit, here are three takeaways from the G7 summit:
A lifted weight
The differences in body language between this weekend’s summit in Cornwall and the three summits Trump attended could not be more glaring. While the 45th President was sometimes portrayed with a sullen air as other leaders united against him, Biden seemed to take care to appear relaxed and at ease among world leaders, even when differences arose.
He laughed heartily at the side of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who seemed relieved that Biden had apparently exceeded his description of the Prime Minister as a “physical and emotional clone” of Trump.
Biden leaned into an embrace from French President Emmanuel Macron, the two huddling together as they walked arm in arm through the summit venue, forcing the other leaders to walk around. At the start of their meeting the next day, Biden was holding a pair of his aviator sunglasses when he asked Macron a question about whether America was back.
“Yes, certainly”, declared the French president. He later added: “It’s great to have an American president who is part of the club and who is very willing to cooperate. “
Biden and Merkel met outdoors, soaking up the coastal sunshine for talks punctuated by laughter. That evening, Biden joined leaders for more forced bonds, this time in the form of a beach barbecue with sundaes for dessert.
Much of Biden’s foreign policy rhetoric as a candidate centered on Trump’s apparent reluctance to cultivate positive relationships with world leaders. As a senator and then vice president, Biden’s style of diplomacy focused solely on give and take between two human beings.
During his first months in office, Biden tried to hold meetings with foreign leaders by video conference. But he told assistants that it was not the same and that he should start traveling as soon as it was safe.
During the three-day summit, Biden met with at least four executives individually and spent hours chatting with the entire group.
Yet for all of Biden’s attempts to be courteous, there were limits to what the leaders could accept in the end.
One of Biden’s main proposals to the group – a global infrastructure program to compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative – was included in the summit’s final declaration. But it did not include specific commitments from countries on how much they are willing to contribute.
A statement on ending the use of coal for electricity was vague and without a timeline.
And although the language about China went further in denouncing Beijing’s human rights and economic abuses than previous G7 statements, earlier versions of the statement were more specific. Behind the scenes, European leaders appeared reluctant to go as far as Biden wanted to hold China to account.
Speaking at a press conference on Sunday, Biden said he was “happy” with the outcome document but seemed to acknowledge that no outcome would ever be perfect.
“I think there is a lot of action on China and there is always something you can do – I’m sure my colleagues think they can improve,” he said.
Biden has articulated his entire journey around the notion of defending democracy in a battle against authoritarianism. But some in Europe find the formulation democracy versus autocracy too reductive, leaving little room for the reality that many countries will end up relying on China or Russia in one form or another.
Biden, at his press conference, said he believed he pushed some of the leaders towards his point of view.
“Everyone at the table has understood and understands both the gravity and the challenges we face and the responsibility of our proud democracies to step up and act for the rest of the world,” he said. declared.
The best example of this this week has been the leadership’s joint pledge to deliver an additional 1 billion vaccines to poor and middle-income countries, including 500 million to the United States. Yet even some members of the G7 are still struggling to vaccinate their populations.
Speaking to reporters after the summit, Merkel frankly said that just having Biden in the US G7 headquarters was not the end of the problems the world faces.
But she said it meant the group could work with a new “zest” to resolve them.
Make way for autocrats
Biden’s trip this week has been carefully choreographed to highlight traditional American alliances ahead of next Wednesday’s summit talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Biden spent much of his free time on his trip preparing for the meeting, which will take place inside an 18th-century Swiss villa overlooking Lake Geneva.
Almost as soon as he arrived, Biden teased a controversial atmosphere for his trip’s closing meeting.
“I’m heading to the G7, then to the NATO ministerial meeting, then to meet with Mr Putin to let him know what I want him to know,” Biden told troops gathered at a Suffolk air base. .
It is not entirely clear what support he has garnered from other G7 leaders. In the final document, the leaders blamed Russia for committing malicious cyber activity, including ransomware attacks, and regional aggression.
But even Merkel, one of Biden’s closest allies in the G7, struggled to ever swear against Russia. Biden recently lifted sanctions against Germany related to Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would have complicated relations with a reliable ally.
Biden said on Sunday he agreed with Putin that US-Russian relations were at their lowest. But he said it was worth meeting him anyway.
Thereafter, the two leaders will not hold a joint press conference, which the former presidents did.
“I think the best way to deal with this is for him and I to meet, him and I have to have our discussion. I know you have no doubt that I will be very candid with him about our concerns, ”Biden said on Sunday. “And I’m going to clarify my point of view on how this meeting went and he will explain how -om his point of view, how it went. “