Joe Biden warns the global dynamic has shifted to a focus on meeting shared challenges

'America is back. We are not looking backward, we are looking forward together'

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks as he takes part in a Munich Security Conference virtual event from the East Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 19, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
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Joe Biden pledged America's leadership to work in common with countries around the globe to meet the multilateral challenges facing the world in his first address to foreign audiences at the Munich Security Conference.

The US President told the transatlantic-focused forum that his election marked a turning point, while other world leaders joined him in welcoming a new start in global affairs.

"Historians will examine and write about this moment," he said by video link. "It’s an inflection point. And I believe with every ounce of my being that democracy must prevail."

"We are in the midst of a fundamental debate about the future direction of our world," he said. "We have to prove that our model isn’t a relic of our history. It’s the single best way to realise the promise of our future. And if we work together with our democratic partners, with strength and confidence, I know that we will meet every challenge and outpace every challenger."

He said the US would keep faith with Article five of the Nato Charter. "An attack on one is an attack on all," he said.

Referring to the conflict in Afghanistan, where Nato invoked Article five, Mr Biden said the US supported the talks process but would not leave that country exposed to terror. He added that Washington would not allow the resurgence of ISIS in the Middle East.

The US would reclaim its place in multilateral organisations. Describing a collaborative approach from the White House, Mr Biden sought to contrast his approach with the deal-making tenor brought to US policy by his predecessor Donald Trump.

"Our partnerships have endured and grown through the years because they are rooted in the richness of our shared democratic values," he said. "They’re not transactional. They’re not extractive. They’re built on a vision of the future where every voice matters."

Mr Biden last attended the Munich Security Conference in 2019 where he told the gathered global leaders, security officials and diplomats that there would be a sea change after Mr Trump's presidency. "We will be back," he said then. "Don't have any doubt about that."

Speaking on Friday, he noted he was a man of his word, promising that multilateralism would "shape a recovery that promotes the health and prosperity of our people and planet".

In the days leading up to the address, Mr Biden's team made a $4 billion pledge of support for global coronavirus vaccination efforts, confirmed the re-entry of the US into the Paris climate accord and pushed a nearly $2 trillion spending measure that could bolster both the US and global economies.

Mr Biden also met G7 leaders from Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan by videoconference on Friday. He plans to travel to an in-person summit hosted by Britain this summer.

US President Joe Biden speaks virtually from the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, to the Munich Security Conference in Germany, on February 19, 2021.                         / AFP / MANDEL NGAN
US President Joe Biden speaks virtually from the East Room of the White House in Washington to the Munich Security Conference in Germany, on February 19, 2021. AFP

In a multilateralist gesture, the G7 leaders on Friday said they would seek a collective approach to policy and practice, including engaging with China through the G20.

"With the aim of supporting a fair and mutually beneficial global economic system for all people, we will engage with others, especially G20 countries including large economies such as China," the G7 said after a virtual leaders' meeting.

"As leaders, we will consult with each other on collective approaches to address non-market oriented policies and practices, and we will co-operate with others to address important global issues that impact all countries."

Noting that as of Friday the US was back in the Paris climate accord, Mr Biden said the countries had to work to secure "our futures" together.

US officials said that while Mr Biden's plan to re-enter the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the first step was to engage with the Iranians. The US on Thursday accepted an invitation from the Europeans to attend a meeting of the joint commission that oversees the implementation of the deal.

"We are keen to sit down and hear what the Iranians have to say," the official said. "We want to come up with a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear programme, and let's get to work. And with the EU invitation from today, I think we have a path forward to return to nuclear diplomacy in a way that could ultimately put us on a positive path."

Mr Biden said the US would resist Iran's "destabilising influence" in the Middle East at the same time and would work with partners to do so.

Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, told the meeting that Mr Biden had taken genuine steps, not just empty words towards multilateral collaboration. "I can only support him in what he said," she said.

She said Germany was prepared to continue its military operations in Afghanistan in the interests of stability. "I am grateful that the administration has reviewed the process in Afghanistan. Withdrawal must not mean the wrong forces get the upper hand once again."

She said she hoped there would be an opportunity to restore the goals of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Emmanuel Macron, the French President, who has described Nato as obsolete, said he wanted a rebalancing of the security relationship with a bigger European contribution.

"We have an agenda that could be not totally different but perhaps not with the same level of priority," he said.

He warned that the US was focusing beyond Europe and it was time for European countries to take more of the burden of their own security. "I do believe that Nato needs a new political momentum and clarification of its strategic autonomy," he said. "It will make Nato even stronger than before. It is time for us to take much more of the burden of our own protection."

The French president also responded that the common will to work together should translate into effective action to preserve the climate and to ensure freedom of speech by joint regulation of online platforms.

"We need to find solutions to inequalities with our neighbours," he said, and he proposed an immediate drive to vaccine 6.5 million health workers in Africa.

"This is something we need to do today," he said.

He also called for a US and European security agenda to rebuild the "security architecture" by reforming Nato. This would mean talking to Russia. It would also need co-ordinated approaches to the conflicts in Sahel, Libya and Armenia.