Soso Dzamukashvili, Contributor policy analyst, Central and East European Studies Specialist, M.A. from the University of Glasgow (UK)
January 20th marked the inauguration of Joe Biden as the new President of the United States. ‘This day of democracy,’ as the 46th US President pointed out at his inauguration, began a sharp detour from Donald Trump’s ‘polarising presidency.’ Biden immediately sought to overcome the nation’s economic, social and health issues on his first day in office by signing 17 executive orders to undo important moves kicked off by his predecessor’s administration. While Biden has set to solve domestic challenges and to overcome the enormous damage caused by the global pandemic, there are high expectations that his presidency will rejuvenate transatlantic relations between the US and EU. This will require a focus on democratic values and reforming the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), both of which represent important foreign policy tasks for Biden’s administration.
Back to Bipartisan Cooperation Based on Common Democratic Values
The worldwide decline of democracy started at the beginning of the 21st century (see Figure 1). Nevertheless, the global pandemic and economic crisis have led to a more acute democratic backsliding. The assault on the Capitol on January 6th was a wake-up call for democracy advocates around the world. Indeed, as President Biden said, “democracy is precious; democracy is fragile.” Biden has urged that the US, along with the EU, should stem the rise of authoritarianism, corruption and human rights abuses. Considering political and protectionist moods on both sides of the ocean, the possibility that transatlantic cooperation will be reinvigorated is quite high.
The Democratic Party is a value-driven political group, and the Biden administration wants to pursue a full reset after four years of Trump’s rather ‘nation-centred’ agenda. Biden would bring America back to the roundtable, as opposed to his predecessor, who squandered his presidency on disputing with his European partners. Having signed an order to allow the US to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement on his first day in office, Biden spotlighted his aspiration to make drastic changes in foreign policy with the country’s overseas partners.
Figure 1. The global democratic decline between 2005 and 2019 (Source: Freedom House)
Considering the rise of authoritarianism on a global scale, the new US incumbent is determined to “invite democratic leaders around the world to put strengthening democracy back on the global agenda.” Thus, Washington is highly determined to collaborate with the EU in reinforcing democracy worldwide. A united transatlantic approach would be pivotal for halting the rise of authoritarianism around the globe and even in some of the EU member states with autocratic tendencies, such as Hungary and Poland.
‘The Renaissance’ of Transatlantic Relations?
At the 2018 Munich Security Conference, after the speech of US Vice-President Mike Pence on ‘America First’ idea, Joe Biden stated, “this too shall pass.” The 2020 elections seem to have fulfilled his promise, and he has now vowed to “repair alliances and engage with the world once again.”
Biden’s victory has been met with myriad expectations around the globe, especially in Europe, where, after President Trump’s four-year antagonism, tangible opportunities for revitalising the transatlantic relationship are highly anticipated. Biden and his State Secretary Antony Blinken are Atlanticists, believing the US and Europe should function together as ‘pillars’ of the democratic international system. Biden is determined to renew deep cooperation with his country’s allies, which “have been belittled, undermined and in some cases abandoned by President Trump.” Importantly, President Biden has already promised to reverse Trump’s US military withdrawal from Germany.
Biden’s commitment to NATO is particularly notable. Back in the 1990s, he led the Senate discussions on NATO enlargement and even advocated for the intervention in Bosnia. He referred to the Alliance as a ‘sacred duty,’ where the European allies were ‘the partners of first resort.’ Unlike Trump’s narrative focusing on the US Treasury, Biden aims to gain overall benefits for Western defence and security. He looks at NATO from a broader perspective, focusing on the security tasks of the Alliance rather than defence budgets and expenditure on US equipment. Moreover, Biden aims to assist Europe in reducing its dependence on Russian gas, especially on the way of the EU’s green energy transition. The new administration also intends to pursue different forms of arms control to prevent a new arms race, something which lies in both European and US security interests.
New Hopes for Georgia?
The United States, along with the EU, has been one of the key partners for Georgia in its pursuit of territorial integration and democracy-building. While Biden’s administration sets to deepen cooperation with the EU, new opportunities might unfold for Georgia, which can be pivotal in advancing the country’s security and fostering its commitment to democracy.
President Biden is eager to strengthen democracy globally by bringing the world’s democracies together to effectively confront countries that are witnessing a backslide. He aspires to define combating corruption as a core national security interest, leading similar efforts internationally. Biden’s administration is also to establish the Summit for Democracy, which will unite states, as well as democracy-advocating civil society organisations from around the world, to promote democratic values, human rights, freedom of speech and to tackle disinformation. Driven by democratic values, Biden’s administration, along with the EU, will be much more resilient and consistent in helping emerging democracies at Russia’s doorstep, such as Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, which according to Biden are ‘frontlines of democracy.’
Many Republicans have been committed to the partnership with Georgia while being highly critical of Russia. This was particularly reflected in the 2019-2020 statements of US congressmen and senators to Georgia, which openly criticised the Georgian incumbent party’s low commitment to reforming the country and its leader Bidzina Ivanishvili for being Putin’s close ally. Unlike Donald Trump, who was somewhat appreciative of Putin, Biden’s agenda to revive strong partnership with the EU around democratic values can undoubtedly benefit Eastern European and Eastern Partnership countries.
Coordinated commitments between the US and EU to reinforcing democracy in the region can be a strong pushback against the Kremlin and its aggressive politics and hybrid warfare activities, which aim at undermining security and distorting democracy-building processes in the region. Furthermore, a more advanced security environment can reinvigorate Georgia’s commitment to strengthening democratic institutions. These changes may have the potential to prepare a solid ground for Georgia’s further integration in NATO and to boost the success of its 2024 EU membership application. At the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on January 20, US secretary Antony Blinken stated that once the requirements are met, “NATO’s door should remain open for Georgia,” and Russian aggression can be avoided only by granting the country membership to the alliance. In this sense, Biden’s agenda to actively engage in fostering democracy will be paramount for Georgia’s democratising efforts and its eventual membership of NATO.