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How Joe Biden Has Undermined Europe’s Democracies

Joe Biden Europe
Image: White House Facebook.

In his first major foreign policy address as president, Joe Biden declared, “America is back, diplomacy is back.” It was welcome rhetoric, but two episodes of diplomatic negligence may adversely affect Europe’s security for decades to come.

The first decision was high profile. As Biden moved to reverse the policies of his predecessor, he lifted American sanctions on the Nord Stream II pipeline and enabling its completion and operation. This amounted to no less than a generational win for Russia’s strategic ambitions in Europe as it enabled Russian President Vladimir Putin both to blackmail those in Europe who have become dependent on Russian gas and to punish those countries like Ukraine by potentially cutting them off as a pipeline route.

The second blow to Europe’s security came just last month and largely passed under the radar. On its surface, the Mutual Defense and Cooperation Agreement signed by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias, was a triumph. The agreement cements the relatively new U.S.-Greek bilateral (as opposed to NATO) defense cooperation. Rather than renew this defense cooperation annually, the new agreement lasts five years, with a more permanent extension possible. It also facilitates greater training and cooperation between Greece and the United States.

Behind the scenes, however, Biden dropped the ball. The similarities between Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are greater than their differences. Both reject the status quo, talk about revising their recognized borders, blame the West for loss of grandeur, and seek to provoke regional crises as a way to distract the public from their own economic mismanagement. In recent years, as Russia has grabbed territory from Georgia and Ukraine, Turkey has sent troops into Syria, Iraq, and Nagorno-Karabakh; violated the status quo in Cyprus, claimed a maritime border with Libya to the detriment of the countries in between, and threatened Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. Western weakness, whether couched as diplomacy or not, only encourages Erdoğan to further aggression.

As the strategic and economic significance of the Eastern Mediterranean grows, the United States military has little logistical infrastructure. The U.S. presence at the Incirlik Air Base in Adana, Turkey, is tenuous.  The U.S. Navy has long utilized Souda Bay on Crete, but its other preence in the region is new: The U.S. Army now has a small presence at Camp Georgoulas in Volos. In just the last couple years, the U.S. Army and Marines have drilled together with their Greek counterparts at the Litochoro Range at the foot of Mount Olympus. The October 2019 U.S.-Greek agreement also gave the United States access to facilities at Alexandroupolis.

With the exception of Souda Bay, which is almost 400 miles away from Turkey, the facilities that the United States uses are all in mainland Greece and leave the Aegean exposed. The Greek government hoped to rectify this strategic liability but Biden’s national security team convinced itself that stationing Americans on the island of Skyros, as Greece requested, would antagonize Turkey. This is nonsense. Skyros is in the central Aegean, well situated to protect the other islands and their resources but not threatening to Turkey. While Greece did not formally request an American presence at Limnos, Athens would readily have also acquiesced to a small presence there as well. Not only would an American presence on Skyros and Limnos deter Turkish aggression not only against Greece but also more broadly against Cyprus, Israel, Egypt, Libya, and the Eastern Mediterranean’s other littoral states, but both sites are also crucial to monitoring traffic through the Straits from Black Sea.

Diplomacy requires credibility. Allies like Greece must believe America has their back, while adversaries like Turkey and Russia must understand that the United States has the military infrastructure to pursue other strategies should they reject diplomacy as the means to resolve disputes. Unfortunately, Biden got this backwards. The Mutual Defense and Cooperation Agreement was certainly a positive step, but the rejection of Skyros undermines it greater potential. If Biden truly wants diplomacy to succeed, he must prioritize the interests of the United States and its closest allies over concerns about the objections of states who threaten regional order. Unfortunately, both from the north and the south, Biden’s instincts have undermined Europe’s democracies.

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

Written By

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Nyla

    October 31, 2021 at 8:21 am

    If US can not defends Greece, how can he defends Taiwan?

  2. Joe Comment

    October 31, 2021 at 10:44 am

    It’s a big stretch to say Biden “undermined Europe’s democracies” based on these incidents. European allies argued that the Europeans themselves should be the main decision makers around Nord Stream II. And we haven’t yet made a clean break with Turkey, but should we do that all at once, or is it not better to first take a smaller step in that direction and keep the option of escalating later? As for Nyla’s remark about Taiwan, nice try, but again it’s a big stretch to try to link these issues. Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, but that did not result in the Mainland believing the US cannot defend Taiwan.

  3. Lac Dirk

    October 31, 2021 at 3:13 pm

    Clickbait title.
    The Nord Stream 2 pipeline is called that way because there already is a Nord Stream pipeline. It’s not a big change, it simply means twice as much fuel can be delivered without having to go through Belarus or Ukraine. It mainly reduces Ukrainian income from the pipeline, i.e. it reduces Ukraine’s dependence on Moskow.
    It isn’t a win for Putin, unlike the election of Trump and Brexit were.
    Biden’s AUKUS mistake is the real geopolitical misstep so far. Antagonise China, force France into a neutral stance towards China (which translates to a more neutral EU and NATO too), degrade the Australian capability to defend itself (the nuclear subs are not suitable for defense, and are ancient technology compared to the AIP subs that France [and China] use), all in one fell swoop.

  4. Sanel

    November 1, 2021 at 3:26 am

    Best thing about this bit of propaganda is that ppl will hopefully ask why the US is on highway to doom. Forget for one moment that as a nato member of massive importance Turkey should not be treated like this. What msg does this send. After France and submarine saga it’s obvious nato is done and each for themselves. Turkey most likely realised that long ago. This author seems to just keep repeating the same old stories one after another without meaning or ways to fix anything. If Turkey leaves nato the whole thing is finished. So my question to him is who are U actually working for. I bet the money is good. Cos if any soldier in any nato army had to rely on you sir for any help he’d wish he’d never been born.

  5. Jack Kennedy

    November 2, 2021 at 11:59 pm

    Let’s Go Brandon !!!

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