News Analysis: Russia has unified NATO. But Biden, G-7 allies face mounting challenges

By Henry Nicholls/AP (Henry Nicholls) President Biden and other NATO and G-7 leaders met in Brussels in March for an emergency NATO summit. (AP Photo/Henry Nicholls)

For six days beginning this weekend, Vice President Biden will lead a reinvigorated Western alliance that is resolute in its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and reaffirms its support for democracy.

However, he will arrive with less political clout than he did a year ago. The president is preparing for the November elections, which could see Republicans take control of the House of Representatives.

The world’s most powerful democracies are all grappling with the economic and political fallout from Ukraine’s long-running conflict, as well as domestic pressures that could threaten their collective goals.

Last year, Vice President Biden traveled to Europe with the express purpose of demonstrating to allies that “America was back,” and that he was a more stable and dependable partner than Trump had been. As the de facto leader of the G-7 and NATO alliances, Vice President Joe Biden will be under pressure to push for initiatives that benefit U.S. voters, but he will also be wary of pushing too hard for long-term goals that could further destabilize an economy that is already on the verge of recession.

According to Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, a risk assessment firm based in New York City, “When Biden looks like he’s taking it in the face at home, he’s constrained abroad.” “He must shift his focus from ‘What can I show the world?’ to ‘What can I bring back?’ For an American president, it’s a difficult situation.”

In the same month a year ago, Biden attended his first G-7 and NATO summits as president, determined to fulfill the historical role of the United States as the central pillar of a transatlantic alliance united around shared democratic values.

A global vaccination program and a new infrastructure bank were among the major initiatives announced by Vice President Joe Biden and the leaders of the world’s leading industrialized economies at the G-7 meeting in Cornwall in England.

In an effort to improve ties with Russia, Biden ended his trip with a three-hour meeting in Geneva with President Vladimir Putin. Approximately eight months later, Putin invaded Ukraine, miscalculating that his forces would quickly overtake Kyiv and the United States and Europe would not respond by imposing severe economic sanctions and arming Ukraine to the hilt.

Despite the proximity of the country to the east (roughly 700 miles), the fate of the G-7’s leaders is still unclear as they convene in the Bavarian Alps on Sunday.

“We are in a G-7 emergency. Like the last time, you can’t go in thinking about it the same way “Bremmer made the comment. “The G-7 is taking the lead in responding to an ongoing crisis. As a result of the greatest direct challenge to the global order we’ve seen in decades, the United States has demonstrated extraordinary leadership in putting together a strong and durable coalition.”

But the war is likely to take precedence over other issues. When Vice President Joe Biden’s domestic spending program was derailed, the G-7 leaders renamed the “Build Back Better World” infrastructure bank to the Partnership for Global Infrastructure. However, given inflation, it is unlikely that the United States or any other G-7 country will make a significant financial commitment to the initiative, preferring instead to seek private sector contributions.

And it’s not clear how much effort they’ll put into increasing sanctions against Russia, given the global economic impact of the conflict. There is a real possibility of an international food crisis now that Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian grain exports and Western sanctions have caused supply chains to be disrupted and the energy markets to be volatile.

To date, the G-7 has shown the same apathy toward the growing issue of food insecurity in the wake of the pandemic and civil war in Ukraine. A commission has been established to study the situation, but member nations have refused to say how much money they are prepared to invest in programs to help farmers and keep food markets open.

They face a new quandary in their efforts to counter China’s rise as the world’s most powerful economy. Any attempt to limit China’s trading or spending power could lead to an increase in the price of goods and services. Democratic leaders should exercise caution as inflation is already at record levels in the United States and other G-7 and NATO countries, according to analysts.

According to Chicago Council on Global Affairs president Ivo Daalder, “this is not the time to really turn the screws in a fundamental way against China,” who said the G-7 is likely to restate its expectations for Beijing to comply with clear economic norms and rules. When inflation is running at 7-8 percent, “nobody wants to escalate any economic conflict with China.”

However, there are dangers in avoiding a confrontation with China. Amidst his country’s alliance with Russia, President Xi Jinping has also made increasingly belligerent moves toward Taiwan, which China claims as its own but claims as its own.

High-ranking officials in the Obama administration said that the decision to invite several Indo-Pacific countries — Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand — to the NATO summit in Madrid, which begins on Wednesday, shows continued attention to the Chinese threat. Administration officials say NATO plans to include Beijing as a potential adversary for the first time in its main strategic planning document.

Migration and other issues important to southern Europe were originally planned for the NATO summit. Ukrainians have made a difference here. Instead, the focus will be on implementing the first new strategic concept adopted by the organization in 12 years, one that reflects the new reality of an aggressive, adversarial Russia. According to administration officials, this strategic plan will for the first time include China as a potential adversary.

Ex-Defense Secretary Leah Scheunemann says NATO is reverting to a “Cold War posture” in the sense that it needs to bolster front-line states that border Russia, just like it did during the Soviet era.

Europe’s February 24 invasion by Vladimir Putin was an immediate wake-up call. After decades of strategic neutrality, Finland and Sweden joined NATO quickly. Their accession, which is currently being held up by Turkey’s objections, is expected to take longer than the two days of meetings scheduled, but it is still expected to happen.

Additionally, countries such as Germany, which had previously resisted the pressure to increase defense spending, have acknowledged the threat posed by Russia and increased their military spending. It’s been difficult to fulfill those promises and send weapons and ammunition to Ukraine due to rising costs, especially when European countries are trying to reduce their dependence on Russian oil and gas.

Constanze Stelzenmüller, a Germany expert at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, said that “these conundrums for Western countries are real.” There is a real risk of a massive recession if the German economy is completely decoupled from Russian fossil fuel imports, according to the economics ministry.

Ukraine’s military demands have increased as the country has sunk deeper into a brutal conflict in the country’s eastern region, which could last for months or years. Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, continues to press the West for more advanced artillery, which is more expensive and in short supply.

As noted by Max Bergmann, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Europe Program, Europeans “don’t have big inventories, so essentially [cutting] or giving away systems” is “kind of cutting in the bone.”

Before he invaded Ukraine, Putin had a strategy in place to take advantage of the rifts that he predicted would form between the United States and Europe. Analysts believe that, despite the fact that he has failed thus far, his goals are still attainable.

A former US ambassador to Germany and current chair of the American Council on Germany, a nonpartisan group promoting U.S.-German ties, John Emerson, said that Vladimir Putin’s goal has always been to “drive a wedge between the U.S. and Europe and to drive wedges among and between EU member states.”

When it comes to the effects of war, Western leaders are particularly vulnerable because they are caught between the frustration of the public over inflation and the public pressure to do even more to help Ukraine.

As a result of the invasion and the ensuing economic uncertainty, European leaders are experiencing political unrest at home. Some have seen their popularity plummet and governing coalitions crumble. Low approval ratings and speculation from his own party about whether Biden is too old to run for re-election in 2024 have made it impossible for him to control inflation or address America’s polarization.

Despite the fact that their current struggles may force them to adjust some of their plans, these leaders are expected to reaffirm their overarching commitments — to Ukraine, to one another, and to the fundamental principles that bind them.

“Every country is under pressure. Leaders should stress that we’re all in this together as a key message “Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Richard Daalder made the remarks. This long-term victory is only possible through the unity of the alliance in the face of inflation and energy independence (from Russia).

That’s where I got the idea for this story.