U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday in Brussels that there is broad support for the Biden administration’s commitment to rebuilding and revitalizing U.S. alliances in the wake of global challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic and “an increasingly aggressive China.”
He told NATO ministers that a poll by the Chicago Alliance on Global Affairs shows 90% of Americans believe that maintaining alliances is the best way for America to achieve its foreign policy objectives.
“They know that the United States is much better off tackling them with partners, rather than trying to do it alone. And all our allies can say the same,” Blinken said.
That has been part of his message during his first visit to the region as the top U.S. diplomat this week, a departure from four years of foreign policy under former President Donald Trump that focused on prioritizing U.S. interests.
The address came on the final day of a two-day NATO ministerial meeting, during which Blinken is holding a number of sideline talks with his counterparts.
Blinken said the world’s main categories of threats are military, technological, and crises like the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.
He told the ministers that new threats such as China’s and Russia’s use of technology to access markets and other “critical resources” have shaken long-standing alliances in recent years.
“Across and even within our alliances, we don’t always see eye to eye on the threats we face or how to confront them,” Blinken said. “Our shared values of democracy and human rights are being challenged — not only from outside our countries, but from within. And new threats are outpacing our efforts to build the capabilities we need to contain them.”
The top U.S. diplomat said the U.S. and its allies are tasked with adjusting to today’s threats and renewing relationships to address them “in the economic, technological and ideological realms.”
Blinken said China’s aggression undoubtedly threatens global security, but Beijing’s behavior should not deter the U.S. and its allies from engaging with the world’s second largest economy.
“That doesn’t mean that countries can’t work with China where possible,” he said. “For example, on challenges like climate change and health security, we know that our allies have complex relationships with China that won’t always align perfectly with ours. But we need to navigate these challenges together. That means working with our allies to close the gaps in areas like technology and infrastructure, which China is exploiting to exert coercive pressure.”
The White House said U.S. President Joe Biden plans to discuss boosting U.S.-EU relations during a videoconference with EU leaders on Thursday.
Biden’s stance is a marked contrast to that of Trump, who frequently assailed other NATO countries for not meeting the alliance’s goal that each country spend the equivalent of 2% of the size of its national economy on defense.
“We recognize the significant progress many of our NATO allies have made in improving defense investments, including progress toward meeting the Wales commitment of spending 2% of GDP on defense expenditures by 2024,” Blinken said. “The full implementation of those commitments is crucial. But we also recognize the need to adopt a more holistic view of burden sharing.”
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian welcomed Blinken's favorable comments about NATO, which was founded in 1949 to contain a military threat from the then-Soviet Union.
Wednesday’s schedule included separate talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, a session with the foreign ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as meetings with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.
One of the major topics for discussion during two days of meetings in Brussels is the NATO mission in Afghanistan, as a May 1 deadline approaches for the full withdrawal of all U.S. troops under a peace agreement made last year between Afghanistan’s Taliban and the Trump administration.
Blinken said the situation is under review, and that part of his work in Brussels would be conferring with NATO allies, both to listen and to share U.S. thinking. He said whatever the United States decides to do, its actions will be with the consultation of other member countries that have been a part of the military mission.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he welcomes the peace effort, stressing it is the “only path to a lasting political solution in Afghanistan.” But the NATO chief said that in order to achieve peace, all parties must negotiate in good faith, there needs to be a reduction of violence, and the Taliban must stop supporting international terrorists such as al-Qaida.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned against a premature pullout that would undercut security gains.
"We want a conditions-based withdrawal of all forces from Afghanistan," Maas said.