Feb 19, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden: "Democracy doesn't happen by accident"

President Biden committed the U.S. to "working in lockstep with our allies and partners" to protect democracy and promote prosperity, telling the Munich Security Conference on Friday: "Democracy doesn't happen by accident. We have to defend it. Fight for it. Strengthen it. Renew it."

Why it matters: In his first major speech to world leaders, Biden acknowledged that four years of former President Trump's "America First" foreign policy has left the transatlantic relationship in disrepair.

  • He pledged to reengage with Europe as it confronts unprecedented global challenges ranging from the pandemic to climate change to assaults on democracy by the likes of Russia and China.

What they're saying: "Let me erase any lingering doubt — the United States will work closely with our European Union partners and capitals across the continent, from Rome to Riga, to meet the shared challenges we face. We continue to support the goal of a Europe whole and free and at peace. The United States is fully committed to our NATO alliance," Biden declared.

  • The president went on to refer to NATO's Article V commitment to collective defense — which provides that an attack on any member state is an attack on the whole alliance — as an "unshakeable vow."
  • Biden's posture toward NATO stands in stark contrast to that of former President Trump, who didn't mention Article V on his first visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels and later questioned the U.S. commitment to defending newer members of the alliance — like tiny Montenegro — if they were attacked.

The big picture: "We are in the midst of a fundamental debate about the future and direction of our world. We're at an inflection point. Between those who argue that given all of the challenges that we face, from the fourth Industrial Revolution, to a global pandemic, that autocracy is the best way forward, " Biden said.

  • "We must demonstrate that democracy can still deliver for our people in this changed world. That, in my view, is our galvanizing mission. ... We have to prove that our model isn't a relic of history," he continued.

The intrigue: Biden, whose administration has adopted elements of Trump's harder line on China in response to its growing authoritarianism and aggression, acknowledged that competition with the rising superpower is "going to be stiff."

  • "That is what I expect. And that's what I welcome," Biden said.
  • "Because I believe in the global system that Europe and the United States together, with our allies in the Indo-Pacific, worked so hard to build over the last 70 years. We can own the race to the future."
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