Media Briefing: Biden in France, Future of Ukraine, and U.S.-Europe Relations

Tuesday, June 4, 2024
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Fellow for Europe, Council on Foreign Relations

Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations

Senior Fellow for Europe, Council on Foreign Relations; Dean Acheson Chair and Associate Professor, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies


Adjunct Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations

CREBO-REDIKER: So thank you so much for joining us today. We have an excellent group of speakers from the Council on Foreign Relations. The title is: “Biden in France, the Future of Ukraine, and U.S.-Europe Relations.” It’s pretty broad, but we have—we have three CFR fellows that can speak to pretty much any and all of your questions as President Biden heads over to Europe.

We have Charlie Kupchan, who is a senior fellow at CFR and also a professor of international affairs at Georgetown School of Foreign Service.

We have Matthias Matthijs, who is a senior fellow for Europe at the Council on Foreign Relations. And he is also the Dean Acheson associate professor of international political economy at Johns Hopkins SAIS.

And then we have Liana Fix, who is a fellow for Europe at the Council on Foreign Relations. And her expertise is in Germany and European foreign and security policy.

So a lot to—a lot to draw upon today. As was mentioned, this is on the record. The run of show, we’ll be speaking about thirty minutes between us. We’re looking for you to come up with some excellent questions in the Q&A. So start thinking of your questions now and, again, use the raised hand function.

As a backdrop, there is a lot happening in Europe this and next week. The president heads to Paris from June 5 through 9 for visit to Normandy. He’s going to be giving a speech on democracy. He has a state visit with President Macron on the eighth. And then we have a lot of—a lot of different meetings happening in the next several weeks that will be talking about Ukraine, European-Ukrainian diplomacy. In addition to the visit to France, we have the Berlin reconstruction event, the conference. We have the G-7 coming next week. And then right on the back of the G-7, we have the peace summit in Switzerland. So and then the NATO summit, coming on the back of that.

So a lot of—a lot of things going on. And I’d like to start with Charlie, and just hand it to you to talk a little bit about the—about the agenda for Biden, and what do you think President Biden hopes to achieve from this visit?

KUPCHAN: Thanks, Heidi. And thanks to all of you for joining this morning.

You know, I think Biden leaves for Europe with a kind of a split screen. You know, there’s a—there’s a lot to celebrate. There’s a lot of positive. There’s also a lot to worry about. On the positive side of the ledger, I think we’re coming off of a couple of years of transatlantic cooperation that is extraordinarily impressive. The level of consultation that’s been taking place since before Russia invaded Ukraine and early 2022 is notable. And the U.S. and Europe have effectively moved in lockstep on sanctions, on bolstering NATO’s eastern flank, on supporting Ukraine militarily and economically.

And, yeah, there have been a few moments of wobbliness, but I think a very strong transatlantic consensus still exists. And NATO is, in some ways, stronger than it’s ever been since the end of the Cold War. It’s bigger. It’s got a couple of new allies who decided that neutrality no longer worked for them—Finland and Sweden. And I think in some ways you could say that there is even more solidarity and meeting of the minds and there was during much of the Cold War. And that’s in many respects because I think the Cold War, at least during its closing decades, led to a sense of normalcy. There was an existential threat, but it was remote.

Now I think there is a near existential threat. Europeans live with a war—a hot war—that is not very far from their borders. There’s no Ostpolitik. There’s no real outreach to Russia. And in some ways, going back to what Bob Kagan said, about twenty years ago, the United States is Mars and Europe is Venus—i.e., we understand hard power and the Europeans don’t—in some ways the Russian invasion of Ukraine has flipped the script. And the Europeans on sanctions, on tanks, on long-range missiles, on F-16s, on striking on Russian territory, they’ve been pushing Washington. And so it’s been very interesting to watch a Europe that has been waking up geopolitically and is in some ways pushing the United States to do more.

Yeah, there’s still a lot of hard work to do on the European side when it comes to defense but they’re spending more. They’re spending it somewhat more wisely. This is a bit of a game changer here and I think that’s because for Germans, for Poles, for the Balts, even for Western Europeans, this is a wakeup call that presents a kind of existential sense of threat.

And the allies in Asia are also now part of the game. My understanding is that Asian partners will once again come to the NATO summit and they have been engaged in supporting Ukraine.

Let me just touch on two of the sources of uncertainty and anxiety that will in some ways be in the background but front and center in many respects. Two elephants in the room, I guess you could say.

One is the war in Ukraine, and it may well be that while Biden is in Normandy or in Paris or at the NATO summit or at the G-7 the Russians will be making gains.

Yes, the Ukrainians seem to have stopped the Russians in Kharkiv but there’s still a lot of hard work to do. The Russians are mobilizing. The Ukrainians have fewer troops to mobilize. American aid is arriving but a lot of it won’t get there for another few months. So it’s unclear what will be happening on the battlefield over the course of these key summits.

I also think that we’re still in a kind of uncertain phase as to the strategy. Don’t think that there’s much real prospect of Ukraine achieving victory on the battlefield. Yet, there hasn’t been a forthright discussion about a plan B, about a definition of success that focuses more on defending the Ukraine that now has about 81 percent of its territory under Kyiv’s control. We’ll have to wait and see whether that kind of discussion about strategy is forthcoming.

Two other issues that I think I would keep an eye on. One is how does Biden calibrate his discussion of D-Day of World War II of the 1940s with the situation in Ukraine. He doesn’t want to oversell Ukraine in the sense that we don’t have troops there. This is not a threat to American security in the same way that Nazi Germany was.

And the fact that we’re not fighting a war with Russia is very much part of American strategy and why the United States has been careful about escalation. So I think Biden needs to tread carefully in not pushing too hard on the analogy of the 1940s.

And then, finally, there’s the NATO summit. Clearly, there’s going to be a lot of hand wringing about how to move closer to NATO membership for Ukraine without offering membership because we don’t have a consensus on that, and I think it would make sense to focus a lot on the material, the concrete provision of economic and military assistance to Ukraine for the long term.

A final comment, Heidi. The other—the second elephant in the room is the internal threat to the West, which in my mind is at least as acute as the external threat. And it’s not just Trump. It is also what’s happening to the political center in France, the political center in Germany, the likely gains of the far right in the upcoming EU elections.

Even if Biden were to win Americans—Europeans are asking difficult questions about American reliability, and we did have a seven-month pause in the flow of aid to Ukraine even with an Atlanticist and a multilateralist in the Oval Office, and now we’re in a situation in which the likely next president, the leader in the polls, is a convicted felon and that now is getting, you know, a lot of play in Europe and causing a lot of Europeans to scratch their heads.

I think Biden will to some extent address this question of the future of democracy in his speech in France in the next few days but, clearly, beneath the surface of the solidarity that the Atlantic alliance is enjoying everybody—everybody—is going to be worried up about the illiberal populism on both sides of the Atlantic and the outcome of the November election here in the United States.

CREBO-REDIKER: Well, that was a fantastic run through of some of the major topics we’re going to dig into in the rest of this call. But I think, you know, it would be helpful to get a French perspective on what President Macron has on his agenda. You know, President Biden talked about this trip as going to visit our oldest ally. He will be making this speech about democracy. We want to see if it’s going to be more than just rhetorical support in any—in any speech or in the state visit. But I think that it would be—I think, given the internal dynamics in France and also the fact that you have in between all of these different events an election—EU elections over the weekend, so, Matthias, can you just talk about what’s—what is Macron’s agenda?

MATTHIJS: Yes. Thank you, Heidi. Let me pick up on the EU election point and Charlie’s endpoint of the enemy within.

Macron’s very weak right now, both domestically politically as well as the French economy is struggling. So in many ways he wants to use this visit, which comes right ahead of the French European elections which will be held on Sunday, right—so the EU elections will run from Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, over four days in twenty-seven EU member states. And I mean, it’s a mixed bag all over Europe. I think the biggest question mark is turnout, where a lot of EU analysts expect that the high turnout from 2019 will be repeated. I’m slightly more skeptical of this. I think it could well just revert back to the mean, which meant, you know, closer to 40 percent rather than 50 percent, which makes these polls very hard to read, right? I mean, there could be quite a bit of surprises. It could also be the case that the far-right surge does not happen, right? I mean, I feel like every five years we talk about this, and then very little at least on the EU level happens. Most of the action when it comes to the far right has actually been at the—at the national level.

So what does Macron face right now? He was hoping to correct this current deficit he has in the opinion polls. I mean, some polls gave the far right—Marine Le Pen’s party, Rassemblement National, up to 33 ½, 34 percent of the polls, which—his Renaissance down to like 15 ½ (percent). I mean, that’s an enormous—you’re almost talking about twenty-point deficit, almost what the Tories are facing with Labour in the U.K. And he was hoping to turn this around or at least put a dent in this in the last few days by debating Marine Le Pen, who he has bested many, many times. Of course, she very cleverly chickened out, and Macron will now use the D-Day commemoration events with, you know, the statesman Macron to give, you know, a kind of talk on television. And I think he will use his very close relationship—because they do get along very well personally, Biden and Macron—to show him as—you know, and hope that this will bolster him in those polls where he has been struggling, right? He’s faced votes of no confidence that he’s so far batted away, but there could well be one in the fall related to the next budget where the Républicains—the center-right—could not support him this time, as they have in the past, and then he’d have to form yet another government with a new prime minister. And so he really is struggling.

Also, I mean, economically, I mean, I grew up in Belgium, where we always had way worse debt situation than France. The projection now is that France is on a path to have a debt-to-GDP ratio of 112 percent by the end of Macron’s term in 2027, and that’s just above where Belgium will be at 111 (percent). (Laughs.) So it really is—it means, you know, austerity will continue, and this is also part of the—which I imagine Liana will talk about—the Franco-German relationship, which the weakness of France is always they have these great ideas for Europe, but they never have the money or the economic half. And so the money always needs to come from Germany, and that’s where this always kind of clashes.

So what does Macron want out of this visit? I think he wants to look good on the world stage. He wants to reaffirm a kind of very strong transatlantic relationship—the common values of, you know, freedom, democracy, all those things; the joint fight against, you know—in World War II plays into this. But you know, there’s also other things he wants to discuss with Biden once they’re in Paris, right, and having closed-door conversations. And that’s, of course, what’s leading up towards the G-7 meetings in Apulia in Italy. It includes Russian assets, and the American plan to do a lot more or go a lot further, and give Ukraine a kind of guaranteed fund that would effectively Trump-proof Ukraine’s financial situation for the next year, at least, and well until the end of 2025. They’ll want to talk about how to deal with Chinese electric vehicle overcapacity, right? So I’m expecting the EU to make an announcement on this next week, probably right before the G-7 meetings, where the French have asked the Americans to coordinate this at the G-7 level.

And then, yeah, there’s also—and I think Liana can probably talk more about this—there’s also the whole Pacific situation where, you know, let’s not forget this is a state visit that’s a return state visit of the state visit that happened in 2022, that was really to kiss and make up for the AUKUS debacle, which the Biden administration started with, right? So, I mean, the oldest friendship that America had started off on a very bad footing in the summer of 2021. And so there also the French have interests, right? They have territory and they want to be part of that conversation. But I think, for Macron, the main short-term hope is that this somehow avoids any electoral debacle on Sunday in the EU elections, which would weaken his hand in the negotiations to come on a new Commission, and all these sorts of other things.

CREBO-REDIKER: So thank you.

And then, you know, Liana, I think, you know, I’d be interested to hear what your view of the D-day anniversary is in Berlin, and how the Biden trip is being perceived in Germany. And also, you know, tacking back to what Charlie was talking about in terms of the Europeans leading the way more on the—on the military side in support of Ukraine, talk a little bit about where Germany falls on the—on releasing some of the restrictions on use of weapons. So both the Normandy D-Day anniversary and a little bit more about how Germany has really evolved on its position, vis-à-vis weapons.

FIX: Yeah. Thanks so much, Heidi.

Well, Germany obviously is an interesting country to watch when it comes to the D-Day and Normandy celebrations. Obviously, it’s not—(laughs)—it’s not one of the victor countries. It’s the country that can’t take part in celebrations. But for Germany, it’s particularly interesting this anniversary, because it is literally ten years after 2014, after the Normandy meeting where Angela Merkel, back at that time, when Vladimir Putin was still invited to those D-Day and Normandy celebrations, played a major role in leading the Western response to Putin’s annexation of Crimea, the beginning of the war in eastern Ukraine.

And if we compare these two situations, they’re not only different because back then we didn’t have military support for Ukraine, we had a dialogue negotiations format, the Normandy format, the Minsk format that was taking shape. There was direct contact and negotiations with Putin between, at that time, French President Hollande, Angela Merkel, and Vladimir Putin, and the Ukrainian president, obviously. But it was really at that time the strong German and European leadership role in efforts for Ukraine. And that has really fully flipped ten years later.

So what we see ten years later, and Charlie alluded to that, is a strong alliance, but it is also very explicitly a very strong U.S. leadership role. So from an administration perspective, the summitry is going to be a transatlantic lovefest, obviously. But from a European perspective, the question really is, can we take on the leadership that the United States has provided so far? And I will even go as far as saying that the administration was almost too successful in leading efforts for Ukraine, because there was little space that Europeans took over in the leadership efforts.

And now that there was a threat of U.S. elections flipping the White House, Europeans really have to catch up on their own leadership role. So how do they—how do they try to do this? And which role does Germany play in that? I mean, obviously, Germany is the second-biggest provider of help, and military, and financial support for Ukraine. Germany has really stepped up when it comes to air defense system. Germany, especially right now, is trying to convince other European countries to get more Patriots to Ukraine. Countries like Spain, which have been much more hesitant to provide Patriots. Some countries, like Poland, are concerned for their own security.

Germany is also—has also accepted that that Ukraine will use these Patriots to defend themselves against Russian attacks coming from Russian soil and try to suppress these attacks, even if they’re sort of directly across the Russian border. But what Germany has not delivered so far and it will not change its position on this, even though it has changed its position in the past with U.S. policy changing, is those long-range missiles that Germany has, the so-called Taurus missiles. From a German perspective, those are almost equivalent to the nuclear weapons that Germany does not have; they are the farthest-reaching weapons that Germany has at its disposal, and giving those to Ukraine, from a German perspective, there is a concern that there will not be enough left to protect NATO allies in case of a conflict. So while Germany has come pretty far when it comes to support for Ukraine, this one aspect, the Taurus missile deliveries, will not change, even though the U.S. has changed its policy in support of ATACMS and delivery of ATACMS.

But there are also two other issues where Germany plays a major role which we haven’t fully discussed. I think one important aspect is China’s support for Russia’s war in Ukraine. Olaf Scholz has traveled to Beijing; Xi Jinping has come to Paris and Europeans have received a lot of pressure from the administration, and Biden is certain to continue this pressure and to follow up on this, to not only call China out on its increasing support for Russia—it’s really a quantitative and qualitative difference what Russia receives now from China than what they received a year ago—but from a U.S. perspective, they want Europeans to threaten consequences. They want Europeans to tell China, well, if you don’t stop the support we will take economic measures against you; this is a priority issue for the entire Europe-China relationship. And this is not what we’ve seen yet from Europeans. Europeans are very much, at the moment, immersed in discussions about Chinese EVs, about tariffs against China. Scholz has hoped that he can get Xi Jinping to attend the Swiss summit; this was the big deliverable that he hoped he brought from his visit to Beijing. The language was that Beijing and Berlin will work closely together towards a positive assessment of the Swiss summit. Now that Xi Jinping has said he will not come and Zelensky has called out China for trying to convince other countries not to attend too, this deliverable, from Germany’s perspective, really has disappeared. So we will definitely see this kind of pressure from Biden to move Europeans towards a stronger stance of China’s support for Russia’s war.

What we’ll also see on the agenda is Biden trying to get support for the NATO deliverable that is shaping up for the NATO summit, from the U.S. perspective, and there the United States has a strong ally in Germany. An invitation to Ukraine is not on the table for the NATO summit. The NATO summit is meant to be a summit that underlines burden sharing, that underlines that Europeans are doing their part, and that underlines to the U.S. public that NATO is valuable. It’s not a summit that is about Ukraine’s membership. It is a summit that is about the U.S. elections and about showing the U.S. electorate why NATO matters and that Europeans are delivering their part. And this obviously will be difficult to swallow for some Europeans who have hoped, especially as Eastern Europeans, to see more progress towards an invitation for Ukraine, some stronger language. It will obviously also raise disappointment with Ukraine that has hoped to see stronger language on membership. There will be other issues that will be important in terms of supporting Ukraine, but we should not expect any movement on the Ukraine membership part on the road to the NATO summit. And this is what Biden will try to convince Europeans of: Please don’t frame this as a lack of success of the NATO summit; please be onboard with me on this, support me on this agenda. And there he has a close ally with Olaf Scholz and the German government.

CREBO-REDIKER: Thank you so much. I mean, there’s a lot to work with here and I think, you know, one of the themes is really, you know, a lot of the topics will be how to sort of Trump-proof, if there is a change in U.S. leadership, the funding, both the military reconstruction funding. There’ll be a Berlin reconstruction conference that is scheduled—Liana, maybe you can touch on that—where financial commitments are going to be discussed on postwar reconstruction that have moved more to, like, repairing the energy and heating systems and the current reconstruction needs and coming up with some plausible plans for what are completely uncertain postwar scenarios. And again, China is emerging as a topic here. I think it’s probably going to be a very big topic on the G-7 agenda, as we look to deal with exactly what you alluded to on the increase in dual-use products coming from China to Russia and direct support for the war being prosecuted against Ukraine.

But Charlie, can I turn back to you and maybe get your view on what and where do you think that the U.S. has the ability to move in the next two weeks or over the course of the summer on support for Ukraine, given we had this last big congressional funding package that went through? How do you see this playing out from a U.S. perspective over the coming months before the election—here, the election here? (Laughs.)

KUPCHAN: I think that one of the issues that will be under discussion and where there will be movement is extending the time horizon for aid to Ukraine, trying to get a glidepath that says to the Russians, the United States and its allies in Europe are staying the course and we have a decade-long plan to give Ukraine what it needs to defend itself. And that, to me, is essential because we don’t know what Putin’s war aims are and the only way to get him to stop is to convince him that in the end of the day staying on the battlefield will not bring him any further successes. As I think I mentioned, I’m not expecting the Ukrainians to be able to make a lot of headway on the battlefield either; I think we’re looking at what will likely be a stalemate. But that kind of stalemate is possible, given the size of Russia’s population and its military industrial complex, only if you give to the Ukrainians a long-term perspective where that aid keeps coming.

Can some steps be taken to Trump-proof that aid? Yes. I mean, that’s, I think, one of the reasons that you are seeing NATO try to take over some of what now is spread out across multiple different formats. I think it’s one of the reasons that the aid package that the United States just put through, 61 billion (dollars), is a big one. But I don’t think that ultimately you can Trump-proof the Ukraine situation because if Trump comes into office, who knows what he’s going to do? And I also think that it’s going to be very difficult for Biden, even if he does get reelected, to secure from Congress the kinds of aid packages that he’s been able to secure so far. And I think we saw during that debate the contours of what might be playing out. And it’s important to keep in mind that 212 Republicans voted against it, in the end of the day, that, I think, fifteen Republican senators voted against it. I think it would be a mistake for any of us or for Biden to underestimate the continuing power of an America-first narrative, even if Trump does not win the November election. So, again, you know, yes, we need to get in train a long-term flow of aid to Ukraine.

And just let me end with—picking up on one comment that Liana made because I think it’s interesting and important. In some ways, there may have been too much U.S. leadership because if it does come about that the U.S. steps back from Ukraine and Europe needs to fill the gap, that’s not going to be easy, both for material reasons, even though Europe is ramping up its production lines, but also because Germany in particular has really invested heavily in the Atlantic relationship and less in Europe. You know, as someone who worked in the second Obama administration, I had exactly the same worry, that the U.S. relationship with Germany was great, Obama and Merkel got along swimmingly, but to some extent it meant that Germany wasn’t paying enough attention to Europe. And I do think that, you know, Europe—Germany needs to do both, keep the Atlantic bonds strong but also focus on advancing Europe.

CREBO-REDIKER: We’ve hit the 11:30 hour, but while I leave our journalists in the audience to come up with some questions for our scholars, I want to ask Matthias to talk a little bit about one specific part of a Trump-proofing agenda. And that is the discussion on immobilized Russian Central Bank sovereign assets. Because that is where the Europeans really do have to take the lion’s share of the of the risk/contribution, because most of the—most of the assets are based in Europe and in Euroclear. But the U.S. is taking a leadership role there. This is one of those—this is one of those topics where you could see some movement happening out—happening out of this G-7. I think the expectations, at least from the U.S. side, are pretty high. And I’d love for you to go into a little bit of detail. What do you see as both the opportunity? And what do you see as some of the challenges from the Europeans?

MATTHIJS: Yes. I can definitely do that. Let me quickly just kind of point out how on the U.S.-Europe relationship it’s been interesting how the Europeans have been pushing the Americans to do more on the Ukraine front, right, especially on the—on the battlefield. And we’ve seen this, again, in the last few weeks. While it’s been kind of the opposite on the—on the China—the relationship with China, right? Where Americans want Europe to move more in lockstep with where they’re going, but there is—you know, there are twenty-seven members in the EU. And Germany and Sweden think very differently of electric cars than, let’s say, France or Spain do, right? And so that, I think, has been—has been striking.

But with the exception, on your question, Heidi, on the seizure of Russian assets—and, of course, the cynical part of me says, well, the U.S. would push the Europeans on this issue because, you know, they have very little of a financial relationship with Russia. And we’re talking about 5 (billion) to $10 billion worth of Russian seized assets here. And America can do this at very little consequence to, let’s say, the role of the dollar, because the dollar is still the reserve asset of choice. In Europe, it’s a lot more complicated, right? And so we can talk about this from a Belgian point of view, from an EU point of view, and from a euro point of view, right? It’s very clear that the Europeans have moved quite a bit on this already.

Like, if you’d have asked me this question, Heidi, the six months ago, I would have said no way. Not going to happen. The Daleep Singh proposal that comes from the White House to basically take the 300-odd billion euros, dollars, in Russian assets, and use this as collateral to basically, you know, take the future generated dividends and interest and package it now into some sort of $50 to $60 billion package, make it available in some sort of vehicle to the Ukrainians, this is gotten—the move on it has been faster, once they stopped talking about the actual principle of those assets and started talking about the future dividends. So this is something the Europeans do want to talk about, but there seems to be a few things going on, right?

There’s some double counting going on. And this often happens when the EU comes up with money, right? So they’ve already approved their own proposal where they now have something like 3 ½ billion for this year in interest on Russian assets, with a special tax that they’re going to make available to Ukraine, at least 90 percent of it, and so on. And so this American proposal that Yellen has been pushing, Secretary Yellen, that Biden himself will push at the G-7, will basically use that same money, right, at least for this year, but we’ll take all the money that’s forthcoming in the next few years, and somehow package this in a way. I think there’ll be progress on this in the G-7, right? But there’s—I think as you know better than anyone, Heidi—there’s a lot of details to be worked out, right?

How will this be governed? Will the money be directly, or will this go through other international organizations like the World Bank? You know, will the U.S. government have a say over this? Because if you want to Trump-proof it, and Trump can block it in January if he’s president, then also it’s not a very great situation. That said, if you listen to even Belgian officials who were very reluctant, even people at the ECB, they’re leaving the door open now, right? So I don’t expect there to be some grand announcement in Apulia in in a week. But what I do expect is quite some positive words of encouragement that this can be worked out later this fall with a hopeful landing zone sometime probably late October before the U.S. elections.

I mean, that, I think, is probably my optimistic scenario that where I think you could see progress happen.

CREBO-REDIKER: So I think, I mean, we might be pleasantly surprised. But the statement that came out of the central bank finance ministers’ G-7 was their mentioned—they mentioned this in very broad brush the use of immobilized assets.

But the leaders summit will give the opportunity for real political blessing of this to move forward. So I think that would be—I think that would be welcome.

I do see some hands raised. Do you want to—can I hand it over to my CFR colleague to call on some of the participants?

OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions.)

We’ll take the first question from George Condon.

CREBO-REDIKER: And if you could introduce yourself that would be great.

Q: Yeah. Hi. This is George Condon with the National Journal.

You know, as long as we’ve had these summits, I mean, going back to the second one in Puerto Rico in ’76, there’s always been a real concern about U.S. elections and that seems particularly true this year, as Charlie suggested, with Trump’s threats on tariffs and NATO.

Can you talk a little bit more about how much panic is there at the possible return of Trump and are the other leaders looking for Biden to say or do something to allay their concerns about the election and about tariffs?

FIX: I can give it a try to answer that question since we have just—since I’m still in Europe and we have just returned from a trip to some of the capitals.

I don’t think there’s a real opportunity for Biden to say anything to—you know, I mean, what he will do, especially in his speech in Normandy, is to underline the transatlantic relations historic so that even with another Trump term those bonds are so deep and they are so long lasting that they will not be damaged.

But I don’t think that Europeans still share this belief. I mean, they had this view in 2016 when they hoped that, you know, a Trump term would not be as disruptive as it became in the end.

But for this elections they are especially right now in sort of behind doors in meetings thinking about what kind of context do they have in Washington, D.C., what could certain governments bring into negotiations or talks with Trump at a potential level, which there are some governments in Europe, for example, Poland, that are much more positive about a Trump presidency that does hope they have a certain leverage with Trump more than other European countries have.

So there are some preparations ongoing. But what we don’t see from a European perspective is a concerted effort—a joint European effort. So you don’t see capital sort of coming together and figuring out their strategy at the moment.

It is very much focused on their respective capitals themselves the way they’re discussing it and they also are afraid of making this too public because of a fear that this can become a self-fulfilling—that this can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

And the downside of this kind of preparation from a European perspective is that if Trump is elected as U.S. president there might not be enough time for Europeans to come together to develop a joint strategy and we might see in the worst case each capital pursuing their own interests instead of pitching in with a joint strategy.

And if one can think of a leader who would be interested in leading a joint European strategy it will be, obviously, Macron. But as Charlie said before, since the German-French relationship is—but he has also (mentioned ?) the German-French relationship is not in a good state, and I would say there’s even a kind of leadership rivalry between Berlin and Paris.

There’s not much appetite in Berlin to subsume themselves to a French leadership role and so the risk is that Europeans, in the end, will only pursue their national and own interest instead of developing a joint strategy in case Trump returns.

But we do, certainly, see some preparations very much limited to the national capitals at the moment.

KUPCHAN: I would just add that there really is an enormous level of anxiety about American politics and it’s not—it is Trump in the sense that there’s fear of Trump returning to the Oval Office and what he might do but there is also a perception, accurate, in my sense, that the United States right now is passing through a period of political dysfunction that is systemic and is likely to be with us for some time and that forces allies in Europe as well as in Asia to simply ask questions about their long-term strategies about whether they can or should put all of their marbles in the U.S. basket.

There aren’t good answers to that question. But given the hot mess that the United States is in right now politically I think behind closed doors governments have no choice but to have those conversations.

MATTHIJS: You know, one quick thing.

Liana is absolutely right. If anyone expects the EU to come together if Trump gets elected into some grand EU strategic autonomy view that, you know, is French in vision it won’t happen.

The bilaterals are already starting. People—different governments are trying to figure out who they can talk to who’s close to Trump, who has Trump’s ear, and that’s—on Charlie’s point there is, I think, a bit of wishful thinking still, right, that the polls are wrong or whatever it is.

But on the same time, I mean, especially in Italy they’ve had Silvio Berlusconi for about twenty-five years in government who had very similar statute, right? I mean, he was a media magnate. He was—he had multiple lawsuits, he had multiple convictions, and he always came back, right.

So it’s not true that being a convicted felon stops anyone from claiming a leadership role in a country, and there Liana is absolutely right that the EU is still, it seems to me, hoping for the best and thinking that they can somehow negotiate with Trump and maybe even that he’ll change his mind on many of the things, which, to be fair, he has done before.

CREBO-REDIKER: Can we go to the next question, please?

OPERATOR: We’ll take our next question from Peter Baker.

Q: Hi, guys. Thank you for doing this. Appreciate it.

I wonder if we could—Matthijs talked about how Macron and Biden get along personally and that Macron, of course, would like to use Biden’s visit this week with a state dinner and everything to enhance his stature on the international stage.

But I wonder if you can talk a little bit more about the U.S.-French part of this because it does feel like there’s a real tension there right now. When you talk to the Americans they speak about France with great exasperation. When you talk to the French they are quite peeved at various moments about leadership from Washington, what they perceive to be problems there.

And I’m just kind of curious if you could focus a little bit more on Biden and Macron, especially given that they’re spending so many days together. It’s a remarkably long investment of time by Biden in one capital.

I can’t remember and I, frankly, don’t understand why—and maybe you guys have better insight—he’s devoting quite so many days here in Paris for what’s, frankly, a four-hour event at a time when he should be campaigning back home.

MATTHIJS: Yeah. Good question, Peter.

I mean, it is a return visit, right? I mean, Macron was treated to quite an impressive state visit here and so they wanted to do the return favor.

I mean, I think where the main points of tension are still on, like, IRA, you know, like climate change and how they’re addressing it. France would love to do what the Americans are doing on a continent wide scale but, of course, they need German support for this.

There’s also more of a backlash in Germany, which have the greens in government, over any sort of green new deal the EU is doing where at least Macron feels that he can still push this agenda even though there’s just as much of a backlash in France on this.

I think they’re actually getting closer on China, for example—Biden and Macron—where this is this is not the case, for example, for Scholz and Biden, right. I mean here Macron always goes out of his way whenever the Chinese—he goes to China or the Chinese comes to invite von der Leyen from the EU, to invite Scholz, who never seems to want to show up because he always has his own agenda. But, yeah, I think on AUKUS, I think that the wounds are still somewhat there on the defense front, where the French still somewhat feel excluded. And so I think, you know, Macron wants to mend some of these things, and even make some headway, right? Get some, you know, guarantees of, you know, American investment into France, and vice versa. And that’s usually what these visits also bring about.

But I want to let Liana weigh in on this as well, on this specific thing.

FIX: Yeah. It’s a good question. I think I would not over interpret it as sort of Biden giving Macron the legitimacy to be the leader of Europe here, right? And to sort of honor him by this long visit. And saying by that, look, I agree with your outlook, you shouldn’t be the leader of Europe. The others should follow your leader on strategic autonomy and so on. Because, in reality, I think if you would ask the Biden administration, their pick would be Scholz. (Laughs.) I mean, they still get along much, much better with Scholz and his government, despite all the hiccups on Leopards and so on, than they do with the—with the French government.

So I don’t think that’s the case. But there’s a real concern about European elections coming up. Matthis already said this before. Especially if you want Europe to stay strong and united, the worst case—I mean, it doesn’t really matter if you have, you know, again, Wilders in the Netherlands—of course, it matters too. Matthias would correct me here. But what—obviously, it would be a huge disaster if you have Marine Le Pen in France, even if she tries to make a Meloni. That can seriously—that can seriously undermine efforts for Ukraine, efforts of European leadership here. So I think the one concern is really pushing back and, as Matthias said, strengthening Macron.

And then one issue where the administration has sort of coalesced with Europeans and with the French understanding is the support for the European defense industry. So I think for the first time the administration really has come out and said, well, we need European defense industry to be strengthened instead of, you know, just buying U.S. weapons. And from a U.S. perspective, obviously having joint depth or any other mechanisms to strengthen the European defense industry would totally make sense. And I think there, there’s also a closer alignment, in addition to what Matthias said, with Macron than there is with a German perspective on that, which is much more hesitant. So that might be an additional aspect why strengthening Macron’s position is there. But I don’t think it’s a leadership—I don’t think it’s a meeting of the leader of Europe with the leader of the United States, yeah.

KUPCHAN: I would just add one thought on the optics. I’m guessing that what we’ll see between now and the election is the Biden White House trying to create an image of Biden, you know, standing astride the world, close relationships with allies, standing on the shores of Normandy, and Trump is brooding at home waiting to be sentenced. Yeah, Biden does need to go to the—to the swing states, but I think putting him out there as a trusted ally on the global stage probably does have electoral benefits.

CREBO-REDIKER: Thank you so much. Can we go to the next question, please?

OPERATOR: We’ll take the next question from Leah Griffith.

Q: Good morning. This is Leah Griffith from the Japanese paper the Asahi Shimbun. Thanks for this call.

My question is, how much attention do you think other priority regions, like the Indo-Pacific and Middle East, will draw away from this administration’s transatlantic focus?

CREBO-REDIKER: Great question. I mean, there’s a lot going on in the world right now. It will all be on many of the discussion agendas over the next two weeks. But can I start with Charlie, just on what we might—what else around the world we might be—we might be hearing about in the news over the next couple of weeks from Europe?

KUPCHAN: Yeah. I mean, I think that the Indo-Pacific will loom large, in part because of the issue that’s already come up. And that is, how do we deal with China and Chinese support for Russia? And I do think that that there is daylight between the United States and its allies when it comes to China, which may emerge during these conversations. And it’s not just on European reactions to Chinese provision of dual use items to Russia. I think they’re—even though the two sides of the Atlantic have over time converged on China, I do think there are substantive differences of opinion when it comes to trading with China and the overall relationship. And they will be topics of discussion across these various summits.

I’m guessing that on the Middle East—you know, I don’t think there are fundamental differences of opinion among the Atlantic allies. I think that everybody is squirming and uncomfortable with the loss of life and the lack of provision of humanitarian assistance, but I don’t see there being significant transatlantic disputes. And my best guess is that everybody is simply hoping that the fighting dies down sooner rather than later and that we get to the next phase in the conflict in Gaza, which is much more focused on provision of humanitarian aid, and who’s going to govern Gaza moving forward.

CREBO-REDIKER: Does anyone else want to—want to chime in?

FIX: I mean, just very quickly on the—on the Indo-Pacific piece, on that I think the administration has done well by really underlining this linkage between European security and the Indo-Pacific, not through the issue of Taiwan primarily—which we all remember Macron’s comments on his flight back to Beijing where he said, well, this is something we will be dragged in. But by sort of telling Europeans that China is directly threatening European security here.

And I think this is a realization that Europeans still really have to fully embrace, because so far they still have hoped for a more positive Chinese role in this war. Especially Scholz has been very proud of Xi Jinping’s criticism of Putin’s nuclear threats, of nuclear threats in general. So there’s still—for a long time there was hope that, you know, the role of China, that China can play, will be able to restrain Russia in any way. But the change that we see now in Zelensky’s tone, the fact that Xi Jinping will not attend the Swiss conference, although Scholz took his home as his one deliverable, might actually help to spur Europeans along, and really to make them realize to what extent China’s support for Russia is really threatening European security in very direct ways.

CREBO-REDIKER: You also—I mean, one issue that hasn’t come up on our call today is at the G-7 we always—you know, we have the U.K. and Japan joining. And those are conversations where you will see not only economic security but military security as well, wrapping in the Indo-Pacific sanctions, looking at secondary sanctions, and potential for secondary sanctions on Chinese banks that are facilitating the sale of dual use or potentially other not—more directly military support that have been out there in the—rumor-sphere. You know, that is something where we know sanctions don’t really work well unless they are multilateral. And so the question would be, are the members of the G-7 really ready to step up and do something like that, and enforce secondary sanctions? So there will be an economic as well as a military and security component to, I think especially, the G-7.

MATTHIJS: Heidi, if I may, I mean, honestly, I think both in Europe and the U.S. they’re going to be incredibly internally focused in the next six months. I mean, in the U.S., it’s going to be coming up with the first debate in June, the Trump sentencing, the Trump Republican convention in July, and then the Democratic Convention, and another debate, and the elections. And same in Europe. I mean, this—I expect a very difficult road for von der Leyen if, indeed she does emerge again—which I think most of us still expect as the candidate to succeed herself who will be anointed by the EU leaders in the end of June—it’s going to take—I mean, she’s not going to have much of a European holiday as some of the others will, because she’ll have to carefully put together a coalition.

And here, I mean, there’s a lot of talk about Meloni and Le Pen tying up. I think there’s a very low chance of that, because Meloni will lose a lot more by doing that than she stood to gain from staying close to von der Leyen. But again, coming up with a new Commission that needs to be vetted by the European Parliament, and a European Parliament that may not be a far-right dominated one but it may be a very fragmented one, right? I mean, you’ll have a lot of far-right members that will complicate things, but they may not necessarily be united. So in that sense, the next six months are going to be very—there’s going to be a lot of navel-gazing in both the EU and in the U.S. rather than focus on the rest of the world.

CREBO-REDIKER: Fair point.

Do we have any more questions in the queue?

OPERATOR: Yes. We will take our next question from Ken—(inaudible).

Q: Good morning.

A couple of conferences I’ve been to this spring there’s been a lot of discussion of the importance of hypersonic missile technology. And then you look at in April the U.S., Israel, and its allies knocked down 300 Iranian missiles. Apparently, they didn’t have hypersonic. But the Ukrainians seem to be struggling. New York Times reported this spring that the Ukrainians were struggling with hypersonic missiles that have been launched at some of their infrastructure. Is that a critical edge right now, hypersonic technology? And does Ukraine need more defense against that threat?

CREBO-REDIKER: Who would like to tackle that? Charlie?

KUPCHAN: I think that hypersonics are difficult to shoot down because they are not like a ballistic missile following a predictable trajectory. And as a consequence, getting an interceptor to focus on a hypersonic is more difficult.

I think that the problem that the Ukrainians face, though, is much broader than that, in that they simply lack the numbers of air defense interceptors for their Patriot systems, for their Stingers, for their SAMP/Ts, for the other kinds of air defenses that they have, given the size of the waves that the Russians are sending in. And it looks like the Russians are launching their attacks on Ukraine from differing positions over time to try to circumvent where the Ukrainians are putting their launch sites. And so if you just look at hypersonics, ballistic missiles, drones, other kinds of assets—glide bombs that are being launched from Russian airspace into Ukrainian territory—it’s a very, very difficult strategic task to shoot down those missiles.

What happened in Israel was very different, right? They—basically, as far as we know, the Ukrainians—excuse me, the Iranians announced when they were going to launch these. The U.S., the Israelis, others in the region, right, had their interceptors ready to go. What the Ukrainians face is a much more difficult strategic task, given the size and scope of the munitions that the Russians are sending against them.

FIX: And just to add to what Charlie said, the glide bombs that he just mentioned is something that the Ukrainians are really struggling with because Russia is using Soviet-era missiles and equipping those with a glide function that is very difficult to track with the air defense system that Ukraine has. That has been a real challenge in the past for Ukraine. So sometimes it’s sort of not even the most developed technology like hypersonic technology, but taking sort of the older technology, updating it in a way which works on the battlefield, as Russia has done with those glide missiles, which can—which can prove a real challenge.

KUPCHAN: And they also have, you know, real tradeoffs. Do you, for example, locate your air defenses around critical infrastructure, around a power plant, because the costs of that being disabled are high? Or do you protect forces on the frontline? Do you protect civilian population centers? They just simply don’t have the numbers to go around.

CREBO-REDIKER: Well, I think we’re coming up onto the—onto the witching hour. I want to thank everybody. I want to thank the fellows from CFR for all of their insights today.

There will be a lot happening over the next two weeks. I encourage all of you on this call, all the participants who joined us today, to please feel free to reach out to the scholars on anything and everything having to do with all of the topics that we touched on today.

So thank you again for joining, and wish you a good week, and for those going to Normandy a safe trip.

KUPCHAN: Thanks for hosting, Heidi.

FIX: Thank you, everyone.


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