Secretary Of State Antony Blinken Spoke Of Repairing Alliances In First Major Speech

Mar 24, 2021
Originally published on March 24, 2021 6:51 pm
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The U.S. and Europe may have different approaches to China and other countries in conflicts, but Secretary of State Antony Blinken is promising to work with partners, not lecture them. He laid out his approach to modernizing America's alliances today in Brussels. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Secretary Blinken has a lot on his plate in Brussels - how to revive nuclear diplomacy with Iran, end the war in Afghanistan and deal with a resurgent Russia and a rising China. He told his European partners he will consult with them early and often.

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ANTONY BLINKEN: This is a key part of the foreign policy in the Biden-Harris administration, and it's a change our allies already see and appreciate.

KELEMEN: This is a far cry from his predecessor, Mike Pompeo, who gave a speech in 2018, also in Brussels, criticizing just about every international institution from the European Union to the United Nations.

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MIKE POMPEO: Multilateralism has too often become viewed as an end unto itself. The more treaties we sign, the safer we supposedly are. The more bureaucrats we have, the better the job gets done. Was that ever really true?

KELEMEN: The German Marshall Fund's Ian Lesser moderated that Pompeo speech, and he said Blinken's message today was different in both style and substance.

IAN LESSER: One could describe it as whiplash, but from a European point of view, whiplash of the most desirable kind.

KELEMEN: While the Trump administration focused on boosting European defense spending, Lesser said Blinken acknowledged there are other ways Europe can contribute.

LESSER: Alliances are a huge force multiplier for the United States, that they give the United States leverage as a global power. And those relationships require care and feeding, and that includes consulting with allies, even where we may differ on policy choices.

KELEMEN: Take China, for instance. Former Secretary Pompeo often lectured America's allies about doing business with China. While Blinken maintained a tough line, he also promised to coordinate with allies.

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BLINKEN: The United States won't force our allies into a us-or-them choice with China.

KELEMEN: Instead, he said he wants to work with partners to uphold international norms and compete with China on technology and other areas

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BLINKEN: We'll rely on innovation, not ultimatums. Because if we work together to make real our positive vision for the international order, if we stand up for the free and open system that we know provides the best conditions for human ingenuity, dignity and connection, we're confident we can outcompete China or anyone else on any playing field.

KELEMEN: Blinken's speech came a week after his testy first meeting with Chinese diplomats. Yale University Professor Susan Thornton says America's allies in Europe are hoping the U.S. can find a balance in relations with China - competition and cooperation.

SUSAN THORNTON: It seems to me that we're much more on the confrontation and competition side, and we have very little in the way of cooperation that we're outlining. And, you know, that sounds to me like a recipe for a continued deterioration in U.S.-China relations. I think the allies are very worried about that.

KELEMEN: The U.S. and its partners did join together this week to impose targeted sanctions over human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims in China, but Thornton says there's much more work to do to get on the same page more broadly.

THORNTON: Right now, we've really got a lot of things to iron out ourselves on trade, on tariffs, on technology, on climate change issues, et cetera.

KELEMEN: Secretary Blinken said he's had a positive reception in Europe. President Biden is looking to build on that when he speaks with his European counterparts virtually tomorrow.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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