Biden has set the stakes for his eight-day trip in sweeping terms, presuming the West should publicly demonstrate it can compete economically with China as the world stems from the coronavirus pandemic.
Before boarding Air Force One for Wednesday's flight, Biden told reporters the trip is all about creating clear to the leaders of China and Russia that the United States and Europe"are tight."
Constructing toward his trip-ending summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Biden will aim to reassure European capitals the United States can once again be relied on as a reliable partner to thwart Moscow's aggression equally in their front and their internet battlefields.
The trip will be far more about messaging than specific actions or deals. Along with also the overriding priority for Biden is to convince the world that his Democratic administration is not simply a fleeting deviation in the trajectory of an American foreign policy that many allies fear irrevocably drifted toward a transactional perspective under former President Donald Trump.
"The excursion, in its core, will progress the basic thrust of Joe Biden's foreign policy," said national security adviser Jake Sullivan,"to rally the world's democracies to tackle the fantastic challenges of the time."
Biden's to-do list is ambitious.
In their face sit-down in Geneva, Biden would like to privately pressure Putin to end myriad provocations, such as cybersecurity attacks on American companies from Russian-based hackers, the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and repeated overt and covert efforts by the Kremlin to interfere in U.S. elections.
Biden is also looking to rally allies in their COVID-19 response and to urge them to coalesce around a strategy to test emerging national and economic security competitor China even as the U.S. expresses concern about Europe's economic links to Moscow. Biden also wants to nudge outlying allies, including Australia, to create more aggressive commitments to the global effort to curb global warming.
The week-plus travel is a big time for Biden, who traveled the planet for decades as president and as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and will now step off Air Force One on international land as commander in chief. He'll confront world leaders still grappling with the virus and rattled by four years of Trump's inward-looking overseas policy and moves that strained longtime alliances since the Republican former president made overtures to strongmen.
"In this moment of international uncertainty, as the world still grapples with a once-in-a-century pandemic," Biden wrote in a Washington Post op-ed previewing his diplomatic efforts,"this trip is about realizing America's renewed commitment to our allies and partners, and demonstrating the potential for democracies to both meet the challenges and discourage the dangers of the new era."
It comes at a moment when Europeans have diminished expectations for what they can expect of U.S. direction on the foreign stage.
Central and Eastern Europeans are urgently expecting to bind the U.S. more tightly to their security. Germany is looking to see the U.S. troop presence maintained there so it doesn't need to build up its own. France, meanwhile, has taken the tack that the U.S. can not be reliable as it was and the European Union must pursue greater tactical liberty moving forward.
"I think that the concern is real the Trumpian tendencies in the U.S. could yield full bore at the midterms or in the next presidential election," said Alexander Vershbow, a former U.S. diplomat and after deputy secretary general of NATO.
The sequencing of this trip is deliberate: Biden consulting with Western European allies for much of a week as a show of unity before his summit with Putin.
His initial stop late Wednesday will be an address to U.S. troops stationed in Britain, and the following day he sits down with British Prime Minster Boris Johnson. Both men will meet a day ahead of this G-7 summit to be held over the rocky shore of Cornwall overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
The tactile of politicians, Biden has frustrated by the diplomacy-via-Zoom dynamics of this pandemic and has relished the ability to have face-to-face meetings that allow him to size up and connect with world leaders. While Biden himself is a veteran statesman, many of the world leaders he'll see in England, including Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron, occurred following Biden left the vice presidency.
There are many potential regions of tension. On climate change, the U.S. is aiming to recover its credibility after Trump pulled the country back from the struggle against global warming. Biden may also sense pressure on trade, an issue to which he is yet to offer much attention. With the United States well supplied with COVID-19 vaccines yet struggling to convince some of its citizens to utilize it, leaders whose inoculation efforts have now been slower will pressure Biden to share more excess around the globe.
Another central focus will be China. Biden and another G-7 leaders will announce an infrastructure financing program for developing nations that is meant to compete directly with Beijing's Belt-and-Road Initiative. But not every European authority has viewed China in as harsh a light as Biden, who's painted the competition with the techno-security state as the defining contest for the 21st century.
The European Union has prevented taking as strong a stance on Beijing's crackdown on Hong Kong's democracy movement or treatment of Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities from the western Xinjiang province as the Biden administration may like. However there are signs that Europe is willing to put greater evaluation on Beijing.
The EU in March declared sanctions targeting four Chinese officials involved with human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Beijing, in turn, responded by imposing sanctions on several members of the European Parliament along with other Europeans critical of the Chinese Communist Party.
Biden is also scheduled to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan while at Brussels, a face-to-face meeting between two leaders who've had many fraught moments in their relationship over recent years.
Biden waited until April to call Erdogan for the very first time . In that call, he informed that the Turkish leader that he would officially recognize the systematic killings and deportations of hundreds of thousands of Armenians by Ottoman Empire forces in the early 20th century were"genocide" -- using a term for the atrocities his White House predecessors had averted for decades over worries of alienating Turkey.
Biden has taken a very different strategy to Russia than Trump's friendly outreach. Their only summit, held in July 2018 in Helsinki, was marked by Trump's refusal to side with U.S. intelligence agencies over Putin's denials of Russian interference in the election two years earlier.
Biden could well be challenged by unrest at home as Russia looks to exploit the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection and the debate over voting rights to undermine the U.S. position as a global role model. The American president, then, is expected to push Russia to hamper its global meddling.
"By and large, these are not meetings on outcomes, these are'get to know you ' meetings for the U.S. and Europe," said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. "It's about bringing a message to Putin, to reviving old alliances and also to demonstrate again the U.S. is back to the right course."