REFLECTION: How Biden’s 2009 speech on NATO solidarity foreshadowed the Ukraine-Russia crisis

Biden addressed critics who thought the US was no longer focused on central and Eastern Europe. But he didn’t exactly deny the criticism.

By Mark Hannah

IIn 2009, about a year into his vice presidency, Joe Biden was in Romania, giving a speech about the importance of NATO solidarity. I was there with him, as a young advance guy paying more attention to Biden’s punctuality and the order of European flags on the stage than to the speech’s strange geopolitical moment.

At the time, hardly anyone was preoccupied with the possibility of Russia’s invading a European country. In the decades after the Cold War, much of central and Eastern Europe was growing more prosperous and democratic. So as Biden spoke — and as his speech was simultaneously translated into 15 languages from across the region, including Ukrainian — his primary preoccupation was to rally his audience to America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While the US isn’t primarily to blame for European countries’ recent political challenges, it certainly hasn’t helped matters.

There’s been a lot of news lately about NATO’s Article 5 — the provision that compels each member country to respond to an attack on an ally as though it had been attacked itself. In the treaty’s 70-year history, however, the article has been invoked only once: after the 9/11 attacks on the US In retrospect, as an analyst of US foreign policy who has come to understand NATO as effectively a vehicle through which the US guarantees European security, it was surreal to watch the vice president of the world’s strongest country thanking Romanians and Poles and Czechs for their service in these Middle East wars.

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This post is part of Independent America, a research project led out by EGF senior fellow Mark Hannah, which seeks to explore how U.S. foreign policy could better be tailored to new global realities and to the preferences of American voters.