VP Kamala Harris leads US delegation at key security conference in Munich

Vive President Kamala Harris. PHOTO X @VP

MUNICH – Speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, Vice President Harris will try to allay concerns among European allies about American resolve in major conflicts across the globe while also aiming a message to voters at home: electing Donald Trump in November would destabilize the global order.

Harris’s speech – which will mark her third appearance at the annual confab of world leaders and policy and security officials – precedes a busy weekend in which she will meet several European leaders, including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Speaking just days after Trump set off new anxiety by saying he would encourage Russia to attack NATO partners that underspend on defense, Harris may find it difficult to reassure Washington’s transatlantic partners, who are keenly aware of the electoral uncertainty of this year’s presidential contest.

In a background briefing to reporters, a senior administration official said Harris will argue that isolationism and support for authoritarian governments only weakens the United States and hurts its people.

It is in many ways a global spin on Biden and Harris’s reelection message that Trump would undo the progress the administration has made over the past three years in rebuilding trust in Washington.

Harris “will make a forceful case for the Biden-Harris Administration’s worldview and continued global leadership,” the senior administration official said, and will denounce Trump’s foreign policy framework “as shortsighted, dangerous, and destabilizing.”

“She will argue that they could lead to a world of disorder – to the detriment of the American people and the world,” the official added.

There is, of course, much to discuss at this weekend’s gathering in Munich: worrying reports of Russian advances from the front lines of eastern Ukraine; Israel’s plans for a potentially devastating ground assault on Rafah; and an unspecified “space threat” from Russia, for starters.

Yet one question seems to hang over this year’s Munich Security Conference: What, exactly, is happening in the United States?

For months now, Europe’s political, security and intelligence establishment has watched nervously as critical Ukraine aid became mired in domestic politics. American interlocutors assured the Europeans that, ultimately, the bill would pass and money and military equipment would continue to flow.

But the protracted fight over the funding, combined with former president Trump’s claim that he would encourage Russia to attack U.S. allies for meager defense spending, has jolted Europe, renewing doubts about whether the continent can count on the United States – and what to do if it can’t.

In public remarks and private conversations over the next two days, Harris will try to combat that skepticism from allies deeply unsure if she will even be vice president a year from now.

As the race for the White House barrels toward a two-person contest, President Biden has struggled in some polls against Trump. Questions about Biden’s age and mental fitness continue to be a drag on his favorability ratings.

Harris’s advisers hope a strong performance on the world stage will help blunt questions about her ability to perform in the nation’s top job – an important requirement for the understudy to the oldest president in U.S. history.

For Harris, who is widely expected to seek the White House herself at some point, the trip to Germany is also an opportunity to cement her foreign policy bona fides, and to strengthen relationships with allies.

In Munich, Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken will try to convince European allies that the U.S. commitment to Ukraine and NATO remains steadfast. But there appear to be few promises they can make about the next few months, let alone the next years.

They will be joined in Germany by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who is fresh off an unprecedented impeachment that has made him a symbol of U.S. political dysfunction to some here. A group of U.S. senators flying over for the event, meanwhile, will face questions about why Republicans seem to be “owning” Trump’s message about abandoning Ukraine.

Some of those questions could come from Zelensky, who will swing by Munich after stops in Berlin and Paris on Friday. Those trips are aimed at shoring up longer-term support for Ukraine’s fight – and signaling European resolve.

Europe, for its part, will be doing its best to show U.S. officials – and a certain presidential candidate – that they are holding up their side of the transatlantic bargain.

In Brussels this week, for instance, senior officials, including NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, played up recent increases in defense spending by NATO members.

In remarks to the press, Stoltenberg insisted that critics such as Trump have a “valid point” when it comes to defense spending, but that the alliance is already moving toward spending more.

“It’s a point and a message that has been conveyed by successive U.S. administrations that European allies and Canada have to spend more, because we haven’t seen fair burden-sharing in the alliance,” Stoltenberg said. “The good news is that this is exactly what NATO allies are now doing.”

NATO saw an 11 percent real increase in defense spending across Europe and Canada last year. This year, 18 of 31 allies will meet the target of spending 2 percent of their GDP on defense, Stoltenberg said.

European leaders recognize the limits of their influence in the U.S. political debate, although many of them are trying to push the conversation anyway.

In recent months, a stream of foreign and defense ministers and senior European officials have undertaken visits to Washington that follow a predictable itinerary. Meetings with administration officials plus whichever congressional Republican lawmakers are amenable. Then they do an event at a conservative think tank, such as the Heritage Foundation or the American Enterprise Institute, trying hard to sway the opinions of the surging isolationist wing of the Republican Party and to bolster the party’s faltering foreign policy hawks.

Many E.U. diplomats hold out hope that the United States will come around, in part because they don’t wish to ponder the alternative. “We believe that the defeat of Russia in Ukraine is a common interest,” said a senior E.U. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity to brief the media.

“From what we understand from our U.S. colleagues, there is still possibility that Congress approves,” the diplomat continued. “We hope so – their support will remain much needed over the next months and years.”



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