Two days before stepping down from office, US Vice-President Joseph R. Biden called on the United States and Europe to confirm the transatlantic alliance and continue to work together to defend the liberal international order that has brought stability and peace in Europe since the end of World War II.
“History has proven that the defence of free nations in Europe has always been America’s fight,” Biden said in a special address to participants on the second day of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting. “The United States should fulfil our historic responsibility as the indispensible nation, but we have never been able to lead alone. It is only through championing the liberal international order that we will retain our position of leadership.” Noted Biden: “There will be a new president in the US, but the challenges and choices we make as an international community do not hinge exclusively on Washington’s leadership. Whether we reinforce the ties that bind us or they unravel, these choices will be made by every single nation.”
Recognizing that recent economic and social challenges in the US and Europe have allowed nationalist and populist forces to capitalize on citizens’ concerns, Biden rejected the politics of fear. “Impulses to hunker down, to build walls, are precisely the wrong answer,” he argued. “We can and we must take action to mitigate the economic trends that are stoking unrest in so many advanced economies and undermining people’s basic sense of dignity.”
Economic stresses that are leading to the hollowing out of the middle class and the social disruptions caused by technological change have to be addressed, Biden told participants. Unskilled workers are losing their jobs, while higher-paid skilled workers are getting paid more and more. “Globalization has not been an unalloyed good,” the vice-president said. “It has deepened the rift between those racing ahead at the top and those hanging on in the middle or falling to the bottom.” He added: “We cannot undo the changes that technology has wrought in our world, nor should we try.”
The complaints of those who feel that they have been left behind are legitimate, Biden said. “Continuing education whether you are an astrophysicist or working on an assembly line is going to be required.” Tax reforms will also be necessary so everyone pays their fair share. “The top 1% is not carrying their weight,” Biden remarked. Retreating from the world, however, is not a solution, he insisted. “We cannot rout fear with retrenchment.” While the US has not always been its perfect defender, “we need urgently to defend the liberal international order – to sustain it.”
In his last official speech as US Vice-President, Biden said that he had come to Davos to issue a valedictory call for Europe and the US to come together and renew the “fight for democracy wherever it is under threat”. He underscored the importance of European unity and the integrity of the European Union, which he said is in America’s interest. Biden stressed that the transatlantic alliance is of utmost importance and that “the American commitment to NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) is thoroughly bipartisan” in the support it has in Washington. He described NATO as the “single greatest bulwark of our transatlantic partnership.”