• Caelyn Garbe

Cybersecurity, Alliances and Tensions: Biden’s First Official Overseas Trip

In June 2021, President Joe Biden had his first overseas tour since taking office. Over the course of a week, Biden attended the G7-summit in the United Kingdom; met with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation; attended an European Union-United States Summit; and ended his trip in Geneva where he had an individual meeting with President Vladimir Putin.


The first NATO summit and US-Russia summit since 2018 provided President Biden with opportunities to raise pressing concerns which notably included the alleged cyberattacks against the United States by Russia. These events showcased Biden’s foreign diplomacy strategies and the powers he holds in the face of threats such as cybersecurity.


Context


Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution provides the President with the power to make treaties. This power allowed former President Harry S. Truman to co-sign the North Atlantic Treaty. Created in 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty forms the basis of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Since 1952, every United States President has met with NATO to “guarantee the freedom and security of its members through political and military means”.


NATO, and the United States’ involvement with the organisation, has a long history of uniting against the Soviet Union. This month, President Biden and the other members of NATO took a united stance against Russia that echoed their past dealings with the former Soviet Union.


Current Situation


According to NATO Security General Jens Stoltenberg, the member states' relationship is “at its lowest point since the Cold War, and Moscow’s aggressive actions are a threat to our security". Biden echoed similar sentiments when he spoke to the press after the first day of meetings at NATO Headquarters.


One of the most prominent issues on which members took a stance was cybersecurity. Within the last few months, significant cyber attacks have been launched against the United States, Ireland, and other member nations. With many of these attacks being allegedly traced back to Russia, NATO endorsed a new cybersecurity defence policy. Individual leaders and NATO as a collective group made strong public remarks denouncing these attacks and pledging repercussions against them in the future.


President Biden presented a clear Euro-American stance against Russian cyberattacks. H pledged in a press conference to address cybersecurity concerns with President Putin during his solo meeting and stated, ”if he chooses not to cooperate and acts in a way that he has in the past, relative to cybersecurity and some other activities, then we will respond. We will respond in kind”. These remarks also mirror some of his earlier promises to create a more coordinated Russian policy within the NATO alliance. He also brought up examples of specific cyberattacks, such as the attack against the Colonial Pipeline Co, questionings Putin on his views on these attacks as well as Russia’s involvement. Over the course of these talks, Biden outlined sixteen critical infrastructures that he believes should be “off-limit” to cyber-attacks.


In response, President Putin dismissed claims that Russia was responsible for this attack and other interferences. He did refer to his meeting with Biden as constructive but added that there has been no friendship between the two leaders. He went on to say that it was uncertain whether relations would improve but that there was certainly hope. Biden echoed similar sentiments to the press and emphasised that the United States wanted to avoid a Cold War but reiterated that the nation has significant cyber capabilities itself.


Overall, no specific plans were made available to the public on how or if these cyberattacks would be handled in the future. Analysts have previously speculated about an attempt at a digital Geneva Convention in order to limit these cyber-attacks through international law. However, these talks do not appear to have led to any sort of action with that level of severity.


Conclusion


Biden’s first overseas tour as President reflected his foreign diplomacy strategies. His emphasis on appearing united with the members of NATO reflects his goals of repairing the deteriorating relations with Russia. His power to act within treaties such as NATO grants him the ability to address pressing concerns such as cybersecurity with the force of the member countries behind him. His meeting with President Putin following the NATO summit mirrored his early promise of US cooperation with its allies in the face of international issues. While at this point it is unclear whether US-Russian relations will be repaired and how cybersecurity attacks will be addressed, President Biden’s overseas tour clearly displayed his intentions for foreign diplomacy moving forward.