RAF MILDENHALL, England — President Biden began his first overseas trip by telling American troops in Britain that the future of the world depends on restoring the longstanding alliances with European countries that have been “hardened in the fire of war” and built by “generations of Americans.”
Speaking to troops at RAF Mildenhall, he called his weeklong diplomatic overture “essential,” saying that no nation acting alone can meet the world’s challenges. But he also vowed to stand up to adversaries like China and Russia, pledging to tell President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia “what I want him to know.”
On the eve of meeting with European leaders rattled by Russia’s aggressive movement of troops along Ukraine’s borders, Mr. Biden pledged to “respond in a robust and meaningful way” to what he called “harmful activities” conducted by Mr. Putin.
Mr. Biden also cast his trip in broader terms, as an effort to rally the United States and its allies in an existential battle between democracy and autocracy.
“I believe we’re in an inflection point in world history,” Mr. Biden said, “a moment where it falls to us to prove that democracies not just endure, but they will excel as we rise to seize enormous opportunities in the new age.”
Mr. Biden called out autocrats like the Russian president for promoting false stories about the failings of democracies.
“We have to discredit those who believe that the age of democracy is over, as some of our fellow nations believe,” he said.
The RAF base at Mildenhall is used almost exclusively by American forces and is a critical air refueling wing. Its history reaches back into World War II, and it was a key base in the Cold War for the United States’ Strategic Air Command, which maintained its nuclear deterrent. In the ’70s and ’80s, it was also a frequent site of antiwar and antinuclear protests.
But those are largely gone, and in 2015 it seemed like the base would be closed. Two years ago it got a reprieve, and remains one of the strongholds of U.S. forces in Britain.
Mr. Biden will hold his first face-to-face meeting of the trip with Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain on Thursday, ahead of the formal start of the Group of 7 meeting.