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Foreign Policy

Biden give up to Merkel on Nord Stream 2

Bipartisan opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has been a cornerstone of the Obama and Trump administrations’ foreign policy, a clear response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the Kremlin’s record of using gas supplies as a coercive weapon in Eastern Europe. The latest decision by the Biden government to reverse the policies of its predecessors and not sanction participants in the pipeline project is nothing more than a surrender to pressure from Germany and a gift to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The damage to the US national interest will be profound.

If the government’s goal has been to rebuild transatlantic ties, its adoption of Nord Stream 2 is a clear misfire. Resistance to the pipeline is also growing in Germany. The German Greens, who are likely to emerge from the upcoming election as part of the government coalition, are against Nord Stream 2. The Green Chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock has described it as a wedge that divides Europe and a failure for both ecological and geostrategic reasons. The Biden government has just missed the opportunity to find common ground with a likely next German head of state to accommodate Chancellor Angela Merkel during her final months in office.

Bipartisan opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has been a cornerstone of the Obama and Trump administrations’ foreign policy, a clear response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the Kremlin’s record of using gas supplies as a coercive weapon in Eastern Europe. The latest decision by the Biden government to reverse the policies of its predecessors and not sanction participants in the pipeline project is nothing more than a surrender to pressure from Germany and a gift to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The damage to the US national interest will be profound.

If the government’s goal has been to rebuild transatlantic ties, its adoption of Nord Stream 2 is a clear misfire. Resistance to the pipeline is also growing in Germany. The German Greens, who are likely to emerge from the upcoming election as part of the government coalition, are against Nord Stream 2. The Green Chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock has described it as a wedge that divides Europe and a failure for both ecological and geostrategic reasons. The Biden government has just missed the opportunity to find common ground with a likely next German head of state to accommodate Chancellor Angela Merkel during her final months in office.

The decision about the pipeline has an impact on the group of countries on or near the eastern flank of the European Union. From a Polish perspective, the Nord Stream 2 project has always brought back unpleasant memories of agreements between Berlin and Moscow bypassing Warsaw. Former Polish Defense Minister Radek Sikorski compared the pipeline to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which secretly divided his country between Germany and the Soviet Union and set the stage for World War II. A recent joint statement by Poland and Ukraine highlights the worrying effects of the pipeline decision, which was taken without consultation with the countries most directly affected.

Central and Eastern Europeans draw the inevitable conclusion that the Biden government is willing to make concessions at the expense of their security. Of course, western-minded politicians on NATO’s eastern flank can only turn to Washington – but in all of these countries there is also an anti-western, pro-Russian opposition that will now be encouraged to point out how Washington’s promise of security cannot be trusted. The result will be a softening of post-Cold War pro-American sentiment in the countries of the former Soviet bloc.

The willingness of the government to make decisions of this magnitude without consulting the most exposed countries will not be lost in other parts of the world either. Jerusalem and Riyadh, for example, have undoubtedly already developed strategies to face a surprise similar to that which Washington has just delivered to Warsaw and Kiev. The promise that US diplomats will keep them fully informed about developments in the Vienna negotiations with Iran suddenly seems much less credible. The uncertainty about Washington’s motivations and actions increases the chances of regional instability through direct military action by opponents of Iran’s nuclear potential. Then there is the urgent matter of the protesters in Cuba. What role, if any, will the Biden government play in supporting its demands for political and economic freedom and in holding the Havana regime accountable for its widespread repression?

The joint US-German declaration in support of Ukraine, a feeble attempt to justify the surrender of the pipeline, offers only vague promises with no binding force. Ukraine recalls that the Budapest Memorandum on Security Guarantees of 1994, which was supposed to guarantee independence and integrity in exchange for renouncing Soviet-era nuclear weapons, failed to protect it when Russia invaded Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014 motivate the United States to provide effective assistance. There is little reason for Kiev to expect more from the Biden government.

German promises to support Ukraine are also not credible. These are promises made by the country that prides itself on breaking Wales’ promise to spend at least 2 percent of its gross domestic product on its own defense and the defense of NATO. Even in the face of an attack sponsored by Moscow that took place in a Berlin park just a stone’s throw away from the Bundestag, or in response to the mistreatment of Russian political opponents, above all Alexei Navalny, Berlin was never robust. No matter how outrageous Russian attacks on the international order are, there will always be a pro-Moscow lobby in Germany, the notorious Putin understanders – or “Putin understanders” – who plead for appeasement and adjustment. Kiev and others in Central and Eastern Europe know that Berlin will always be exposed to strong domestic political pressure not to act against Russian aggression. You shouldn’t count on the Bundeswehr to defend them.

However, if Biden’s gift to Merkel was only about healing American-German bilateral relations, then one should ask what the German Chancellor gave in return. Apparently not much: The Nord Stream 2 decision, for example, did not trigger an announcement that Germany would meet its NATO defense spending. Germany has also not taken a tough stance on China by removing the security threats associated with using Huawei’s 5G telecommunications technology. The asymmetry of the auto tariffs, which disadvantages US automobile manufacturers in favor of German imports, does not end there either.

Biden’s foreign policy has not achieved any of these well-known American goals. Instead, the government is dodging the Nord Stream 2 sanctions as it has weakened the US’s credibility in Europe and beyond. Germany has learned from this that it can pursue its own inclinations to do business with dictators, regardless of principles and without consequences from Washington. Even more dangerous is the lesson for Moscow and Beijing that sanctions for international aggression are never sustained for long. The Biden government has made the fragile international order even more uncertain.

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