By Paul Scarrott
The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline has overwhelming support in Russia and Germany.
It should be a straightforward matter of trade between two sovereign countries.
But the USA, the heartland of free-market economics, has denounced Nord Stream 2.
Leading Senators and US government spokespeople say that Nord Stream 2 will give Russia a stranglehold over Germany and Europe.
They claim it will also help Russia dominate Ukraine.
Ukraine itself on the one hand claims to oppose Nord Stream 2 because it says that Europe will become dependent on Russian gas and face possible blackmail.
But on the other hand, Ukraine also complains that Nord Stream 2 bypassing Ukraine means it will lose up to $3bn annually in pipeline transit fees for Russian gas.
Behind this outpouring of US concern for Europe lies the real threat posed by Nord Stream 2 – it reduces US influence over an imperialist rival, Germany, and over an independent Russia.
One step removed, it also strengthens China in its bid for closer economic links with Russia and Europe and the success of its ‘Belt and Road’.
The USA is the most powerful state on the planet. It will remain so for the foreseeable future.
However, the weight of the US in the world economy is declining.
It attempts to use its military power to shore up its international power.
There is bi-partisan unity in Congress over the necessity of maintaining US global primacy. Any divisions are only on how best to achieve it.
Trump tried to maintain US primacy by ’America First’ unilateralism. However, in response to a backlash of hostility around the world, the majority of the US ruling class concluded that Trump was a reckless adventurer.
Biden has returned to the strategy of Obama, attempting to recreate an American-led coalition of the willing, or the intimidated if necessary.
The main US objective is to stop the rise of socialist China.
Undoubtedly that will necessitate some compromises and concessions to other imperialist states.
The signs are that Biden may decide that the consequences of stopping Nord Stream 2 may be too costly.
As Alexander Bolton explained, ‘….Biden’s team is leery of tougher action on the project for fear of antagonizing Germany, an important European ally in the fight to address climate change and limit China’s growing global influence.’
The Greens are the only German political party that opposes Nord Stream 2.
The new German foreign minister, Angela Baerbock from the Greens, has repeatedly stated her opposition to the new pipeline from Russia in similar terms to the US government.
But Chancellor Scholz and the SPD continue to defend Nord Stream 2 as an economic necessity for Germany given the extra cost of alternative supplies of gas (for example, LNG from the US) and the need for Germany to have energy stability in its transition to renewables.
Germany has a dilemma. To keep its population on board with this transition, it needs a secure supply of gas.
Germany’s Energiewende project includes having Nord Stream 2 as a reliable and cheap transitional fuel supply in its move to a nuclear and carbon-free economy.
The SPD has asserted its power within the new German coalition government over the most anti-Russian, pro-US force, the Greens.
Rolf Mützenich, the SPD parliamentary leader, has underlined the supremacy of the Chancellor over German foreign policy.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz has emphasised that Nordstream 2 is an economic decision, not a political or security one.
He has also spoken against linking the operating permit for the controversial Russian-German natural gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 to the Ukraine crisis. ‘Nord Stream 2 is a private-sector project that has been advanced to the point where a pipeline has been laid,’ said Scholz.
As Clean Energy Wire reports, ‘The contentious Russian-German pipeline project Nord Stream 2 is not a suitable instrument to penalise Russia in case it attempts to invade neighbouring Ukraine, said German government sources in Berlin ahead of two days of meetings of EU leaders in Brussels on 15-16 December.’
European support for Germany
Germany is not alone in Europe in its backing for Nord Stream 2.
The pipeline has five European partners Austria’s OMV, Germany’s Wintershall and Uniper, France’s Engie, and Anglo-Dutch company Royal Dutch Shell. The Austrian chancellor has also called for Nord Stream 2 to go ahead.
Both Ukraine and Poland have their economic reasons to oppose Nord Stream 2. Poland hopes to become a hub for LNG from Norway, and Ukraine wants to continue to receive payment for allowing the Russian gas pipeline to go through its territory.
Eugene Remer explains, ‘In reality, Europe is not overly dependent on Russian gas. Russia accounts for 37 per cent of EU gas imports, a share that has declined steadily from 75 per cent in 1990. New sources of gas, including LNG supplies, have effectively undercut Russian leverage. Nord Stream 2 will not change that.’
Energy and US international hegemony
Since WW2, control of energy supplies has been critical to maintaining the subordination of Japan and Germany to the United States.
The US also was successful in the ruthless elimination of its other major imperialist rival, Britain, in securing control of the oil supply from the Middle East.
Unlike the US, Japan and Germany depend on energy imports. The US has used its military power and domination of the Middle East energy market to leverage its leadership over its imperialist rivals.
Disrupting Germany and Russia
The US opposition to Nord Stream 2 is not the first time the US has opposed trade in energy between Russia and Germany.
US administrations viewed Germany’s Chancellor, Willi Brandt’s Ostpolitik, and Osthandel [trade with the east] in the late 1960s and 1970s with foreboding.
Presidents Nixon and Ford tried to impede the plans of Chancellor Willi Brandt and President Leonid Brezhnev to boost the Russian economy and apply German technology to access Siberian gas.
As Werner Lippert explains in his book, ‘The Economic Diplomacy of Ostpolitik’, ‘Through East-West trade, European NATO partners had acquired structural interests very diﬀerent from those of the United States. With the long-term sale of their energy commodities in Western Europe, the Soviets had established ties of a nature that did not exist with the U.S. It was these ties that made it increasingly harder to reach consensus within NATO on how to deal with the Soviet Union in times of crisis. NATO’s energy problem was born.
The two most striking illustrations of the transatlantic rift between Western Europe and the United States are Carter’s 1980 trade embargo and the 1982 Euro-pipeline debate that took place on Reagan’s watch. Here, the two sides’ ideological positions were so contradictory that the Western Europeans simply refused to follow along with U.S. foreign policy initiatives, as these stood to harm Western European interests.’
Trotsky on American hegemony
Those speeches provide great insights into the nature of the relationship between the USA and Europe today.
He said, “Whoever wishes or tries today to discuss the destiny of Europe or the world proletariat without taking into the power and significance of the USA into account is, in a certain sense, drawing up a balance sheet without consulting the master.”
Trotsky pointed out that, ‘The US was now the most important imperialist power ‘to which nothing in the past can compare.’ ‘The USA rules the capitalist world.’
He spoke of US imperialism wanting to put Europe ‘on rations.’
He also spoke about the domination of ‘conciliationism’ or social peace in the USA so it could expand internationally with the security of social peace at home.
He pointed out that ‘the United States reaches out into all world channels and everywhere takes the offensive.’
As he went on to say, ‘She operates in a strictly ‘pacifist manner.’ ‘her adversaries, .… are retreating …. not daring to risk an open clash.’
Adding that, ‘The USA will permit Europe…to rise again, but within limits set in advance…’
He continued, ‘This “pacifist” program of putting the whole world under her control is not at all a program of peace. On the contrary, it is pregnant with wars and the greatest revolutionary convulsions…. It is hard to conceive that the bourgeoisie of countries will dociley withdraw into the background, and become converted into American vassals without putting up a fight…’ ‘There will inevitably be military collisions.’
‘The era of ‘pacifist’ Americanism that seems to be opening at this time is only laying the groundwork for new wars of unprecedented scope and unimaginable monstrosity.’
[Following the 1922 Washington conference, the USA put Britain and Japan on American rations. For every five units of the US navy, there would be five for Britain and three for Japan. The era of British global naval superiority was at an end.]
And in comments which continue to be relevant today, Trotsky said, ‘ the United States ….brooks no obstacle on her path, ….views each rise in prices of raw materials she lacks as a malicious assault upon her inalienable right to exploit the world…’
‘This American ‘pacifist’ program of putting the whole world under her control is not at all a program of peace. On the contrary, it is pregnant with wars and the greatest revolutionary paroxysms.’
US hegemony and its thinkers
Since 1945, presidents, US political thinkers, secretaries of state, and think tanks have developed strategies and implemented plans to consolidate the US primacy that Trotsky described.
Whilst their goal of US primacy is common to them all, their different strategies have generated much debate. [See Perry Anderson’s American Foreign Policy and Its Thinkers for a detailed guide.]
Zbigniew Brzezinski [National Security Advisor to President Carter] stands out as a thinker who has articulated the key concerns and approaches of those who wish to maintain US primacy.
His analysis is critical to understanding the attitude of the US to matters like Nord Stream 2.
He explained the US dilemma in his 1997 article ‘A Geostrategy for Eurasia’.
• ‘….a country dominant in Eurasia would almost automatically control the Middle East and Africa….’
• ‘….What happens with the distribution of power on the Eurasian landmass will be of decisive importance to America’s global primacy and historical legacy….’
• ‘….In the short run, the United States should consolidate and perpetuate the prevailing geopolitical pluralism on the map of Eurasia….’
• ‘….In a volatile Eurasia, the immediate task is to ensure that no state or combination of states gains the ability to expel the United States or even diminish its decisive role….’
• ‘….Europe is America’s essential geopolitical bridgehead in Eurasia.
• ‘….A wider Europe and an enlarged NATO will serve the short-term and longer-term interests of U.S. policy. A larger Europe will expand the range of American influence without simultaneously creating a Europe so politically integrated that it could challenge the United States on matters of geopolitical importance, particularly in the Middle East. A politically defined Europe is also essential to Russia’s assimilation into a system of global cooperation….’
• ‘….A new Europe is still taking shape, and if that Europe is to remain part of the “Euro-Atlantic” space, the expansion of NATO is essential….’
Brzezinski did not oppose Eurasian unity if it happened on US terms and was subordinated to the maintenance of US exceptionalism and hegemony.
As he put it, ‘….The emergence of such a transcontinental system could gradually relieve America of some of its burdens, while perpetuating beyond a generation its decisive role as Eurasia’s arbitrator. Geostrategic success in that venture would be a fitting legacy to America’s role as the first and only global superpower….’
Sanctions as a US weapon
The US is increasingly using sanctions to impose its will without resorting to outright war.
Biden is continuing Trump’s policy of using sanctions to strengthen US power free from the restraint of the international community.
As Sophie Marineau points out, “As a foreign policy tool, sanctions normally serve to influence the behaviour of sanctioned states, according to the preferences of the sanctioning state. However, secondary sanctions force foreign companies and firms to comply with the US international agenda, even if it runs counter to the interests of their state.
Secondary sanctions don’t distinguish between allies and foes and can target any company doing business with a partner considered hostile to the US. Washington argues that secondary sanctions do not impose any penalties on other states, but their purpose is to prevent foreign firms from accessing the US market if the US deems that these firms are pursuing activities that run counter to its interests.”
Even the German Green party opposes US sanctions against German businesses.
The US sanctions policies are also very wide-ranging and complex. They attempt to exploit the huge weight of the US in international trade and global finance.
To date, Biden and secretary of state Blinken have avoided the use of sanctions against Germany and private businesses for fear of antagonising Germany and losing its support elsewhere.
Germany’s decision to send a German warship to the South China Sea has been Biden’s most notable reward to date.
The U.S. first introduced sanctions on 19 January. But on 19 May, the United States lifted sanctions against German company Nord Stream AG, which is behind the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, and its CEO Matthias Warnig. The Biden administration did so in a bid not to compromise U.S. relations with Germany, according to media reports. Chancellor Merkel welcomed the decision, saying the U.S. president “moved a bit into our direction”.
US hegemony and NATO
NATO is used by the US to undermine European complaints about being subordinated to US economic interests.
The US argues that security trumps economics and attempts to veto any relationships between Russia and Europe that it opposes.
As the interests of the USA and Europe are not identical, contradictions are inevitable.
When faced with such opposition, the US tries to foster division in Europe.
Donald Rumsfeld was a crude example with his talk of old and new Europe. The latter being fully supportive of the US in Iraq.
The US intervention in the dispute between Russia and Ukraine is designed to ensure that the European population and its governments prioritise ‘security’ above their economic interests.
As part of its goal to maintain hegemony over Europe, the US aims to establish itself as the arbitrator in Russo-German relations. It wants to be able to turn on or off the pipeline of cooperation between Russia and Germany if one or both refuses to acquiesce to US demands.
Russo-German economic cooperation is only acceptable to the US on its terms.
Social peace in the USA
Since 1945 the USA has dominated the capitalist world.
US control of energy supplies has been a cornerstone of that domination. The US was self-sufficient in energy, but its three capitalist rivals, Britain, Germany, and Japan, have relied on imports to fuel their economies.
The needs of US capital dominate American foreign policy.
American global hegemony is a cornerstone of the ability of the US ruling class to maintain social peace at home.
The continued subordination and exclusion of the US working-class from politics is based on the ability of US imperialism to keep its privileged position in the world economy.
If the US is unable to maintain the international economic, military and political domination it accumulated in the twentieth century, there will inevitably be repercussions in the US itself.
Such a development will potentially create new opportunities for the US working class and the oppressed to advance.
The article above was originally published here by The Rising Tide