May 27, 2021

Is Nord Stream 2 in America’s national interest?


President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken invoked U.S. “national interest” in allowing Russia and Germany to proceed with completing the Nord Stream 2 (NS2) pipeline, without explaining exactly what that interest was. How is it in the U.S. national interest to place the security of Europe’s sovereign nations at risk by supporting the NS2 pipeline, in partnership with a notoriously untrustworthy Russia, in exchange for short-term energy security for Germany?

In his statement on May 19, Mr. Blinken said that, “I have determined that it is in the national interest of the United States to waive the application of sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG, its CEO Matthias Warnig, and Nord Stream 2 AG’s corporate officers.”
Mathias Warnig is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hand-picked executive to run the pipeline. Mr. Warnig worked for the East German state security service (Stasi), where Mr. Putin met him as a young KGB officer. Together, they will continue to use the nefarious KGB and Stasi tradecraft to further NS2 and undermine any opposition to the pipeline.

Mr. Blinken’s statement concluded with an internally contradictory message: “Today’s actions demonstrate the administration’s commitment to energy security in Europe, consistent with the president’s pledge to rebuild relationships with our allies and partners in Europe. We will continue to oppose the completion of this project, which would weaken European energy security and that of Ukraine and Eastern flank NATO and EU countries. Our opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is unwavering.”

Mr. Blinken’s statement makes no sense, though. Let’s simplify. The U.S. is committed to Europe’s energy security, while at the same opposing the completion of the project by lifting sanctions on the project. This is diplomatic double-speak, underlining a confusing and disingenuous Biden administration foreign policy that does not bode well for future insincere proclamations of support for Ukraine.

This decision is clearly in Germany’s national interest, though the U.S. national interest is far from obvious because it seriously compromises both U.S. and EU longer-term national security interests, and completely compromises the already fragile national security of Ukraine by making Ukraine’s transit pipelines obsolete.

With both Nord Stream pipelines in place, NS1 and NS2, Mr. Putin and Russia can easily blackmail Europe by controlling the flow of gas through the pipelines during future disputes, as they did on January 1, 2006, when Russia cut off supply to Europe as part of a dispute between Ukraine and Russia over transit fees. It would be very easy for Mr. Putin to manufacture a dispute or an incident as an excuse to restrict the flow of gas to Europe.

The concept of “national interest” is a nebulous one that is used to cover any actions deemed useful for advancing the interests and goals of a nation. In foreign affairs, it is promoting a nation’s objectives and ambitions in the international domain, be they economic, military or cultural. In this instance, invoking the national interest is a weak excuse used to divert criticism from an inexplicably bad decision.

The basis for this solicitous attitude towards Germany may be found in the language of the “Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act of 2019” [PEESA; Sec. 7502]:

“It is the sense of Congress that the relationships between the United States and Europe and the United States and Germany are critical to the national security interests of the United States as well as to global prosperity and peace, and Germany in particular is a crucial partner for the United States in multilateral efforts aimed at promoting global prosperity and peace.”

The Biden administration is eager to restore close ties with Germany that were ruptured during the Trump administration. During his first foreign policy speech as president, Mr. Biden announced that he is halting the Trump administration’s planned U.S. troop withdrawal from Germany until the Department of Defense completes a Global Posture Review of U.S. forces. One would think that Mr. Biden’s professed multilateral policies and recent actions rejoining the Paris Climate Accords and negotiations with Iran would be enough to signal that the U.S. will, once again, be a strong EU ally.

Ostentatiously currying Germany’s ‘favor’ by agreeing to the NS2 pipeline is an insufficient motive to invoke U.S. national interest as the basis for this flawed decision. Congenial working relations among allies are the stuff of conventional diplomacy. Mr. Biden has made clear his desire to rebuild relationships with European allies. One would expect something substantive in return from Germany.

Why should the U.S. be currying Germany’s favor, especially on a matter this important, which clearly will subvert the security of the EU? Over the past three decades, since the first Gulf War in 1991, Germany has been an unsteady and inconsistent ally of the U.S. within NATO, the U.N. and other international fora. Germany sat out the second Gulf War. A 2017 Pew poll in NATO countries found Germans were the least likely to support defending fellow allies against Russian attack, as mandated by Article 5 of the alliance’s charter.

Germany has lived under America’s and NATO’s protective umbrella for the past 75 years. Germany enjoys protection from a U.S.-installed Patriot missile defense system, but was against installing a similar system in Poland and Romania, two NATO partners. Mr. Trump installed those systems, after former U.S. President Barack Obama cancelled them in 2009, after strong pressure from Germany and France, among others.

Germany opposed delivering offensive weapons to Ukraine. Despite being the richest nation in the EU, Germany has failed to meet its NATO defense commitment of 2 percent of GDP, while insisting that the U.S. keep 50,000 troops in the country.

It is clear that Germany routinely and vigorously pursues its own national self-interest at the expense of European allies and the U.S., while loudly complaining about “America First” policies. Berlin’s feigned reverence for multilateralism is but a thin veil for its nationalist, “Germany Foremost” foreign policy. Germany dominates European political discourse because of its inordinate leverage within the EU through its economic power and disproportionate voting power in the EU Parliament.

After the UK, with its 76 votes, left the EU, Germany and France’s influence grew even larger. Together, Germany, France and Italy control 250 out of 705 (35 percent) of the seats in the European Parliament. Despite that, in a resolution approved on April 29 with 569 votes in favor, 67 against and 46 abstentions, the parliament called on the EU to “reduce its dependence on Russian energy.”

Let’s look at Germany’s energy makeup. In 2020, 30 percent of Germany’s energy use came from oil; 26 percent came from natural gas; 17 from renewable sources (wind, solar, biomass, hydropower); 16 percent came from coal and 6 percent came from nuclear energy. German Chancellor Angela Merkel decided to phase out nuclear energy by 2022, and substitute natural gas for coal. Instead of choosing energy independence by expanding a new, cleaner and much safer generation of nuclear power technology, and importing liquified natural gas from dependable partners like the U.S. and Canada, Ms. Merkel chose energy dependency on Russia, a notoriously unreliable and untrustworthy partner. It is not in the U.S. national interest to enable Ms. Merkel in her reckless and disastrous energy dependence strategy.

The decision to proceed with the NS2 pipeline also contradicts the climate mitigation policies of both Germany and the U.S., which are committed to reducing fossil fuel use on the grounds of grave national security threats. Instead, Mr. Biden cancelled the Keystone pipeline as his first act as president, while at the same time overriding serious concerns of many allies on the risks posed by the NS2 pipeline.

Sen. Jim Risch said that, “It is deeply disturbing that this administration canceled the Keystone XL Pipeline on its first day, killing thousands of U.S. and Canadian jobs. Yet, it continues to support Russian workers involved in a project that goes against U.S. and European security interests.”

Finally, critics of NS2 have consistently raised concerns that the pipeline would leave Ukraine vulnerable to energy disruptions while increasing the possibility of a major escalation in ongoing Russian military aggression against the country. Ukraine’s pipeline, which currently provides sufficient gas to Europe, would become redundant, and Russia would be able to shut off supplies to Ukraine. It could also destroy the pipeline during a conflict without disrupting Europe’s supply. For Ukraine, the NS2 pipeline is a very grave and immediate national security threat.

Mr. Biden will be meeting with NATO allies on June 14 in Brussels. Ambassador Kurt Volker recently wrote that NATO must come up with a comprehensive plan to counter Russia’s aggressive actions on the borders of Europe, in cyberspace and its campaigns of misinformation and subversion of democratic nations, and to stop the NS2 pipeline.
This NATO meeting may be Mr. Biden’s last chance for NATO allies to convince Germany and the U.S. to reverse the NS2 pipeline decision. Germany is an inconsistent ally who’s been protected by the U.S. for 75 years and doesn’t deserve special considerations from the U.S. in the form of a national interest rational.

America’s national interest should be to reverse Germany’s destructive decision and safeguard Europe and Ukraine from Russia’s malign designs. The U.S. national interest in opposing completion of the NS2 pipeline should be clear:

• NS2 is a ‘trojan horse’ system that will be used to blackmail Europe during some undefined future dispute between NATO allies and Russia, thereby undermining national security;
• NS2 will serve to further fragment European unity by pitting energy dependent nations against self-sufficient nations in many other areas of economic, trade and military co-dependencies;
• NS2 is a clear and immediate threat to Ukraine, as it will allow Moscow to bypass the existing gas transmission system through Ukraine, increasing Ukraine’s vulnerability to gas shortages and energy blackmail.
• Bypassing NS2 will also make Ukraine’s gas transmission pipelines vulnerable to Russian attacks and sabotage, cutting off gas supplies permanently during any further incursions across the eastern border.
• More than most members of NATO, Ukraine is an important strategic ally of the U.S. and Europe, being one of the very few that are militarily engaged in resisting Russian threats.