US-German Deal on Nord Stream 2 Reveals Biden’s Realistic Turn
Friday, July 23, 2021
Lucas Leiroz, research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
After long disputes, sanctions and tensions, the controversy on the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline appears to be coming to a peaceful end. This Wednesday, Washington announced that a deal had been reached in bilateral dialogues with Germany. Apparently, the US has not changed its view about the pipeline but is willing to change its stance toward Germany, trying to preserve their good relations, despite disagreements on specific issues. Also, this turn indicates a more realistic stance in Biden’s Administration, which is abandoning its ideological commitment to US global hegemony.
In an unexpected statement, the US State Department announced a possible solution to tensions with Berlin over Nord Stream 2, with a new deal that promises to prioritize diplomacy over coercion. These were the words of a Department’s spokesman: “While we remain opposed to the pipeline, we reached the judgment that sanctions would not stop its construction and risked undermining a critical alliance with Germany, as well as with the EU and other European allies (…) I would just say emphatically that we still oppose Nord Stream 2, we still believe it’s a Russian geopolitical malign influence project, none of that has changed”.
As we can see, there is no change of opinion on either side, but an American willingness to refrain from coercive methods and a pledge to accept German decisions, even considering them wrong. The narrative of a “Russian threat to Europe” is still active, but Washington admits the German right to choose its own future and the alliances and cooperation projects it plans to maintain.
Commenting on this topic, US President Joe Biden said: “Nord Stream is 99% finished. I had, as you know, very, very fruitful discussions with Angela Merkel and she’s working, and the German government, on a commitment that suggests that if in fact Russia takes pain to deliberately inflict pain on Ukraine or other countries they will respond”. Biden’s words, in addition to any desire to actually reduce tensions, demonstrate a strongly realistic perspective: with the project almost complete, sanctioning is no longer a reasonable option and the only option left for the US is to trust the German government to prevent the pipeline from becoming a source of Russian influence in Western Europe.
Little is known so far about such deal between the US and Germany and new details are expected to be announced soon. However, some information has already been released and reveals central points about the conditions imposed on Germany by the US in order to achieve the pact. For example, Berlin has promised to take measures to absolutely guarantee energy security in Ukraine, Poland, and NATO states along the Russian border. The aim is to prevent Moscow from banning energy supplies in the event of tensions, crises, and conflicts. With this, Berlin serves Washington’s interest in preventing Moscow from “aggressing” the West, which was certainly a requirement imposed by the American government to reach a deal and cancel sanctions.
However, despite the conditions imposed and the attempt to balance differences in search of peaceful relations, the measure does not seem to suit everyone. Ukrainian officials reacted with severe opposition to the agreement, claiming that Nord Stream 2 poses a threat to Ukraine’s national security, which would mean a German violation of the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement. Complaints from Kiev in this regard have already been sent to Brussels. In addition, within the US Congress, many lawmakers vehemently disagree with any form of “permission” to Nord Stream 2, especially among Democrats.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat who has co-authored legislation to stop the construction of the Nord Stream 2, said: “(…) I am not yet convinced that this agreement — or any bilateral agreement — can sufficiently provide assurances to our European allies and minimize the considerable economic impact and security implications of this pipeline’s completion. I’ve long contended that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline should not be completed because it empowers the Kremlin to spread its malign influence throughout Eastern Europe, threatens the economic security of our European partners and puts our global stability at risk. I continue to believe that”. Despite the criticism, Biden’s decision seems absolute and finally the pipeline will be able to operate without obstacles, benefiting both Russians and Europeans.
In fact, what this indicates is that Biden is becoming a more realistic-thinking president, with policies guided by strategic factors rather than unrealistic ideological principles. Despite being an important geostrategic matter, the American attempt to stop Nord Stream II was much more ideological than realistic: Washington tried to demonstrate dominance over Germany and Europe, even when it was practically impossible to prevent the construction of the pipeline.
It is necessary to emphasize that “ideology” here means the commitment to the establishment of a world order based on liberal and globalist principles where the US plays a role of world police (the same American utopia of the first years after the Cold War), which confronts the reality of the rise of a multipolar world, where states negotiate based on mutual interests and not on ideological communion.
The American president realized that trying to stop the pipeline’s activities would be utterly fruitless – a waste of time and resources, as well as an unnecessary increase in international tensions. His decision to allow the German choice – although expressing his disagreement – was correct. This is precisely how sovereign states act: they try to resolve their demands through diplomacy, finding common benefits amidst ideological disagreements and strategic disputes.
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