Following his Senate approval, Anthony Blinken became the 71st US Secretary of State.
For four years, Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo have wrought chaos in the world, but now intelligence and professionalism are finally returning to American foreign policy. The seasoned diplomat Blinken faces a historic challenge: the old world order, largely driven by the US, lies in ruins after Trump's rule. Therefore, the slogan Build Back Better applies today not only to US domestic politics, but also to global politics.
Since reanimating the transatlantic relationship - one of Biden's main campaign promises - is also a key task of German foreign policy, we have to tackle many problematic topics. It would be good to start with Nord Stream 2 and the US sanctions policy, because in the person of Anthony Blinken we have a partner willing to cooperate.
For too long, the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline debate has poisoned our transatlantic friendship. They led to the fact that the US Congress decided to impose sanctions on European companies, and some US senators threaten the German port with financial collapse. The pipeline also caused a split within the EU, with Poland and the Baltic states being persistently opposed. Passions are raging around the pipeline, although it has not even been completed yet, while Russian gas continues to flow to Europe in the same volume, and American oil imports from Russia have even increased in recent years.
The transatlantic dispute over gas imports from the East is not new, but it is not hopeless. This is evidenced by the book Ally versus Ally: America, Europe and the Siberian Pipeline Crisis, which the current US Secretary of State published back in 1987. Based on the analysis of the Reagan-era pipeline conflict described in the book, many parallels can be drawn. And today we can use the findings of young Blinken as a guide - and, moreover, on both sides of the Atlantic.
According to Blinken, “Washington coerced ... sovereign partner states and independent foreign companies to do things that, in their view, were contrary to their own national and commercial interests. The embargo was an unheard-of insult to Europeans, because in their perception the United States arrogated to itself the right to engage in trade and foreign policy of its allies, whether they liked it or not."
And today the words of Helmut Schmidt in an interview about this book have not lost their relevance: "We will not allow the United States to prescribe anything to us in this area of our economic policy."
According to Blinken, "this reflects the point of view of America's allies that the North Atlantic pact, to which they have joined, should not serve as a sword, but as a shield." From this he concludes: "If the concept of NATO as a structure designed to serve the maintenance of collective security has not lost its relevance, it turns out that aggressive trade blockades are politically unacceptable."
Both then and today, the attempt to force the allies to participate in the economic war is doomed to failure. In the end, it will only weaken the cohesion of the West. On this basis, Blinken concludes: "Allied policy should be based on compromise, not coercion." Today, in view of NATO's expansion to the East, this means that we must take into account the sense of threat experienced by our Eastern alliance partners.
Therefore, we could move forward together in the following way.
The Biden government is freezing sanctions on the pipeline. Germany makes it possible to complete the construction of the gas pipeline, but postpones its commissioning.
Americans and Europeans are beginning consultations on whether and to what extent sanctions against Russia make sense in their energy policy. What will be the result of these consultations is an open question, but they will affect the entire set of cooperation with Russia in energy policy.
Making Nord Stream 2 a litmus test in relations with Putin and depriving Russia of billions of dollars in profits from current oil and gas exports is not good. The US and the EU should be aware of whether they really need an oil and gas embargo on Russia and what political goals in relations with Russia they want to achieve with such historically unique sanctions (release of Navalny? Free elections in Belarus? Return of eastern Ukraine or Crimea?) Because sanctions work only if they are agreed between partners and pursue a clear political goal, that is, a clearly formulated change in the behavior of the country they are aimed at.
These meetings should also discuss alternative forms of sanctions, such as the confiscation of assets of Russian oligarchs, as well as consistent and concerted action against money laundering. Finally, it should be borne in mind that the Biden government and the Europeans want to work with Moscow on climate protection and disarmament.
With all this, we must remember the words of Blinken: "If we have a harmonious union, and not one that splits in half on such a fundamental issue as trade relations between East and West, it will rather allow the West to adequately confront the challenges of its opponents."