Washington Revisits Nord Stream 2: Partnership Over Parochialism?

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Washington Revisits Nord Stream 2: Partnership Over Parochialism?

Fri, 02/19/2021 - 11:36
Flags of Germany and the USA (copyright by Shutterstock/Andy.LIU)
Flags of Germany and the USA (copyright by Shutterstock/Andy.LIU)

At first glance, it seems the new Joe Biden administration will be adopting the same punitive policy vis-vis Nord Srteam 2 as its predecessor:  Nord Stream 2 should not go into operation and sanctions should be used as a means to this end.  A State Department spokesperson said that all activities relating to the completion of Nord Stream 2 would be closely monitored and sanctions would be considered.

But upon further scrutiny there is more taking place than what might initially meet the eye.  In the ongoing debate new, more conciliatory tones are being used to to signify that, in the opinion of Biden's State Department, sanctions are just one of a number of instruments the United States has to influence the outcome of a particular policy: "We are working closely with our allies and partners in order to bolster European energy security and to protect them from predatory behavior." Thomas Bareiß, of the German Economic Ministry, says the dynamic is changing: "I know from many years of discussions with our transatlantic friends that the USA above all puts special emphasis on the big picture. Washington wants a clear declaration for a collective security partnership.  It is in Germany's interest not to lose Russia and at the same time to consider the concerns of our US allies."

According to the Handelsblatt the German government is considering how it can clear up American misgivings on Nord Stream 2. A "package solution" is being proffered, one that could be enacted when the pipeline goes into operation.  The Americans have signaled their readiness for dialogue.

The new found American readiness to talk is predicated on the notion of a shut-off mechanism.  Such a notion is also being discussed at the moment in the Berlin Ministries. Technical and judicial preconditions are being produced that could lead to Nord Stream 2's operations being disrupted.  This, for example, if Russia were to attempt to place the Ukraine under pressure by stopping gas deliveries.  An automatic switch, preferred by the Americans, has been rejected by Berlin. Such a switch would give the Ukrainians too much leverage over German / European energy policy. Finally, it cannot be ruled out in this scenario that an altercation would be provoked by Kiev and not Moscow.

The Federal Government is contemplating a political declaration.  This declaration would oblige Germany to stop imports from Nord Stream 2 if the Kremlin uses energy deliveries abroad as a political weapon. Yet this too raises confounding issues of possible compensation claims by Nord Stream 2. Against this backdrop the US wish for German funds to help the Ukraine transform itself into a producer of green hydrogen is comparatively harmless, though there are still large differences on the question whether a new transit agreement with Kiev for gas deliveries can be negotiated.

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