In a speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in 2015, George Friedman, geopolitical forecaster, strategist on international affairs and founder of the private intelligence consulting firm Stratfor, made the following comments:
“The primordial interest of the United States—over which for a century we have fought wars: the first, second, cold war—has been the relationship between Germany and Russia, because united they are the only force that could threaten us, and to make sure that that doesn’t happen…. The real wild card in Europe is that as the United States builds its cordon sanitaire, not in Ukraine but to the west, and the Russians try to figure out how to leverage Ukrainians out, we don’t know the German position. Germany is in a very peculiar position. Its former chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, is on the board of Gazprom. They have a very complex relationship to the Russians. The Germans themselves don’t know what to do. They must export, the Russians can’t take up the export. On the other hand, if they lose the free trade zone they need to build something different. For the United States the primordial fear is … German technology, German capital, Russian natural resources, Russian manpower, as the only combination that has for centuries scared the hell out of the United States. So how does this play out? Well, the US has already put its cards on the table. It is the line from the Baltics to the Black Sea. For the Russians, their cards have always been on the table: they must have at least a neutral Ukraine, not a pro-Western Ukraine. Belaurus is another question. Now, whoever can tell me what the Germans are gonna do is gonna tell me about the next twenty years of history. But unfortunately, the Germans haven’t made up their mind. And this is the problem of Germany always: enormously economically powerful, geopolitically very fragile, and never quite knowing how to reconcile the two. Ever since 1871 this has been the German question… think about the German question, because now it’s coming up again. That’s the next question that we have to address, and we don’t know how to address it. We don’t know what they’re going to do.”
Much has changed since 2015. The migrant invasion has delegitimized liberalism in the minds of many Europeans. Brexit, the growth of nationalism and rising tensions between member states have thrown the future of the European Union into question. Relations between the United States and Turkey grow worse by the day—the US recently suspended Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program in response to its purchase of a Russian S-400 air defense system. The Trump administration’s Middle East policies have divided the transatlantic alliance; European leaders have refused to reimpose sanctions on Iran, no EU member state recognizes the Golan Heights as part of Israel and just last month Germany rejected US demands to send troops to Syria. The US ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, a despised figure in Germany, (the deputy chairman of the FDP described him as acting like the “high commissioner of an occupying power”) recently threatened to withdraw US troops from Germany if Germany doesn’t increase its military spending. US hawkishness toward Russia—including its unilateral withdrawal from the INF treaty – hasn’t been viewed favorably by most of Europe; immanentizing the eschaton with nuclear hellfire doesn’t have much support outside The Levant and the beltway. Both Trumpand Bolton have threatened to sanction the European Union over their circumvention of Iranian sanctions. The Nord Stream II pipeline will likely be completed early next year. Finally, Angela Merkel’s tenure as chancellor is nearing its end, leaving a greatly weakened and deeply divided Christian Democratic Union and an extremely fragile coalition government in its wake.
All of these developments increase the likelihood of Friedman’s nightmare—a Russo-German alliance capable of threatening US hegemony—becoming a reality. Although the idea of such a significant geopolitical change in twenty-first century Europe may seem unlikely at first glance, we should remember that the history of international relations is a history of relentless change—everything flows. A general accounting of the relevant economic and political factors indicates that the creation of a Russo-German alliance in the relatively near future is quite possible. The creation of such an alliance would have enormous implications for the future of European civilization. By combining German economic might and Russian military power and natural resources, a Russo-German alliance would have the potential to project massive geopolitical power, undercutting the influence of the United States in Europe and ending the hegemony of the “US-led liberal international order.”
The Nord Stream II pipeline project is correctly regarded by Washington as an attempt by Russia to expand its influence in Europe and a sign of Germany’s willingness to deepen its economic ties with Russia. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, Nord Stream II could potentially double Russia’s gas exports to Germany, deepening the already close economic relationship between the two countries. Diane Francis of The Atlantic Council describes the project as “a weapon, in the form of an underwater pipeline, that will give President Vladimir Putin the power to plunge the Soivet Union’s former satellites and republics in Europe into darkness or recession” and warns that “The pipeline represents an existential threat to Europe.” In July, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee overwhelmingly passed the “Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act,” which would sanction the companies involved in the pipeline’s construction. Ted Cruz describes Nord Stream II as “a grave threat to the national security of the United States and our European allies.” Jeanne Shaheen describes it as “another means by which Russia can spread its malign influence by exploiting Europe’s energy dependence.” The fact that Merkel, who is a Russia hawk by German standards, continues to support the project despite widespread opposition to it in the European Union and sanctions threats from the United States throws into sharp relief the degree to which Germany and Russia are being pushed together out of economic and political necessity. A paper published in February by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, a leading European think tank which advises the Bundestag, the European Union, NATO and the UN, describes the negative effects of unilateral US sanctions and lays out the economic and strategic imperatives that underlie German support for the project. The paper states: “The increased use of economic instruments of power in US policy towards Russia is negatively affecting European and German interests. The current discussion on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is currently under construction, has lost sight of the fact that this sanctions policy has a considerable impact on energy relations between Europe and Russia.” The paper goes on to note that relying on America for Europe’s liquid natural gas requirements would have “negative implications for Europe as an industrial location and for European competitiveness” and that “US LNG is still too expensive to be really competitive.” The paper concludes that US-Russia tensions threaten European energy security, that Russian natural gas will be the European Union’s primary supply of LNG “well into the 2020s,” that US sanctions threaten the ability of the EU to act autonomously, and that the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges—a mechanism established in January which allows Europe to circumvent US sanctions by facilitating non-USD transactions—should include business with Russia. In short, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs’ counsel is that Germany should side with Russia against America with respect to Nord Stream II. So far, the Germans are doing just that. This refusal by Germany to acquiesce to American demands reflects a growing willingness to directly challenge Washington.
Even without Nord Stream II, Russia and Germany enjoy a strong and growing economic relationship. According to the Russian-German Chamber of Commerce, Germany invested 3.2 billion euros in the Russian economy in 2018, the highest level of investment in a decade. In the first quarter of 2019, German businesses invested over 1.7 billion euros in Russia, more than half of the 2018 total. German businesses and banks are generally in favor of closer economic relations with Russia and oppose US sanctions. Earlier this year, German Minister of Economic Affairs and Energy Peter Altmaire appeared with Putin at the opening of an automobile plant near Moscow, where he emphasized that a prosperous Russia is good for Germany. Perhaps the best symbol of Germany and Russia’s close economic relationship is the fact that Gerhard Schröder, Merkel’s predecessor as Chancellor, currently serves as an independent director of Rosneft, the Russian state-owned oil producer. Increasing economic cooperation and interdependence between the two countries will lay the groundwork for a stronger political relationship.
Polls indicate that a majority of Germans are in favor of friendlier relations with Moscow. In the former East Germany, support sits at about 75%. This support crosses partisan lines; both the “far-right” AFD and the Left Party explicitly support closer relations with Russia. Significant elements of the CDU and the SPD do as well. Cooperation on the issue of Russia could provide a basis for cooperation between the left and right in the years to come.
Since the end of the Second World War, Europe has been dominated by the United States and Russia. One should never forget that the European Coal and Steel Community (the nascent form of the European Union) and NATO were American impositions, not European creations. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, two major forces have undermined Washington’s control over Europe: American military power in Europe being rendered unnecessary due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the creation and expansion of the European Union. The lack of a serious military threat from the east takes away much of America’s leverage; unlike during the Cold War, the departure of American troops from Germany wouldn’t precipitate a Russian invasion. The creation and expansion of the European Union—which now has a larger economy than the US—means that Europe is no longer as reliant on the US economically. The policies of the Trump administration have exposed these weaknesses in the transatlantic alliance and accelerated its disintegration. The administration’s demand that European nations increase their military expenditures to match NATO requirements have been mostly ignored. Germany’s refusal to increase military expenditures has prompted the US ambassador to threaten to remove its troops from Germany. Although it’s unclear how serious this threat is, the very fact that the idea is being floated exposes the deterioration of US-Germany relations. The Trump administration’s aggression toward Iran and aggressive Zionism are at odds with prevailing attitudes in Europe. European nations do not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, do not recognize the Golan Heights as part of Israel, have been critical of Israel’s aggression in the West Bank, recently passed a law requiring that products manufactured in certain parts of Israel be sold with warning labels, have risked US wrath by circumventing sanctions on Iran, recently restored Russia’s voting rights in the Council of Europe, and Germany recently refused to send troops to Syria. Broadly speaking, Europe is refusing to play ball with the US. This has prompted Trump and senior members of his administration to threaten and criticize Europe. John Bolton and Trump have threatened to sanction EU nations over their circumvention of Iranian sanctions. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo directly criticized the European Union in a December 2018 speech in Brussels. At NATO’s 70th anniversary, Vice President Pence called Germany’s low level of defense spending and cooperation with Russia on the Nord Stream II “unacceptable.” On the trade front, Trump halted negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a proposed free trade deal between the US and Europe, and has threatened to sanction products from the EU. The United Kingdom, the major European power most aligned with the United States on foreign policy and trade, is probably about to leave the European Union. In response to all of this, European leaders are beginning to move away from the US and forge an independent European path. The desire of Germany in particular to regain its self-determination is epitomized by prominent German political scientist Christian Hack’s call for Germany to develop its own nuclear arsenal. This push for independence from Washington will not disappear when Trump leaves the White House; in the words of New York Magazine’s Heather Hurlburt, “The cumulative weight of bad faith and bad policy has collapsed trust that, while imperfect all around, had lasted seven decades.” A Democratic administration would not be able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
If Europe succeeds in breaking off from the American Empire, an alliance between a German-led Europe and Russia will come about almost naturally. Europe’s economic power and Russia’s military and natural resources would go together like peanut butter and jelly. While Europe has its fair share of open borders fanatics and neoliberal authoritarians, it’s important to remember that their power emanates from Washington, not Brussels. It’s not a coincidence that wherever American military bases go gay pride parades soon follow. The “US-led liberal international order” is code for “teach your children to be sodomites or we’ll kill you.” Under Trump this isn’t really hyperbole. A Europe not under the thumb of the United States would be a Europe no longer under the thumb of Jewish-dominated globalism (if you doubt that the Chosen People have more power in America than in Europe, try to conceive of a US government that would put warning labels on products from Israel). An alliance between Russia and German-led Europe would end US global hegemony and secure the future of European Civilization.