Waning U.S. Power: The Nord Stream 2 Pipeline

With the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline expected later this year, the United States has decided to impose sanctions against the commercial European and Russian companies which are currently involved in its construction. Nord Stream 2 is an underwater pipeline currently being constructed in the Baltic Sea, which plans to link Russia with Germany for the purposes of transporting Russian liquified natural gas to Western Europe. The pipeline is vital for Russia as it will allow them to bypass Eastern European countries such as Ukraine and Poland, who have a less than friendly relationship with the Kremlin. On the other hand, the United States as well as Eastern European governments claim that Russia will take advantage of Western Europe’s reliance on their natural gas and use it to exert political influence over continent. 

Following the sanctions, Swiss pipe-laying contractor Allseas immediately halted construction of the remaining stretch of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Angela’s Merkel’s Transatlantic Coordinator, Peter Beyer, stated that the sanctions would force Germany to look for “alternative” solutions, but he maintained that the project would be finished, albeit with delays and at a greater cost. The European Union criticized the move, stating that the bloc opposed “sanctions against European companies engaged in legal activities.” European governments have pointed out that the U.S. is exerting such questionable sanctions over the pipeline in order to force Europe to buy its natural gas from the United States instead, which would be much more expensive. U.S. Senator Rand Paul also criticized the move by his government, claiming it was an unwarranted attack on America’s European allies. “If we continue does this road—of drawing lines in the sand and treating our friends the same way that we treat our adversaries—then we will have no one to blame but ourselves when we find ourselves with fewer friends,” the senator wrote.  The U.S. Congress, who voted through the measures, maintained however that the pipeline was merely a “tool of coercion”. 

As it becomes clear that the U.S. is no longer able to unilaterally wield the same influence over the globe as it once did, we are witnessing the administration increasingly resorting to more heavy-handed behaviour which only works to alienate the international community and its allies. It would previously be unthinkable for the U.S. to sanction its own allies—especially those in Europe—however, with this move, that is essentially what has been done to prevent this pipeline’s completion, as a result of the threat that it poses to the U.S.’s monopoly on power in Europe. The very fact that the German government has vowed to complete the pipeline and maintain cordial relations with the Russian government against the best wishes of the U.S. (who is still the global hegemon) is evidence that U.S. power is beginning to wane. If ever there were a sign that an empire were crumbling, it is small acts of defiance like this over an extended period which will gradually lead to an empire’s vassal states (in this case Europe), as well as its adversaries (such as Russia) carving out their own spheres of influence. However, that is not to say that a significant decline of U.S. hegemony in Europe is anywhere to be seen in the near future. Naturally, this is due to the immense military presence that the U.S. still retains in Europe—tens of thousands of troops and dozens of bases—as well as a lack of united leadership on the continent as of yet

Thus, over the coming decades, it is likely that we will continue to see the U.S. resorting to more and more aggressive actions against its own allies in an attempt to keep them in line for the sake of preserving its global empire. Actions such as those taken with regards to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline—which will provide Europe with significantly more economic independence—demonstrate the small steps that are already being taken towards multipolarity. Fractures in the U.S.-European alliance have also been compounded by a number of U.S. blunders with regards to failed military interventions as well as solipsistic behaviour like the termination of the Iran Nuclear Deal, among other things. As U.S. leadership gradually proves itself to be detrimental to European goals, it will be interesting to see the steps that will be taken by European leaders to amass greater autonomy.