Donald Trump played exactly to script this morning at the opening breakfast for the NATO Summit.
He quickly pointed out the problem: the U.S. pays for Europe’s defense through NATO to defend against Russian invasion while buying the lion’s share of its energy from that same Russia.
The implication is about Germany benefitting most from the Nordstream 2 pipeline being built by Gazprom and financed by a consortium of European energy majors.
Trump’s statement revealed something that should scare everyone a bit. He makes it clear that in Trump’s world trade is great, but energy is not trade, it’s something else.
It’s something more important.
As in, nothing about how the world operates will change as the great powers still fight over who gets to control what energy and from whom you are allowed to consume.
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Geopolitics is still stuck in the Hobbesian view of a zero-sum war of all against all.
Look, I get that part of this is a ploy to highlight Germany’s privileged position within the EU to advance the cause of globalism.
I get that. But, Trump has to understand that Nordstream 2, in and of itself, actually accomplishes NATO’s mission of ensuring Russia and Europe never go to war with each other because of their close energy ties.
Pipelines knit disparate societies together because all that other trade that Trump wants to see people engage in is dependent on the free flow of energy at the best price. So, if the goal is to ensure a world at peace, let Germany have Nordstream 2 and 3 even.
He can’t fix the underlying problem of the globalist march towards world government by stopping what he sees as a symptom of that problem.
Because any future disagreements or political influence Russia tries to impose on the EU will hurt them just as much, if not more, than it will the EU. But Trump doesn’t believe that. He believes he can win trade wars by leveraging all of the U.S.’s financial and military power to enforce his vision of maintaining the U.S. empire through energy dominance while deprecating the military part of it.
Otherwise he wouldn’t be pursuing it with such vigor against everyone who he feels gets a free ride from the US.
So, while the MAGA crowd is cheering today at Trump’s dressing down of NATO, and I am with them because NATO is more than obsolete, it is an impediment to world peace, they should also be wary of what the real goals are.
Because the goal of selling Europe over-priced US LNG versus cheap Russian piped gas is not going to Make America Great Again. It will just be another unsustainable subsidy for domestic producers which distorts markets, picks winners and losers and destroys capital ultimately.
And if that goal is in service of the neoconservative dream of encircling Russia, capping its growth and cleaving it from China, Trump will fail mightily and his summit with Putin will be a nothingburger.
Because Putin will not agree to any of that. He doesn’t have to since Trump has the weak hand.
The End of History
But if his goal is to remake the post-WWII institutional order by re-tasking NATO away from an anti-Russian stance and drastically cut back US involvement in it because it is no longer necessary then highlighting Germany’s hypocrisy over energy and defense policy is the right path and will be met by Putin generously.
Trump is right that the EU is dominated by Germany. As I’ve pointed out numerous times, Nordstream 2 is a way for Germany to continue dominating EU politics through energy redistribution back to recalcitrant states like the aforementioned Poland.
At the same time, the people Trump purports to want to assist in its fight against EU centralization, Poland and the Baltics, continue to let phantom fears of a Russian invasion keep it from doing business with a willing partner.
The reason Nordstream 2 is even being built is precisely because Trump’s predecessor, Obama, along with the EU atomized Ukraine in a bid to erode Russian market share of the European gas market. Nordstream 2 was designed to bypass Ukraine once the contract with Naftogaz ends at the end of 2019.
Couple that with the invoked Syrian civil war which was supposed to allow a Saudi and Qatari pipeline into Europe through Turkey, while the Israelis developed both its offshore gas potential and the oil and gas assets in the Golan Heights.
Here’s a question no one but me asks. Why is Trump so upset about Nordstream 2 and not Turkish Stream?
Turkish Stream will be up to four trains totaling 30% more gas capacity than Nordstream 2. Only one of those trains is for domestic Turkish consumption. Hungary wants one all by itself. So does Italy. Greece needs the transit fees. Austria wants the gas it was supposed to get from the now-canceled South Stream project (again thanks to Obama and the Hillary Clinton State Department).
Could it be because
- Turkish Stream’s spurs into Europe haven’t been permitted and approved yet? (timing)
- Because the countries to benefit from Turkish Stream have all elected or re-elected so-called ‘nativist’ governments which oppose Angela Merkel’s push for further EU centralization? (ending globalism)
- Turkey is rapidly falling out of love with US and EU policy and is charting its own foreign policy path and needs to be coddled or lost as an ally? (containing Iran and China)
- All of the above.
The dichotomy between Trump’s stance on Nordstream 2 and Turkish Stream tells me that he’s really not all that serious about stopping either of these projects, but instead is looking for a way out of the obsolete institutional order of the past 70 years.
Couple this with his statement yesterday classifying Russia as a ‘competitor’ and not a ‘rival’ and I believe we have the answer about where things are headed later this week.
He’s going to try and entice Putin and Russia back into Europe and away from its relationship with Iran. By remaking NATO, he’ll argue, Russia will have an easier future. But the price for peace in Syria and ending resistance to Russian energy share in Europe has to be Iran’s theocracy.
I think Trump will be surprised at Putin’s response to that proposal.
Energy is different. Trump is right about that. It brings out the worst in all politicians, most especially himself.
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