Will the U.S. win Europe?
Radhika Desai
A view of Nord Stream II gas receiving station on Baltic coast in Lubmin, Germany, February 23, 2022. /VCG

A view of Nord Stream II gas receiving station on Baltic coast in Lubmin, Germany, February 23, 2022. /VCG

Editor's note: Radhika Desai is a professor of political studies at the University of Manitoba in Canada. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

The Swiss recently upended centuries of neutrality in conflicts and wars to commit to match EU sanctions against Russia. This may appear to advance the U.S. aim of destabilizing Russian President Vladimir Putin's government by hitting his wealthy oligarchical supporters and the critically important Swiss-registered Nord Stream II pipeline that was poised to supply Russian gas to Europe. 

However, the Swiss action's true significance becomes apparent only when we place next to Germany's defense policy about-face on never sending weapons to conflict zones and its announcement that it will henceforth spend the 2 percent of its GDP on defense that NATO requires.

The Germans and the Swiss  justified their actions respectively in terms of the threat to the "entire post-war order" and the defense of the "values that form the basis of our civilization." However, these high-minded words hide a murkier truth.

When UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson accused Putin of wanting to "redraw the map of Europe in blood," he was helping U.S. President Joe Biden hide a critically important element of his agenda. The current conflict over Ukraine, which can be said to have started last week or last year or eight years ago or even earlier, has many components. Some of the more obvious are Russia's longstanding security concerns, the war waged by the Kyiv government on Donetsk and Luhansk, neo-Nazi elements in the Kyiv government and Ukraine's membership of the EU and NATO.

However, the component almost entirely absent from the wall-to-wall propaganda that counts as media coverage of the conflict in the West is the U.S. desire to re-subordinate Europe to itself.

Continental European countries have long asserted their autonomy, both for its own sake and because they have historically evolved distinct forms of capitalism, more highly state regulated, more productive, less financialized and considerably more egalitarian than the Anglo-American variety. Even at the height of the Cold War, France, long resentful of U.S. dominance and the U.S.-UK "special relationship," withdrew from NATO command from 1966 till 2009 and Germany pursued Ostpolitik, normalizing relations with Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union and eventually forcing the U.S. itself into detente. After the Cold War,  there were even fewer reasons for Europe to accept the U.S. lead.

U.S. Air Force Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk landed at Rzeszow-Jasionka Airport, Poland, February 13, 2022. /VCG

U.S. Air Force Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk landed at Rzeszow-Jasionka Airport, Poland, February 13, 2022. /VCG

The U.S. has responded with repeated efforts to force the Europeans back into its camp. In the war over the former Yugoslavia, the U.S. intervened to thwart Western European post-Cold War plans for an autonomous European security order in cooperation with Russia, complete with the EU's common foreign and security policy, a Franco-German joint military corps and the establishment of a German sphere of influence in central and south eastern Europe. More generally, the U.S.'s "globalization" project aimed to erase distinct national economies by forcing them into the more neoliberal and financialized Anglo-American mode.

In the new century, as U.S. power manifestly decreased and that of China has risen, the EU once again asserted its autonomy by advancing plans for an autonomous military and seeking greater economic cooperation with China. As is well known, the events that led to the civil war in Ukraine in 2014 involved U.S.-EU rivalry over Ukraine. That the Europeans have a vision for Ukraine and Europe that is distinct from the U.S.'s was also clear in European efforts to try to mediate with Russia right up to the very eve of Russia's military operations that began last week and since.

In the space of a few days, as propaganda saturates Western discursive space, it appears as though the U.S. has successfully overcome Europeans' reluctance and brought them to heel once again. However, "appears" may be the operative word. As the fog of war continues to thicken, one cannot take much for granted. It may appear that U.S. objectives – which include undoing the damning verdict of the ignominious withdrawal from Afghanistan gave on U.S. as a world power and on U.S. intelligence capabilities – are well on their way to achievement. However, for their entire moral chest-thumping, not only have the U.S. and EU fought shy of direct military involvement in the conflict, their sections have remained considerably short of the "extreme" sanctions Biden threatened. They have imposed the "giant of all sanctions" – exclusion from SWIFT – selectively, taking care not to affect Europe's energy supply from Russia.

These sanctions may have forced a massive collapse in Russian stocks, a massive decline in the value of the rouble and since the Swiss decision to match European sanctions, may be driving Nord Stream II to bankruptcy. However, the U.S. financial system is far from invulnerable and Europe remains reliant on Russian energy. On neither side of the Atlantic will the powers accept great costs to themselves. So only the further unfolding of events will tell us whether, this time around, the U.S. has managed to win Europe.

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