Struggle for Global Power Status

BERLIN/WASHINGTON (Own report) - The United States is preparing sanctions against European companies participating in the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, according to senior US government officials. German government officials, on the other hand, predict that US sanctions will lead to a confrontation with the whole of the EU. "We will do everything necessary to complete the pipeline." At the same time, the power struggle over the participation of the Chinese Huawei Corporation in setting up the 5G grid in Germany and the EU is escalating. After the German government indicated that it would not exclude, a priori, Huawei, the US ambassador in Berlin is threatening to reduce cooperation between the two countries' intelligence services. US President Donald Trump is also considering calling on countries to pay the full cost of stationing US forces on their soil, plus 50 percent more. German government advisors are pleading for a "policy of 'softer' or 'more robust' countervailing power formation." Europe's "strategic autonomy" is at the core of this power struggle.

"Strategic Autonomy"

The "strategic autonomy" was first claimed by the EU in June 2016 in its "Global Strategy for Foreign and Security Policy."[1] It is again the subject of the latest study published by the chancellery-financed German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). According to the SWP, "strategic autonomy" is not merely "the ability to set one's own priorities and make decisions in foreign and security policy." One must also have the "institutional, political and material prerequisites" to implement one's own priorities "in cooperation with third parties or, if necessary, independently."[2] "The opposite of strategic autonomy," SWP continues, would be "the status of a recipient of rules and strategic decisions, taken by third parties … that directly affect Europe." "Third parties," setting rules and making decisions could also be the United States. "Strategic autonomy" vis-à-vis the United States means achieving the status of a global power.

Formation of a Countervailing Power

The SWP suggests that "one's own foreign policy options be expanded" also in relationship to the USA.[3] The Trump administration's "disruptive and erratic foreign policy" virtually challenges the EU, "to define and protect European interests more independently." Berlin and Brussels should also be prepared "for increased controversy, more open and contentious debates and even conflicts with the USA" for the period following the presidency of Donald Trump. "Some conclusions for dealing with the US" certainly could be deduced from the quest for "strategic autonomy." The EU and its member states should "pursue a policy of 'softer' or 'more robust' economic or diplomatic countervailing power formation - depending on the constellation of conflicts and interests." "Strategic autonomy" cannot be maintained free of charge: "The costs of greater autonomy in relationship to the USA" must be "denominated and taken into account" at all times.

Mixed Results

The conflict with the United States is coming to a head against this backdrop. Until now, Berlin and Brussels have only been able to show mixed results. For example, a sort of stalemate has evolved in the trade conflict, while the threat of punitive tariffs on automobile imports is dangling like a Damocles sword, not so much over the head of the EU, but more over that of Germany. The German car industry - Germany's flagship industry - would be hardest hit.[4] The attempt to maintain trade with Iran, to salvage the nuclear deal with Teheran after the USA withdrew, can be considered a failure. Threatened with US sanctions, the EU's larger enterprises have closed their Iranian businesses. The financing instrument, Berlin and Brussels had thought could circumvent US sanctions, never really functioned.[5]

Dispute over Nord Stream 2

Now the Trump Administration is taking the offensive in two other fields, in which Germany seeks to defend its interests, diverging from those of the USA, to enforce its "strategic autonomy." One is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which assures Germany - for the time being [6] - exclusive access to Russian natural gas deposits, as well as granting Berlin a key position in the EU's natural gas supply. Already at the beginning of the month, a high-ranking State Department official confirmed that if European companies continue construction of the pipeline, they risk "significant sanctions."[7] Another US government official has now confirmed in the business press that Washington is already preparing sanctions. Reportedly, in Berlin, this is clearly considered an aggression against a NATO partner. Sanctions would certainly lead "to a confrontation – not only with Germany, but with Europe," a government official in Berlin was quoted. "We will do everything necessary to complete the pipeline."[8]

Dispute over Huawei

Simultaneously, the conflict is escalating over the use of the Chinese Huawei Corporation’s technology for setting up the 5G grid in Germany and the EU. Berlin has not yet made a final decision, but has so far left the option open to resort to Huawei products to meet German companies’ strong interests.[9] Washington is continuing its global campaign to exclude Huawei and is increasing its pressure on the German government. In a letter to the German Ministry of Economy, the US Ambassador to Berlin, Richard Grenell has just threatened that, if Huawei is given the go ahead in Germany, the USA would see itself "no longer in a position … to continue sharing intelligence information and other data at the current level."[10] Already in the dispute over Nord Stream 2, Grenell had resorted to letters threatening not only Germany, but also dozens of companies from various European countries.

Hosting Fees

In its power struggle with Berlin, US President Donald Trump is now also considering to demand that countries pay the costs of stationing US forces on their soil, as was reported. Seoul, which is paying Washington for hosting nearly 28,500 soldiers in South Korea, has already had to raise the annual fees to US $925 million - reportedly half of the stationing costs. According to close advisors, Trump is considering to boost the amount to one and a half times the stationing costs, not only in South Korea. This could also apply to Germany with currently more than 33,000 US soldiers.[11] This would extend the conflict over Germany and the EU's "strategic autonomy" to still another field.


[1] Gemeinsame Vision, gemeinsames Handeln: Ein stärkeres Europa. Eine Globale Strategie für die Außen- und Sicherheitspolitik der Europäischen Union. Brüssel, Juni 2016.

[2], [3] Barbara Lippert, Nicolai von Ondarza, Volker Perthes (Hg.): Strategische Autonomie Europas. Akteure, Handlungsfelder, Zielkonflikte. SWP-Studie 2. Berlin, Februar 2019.

[4] See also Vorbereitungen auf den Handelskrieg.

[5] See also War of Sanctions against Iran.

[6] See also The Power of the Pipes.

[7] Jamie Dettmer: US Officials Issue Sanctions Warnings to Europe Over Russian Gas. 06.03.2019.

[8] Bojan Pancevski: How a Russian Gas Pipeline Is Driving a Wedge Between the U.S. and Its Allies. 10.03.2019.

[9] See also 5G Espionage (II).

[10] Silke Mülherr: Der Drohbrief von Trumps Botschafter an die Bundesregierung im Detail. 12.03.2019.

[11] John Hudson, Anne Gearan, Philip Rucker, Dan Lamothe: Trump invokes new demand for extracting billions of dollars from U.S. allies. 09.03.2019.