What is telling about what is happening now in transatlantic relations is that a great power, in relations with its weak allies, inevitably faces the challenge of its own egoism, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Timofei Bordachev.
In the event that we agree now with the most obvious origin of the terrorist attack on the Nord Stream international gas pipeline, then this extraordinary event can be a good illustration of the pressure under which the phenomenon of the Transatlantic relationship is. This unique international community, uniting the United States and Western Europe, came into being as a result of World War II. It has always been based on two factors. First, the unconditional power dominance of America over its allies in all components of the total power capabilities of the state: military, economic and ideological. Despite the similar values of Europe and the United States, this very factor has become decisive and continues to ensure American dominance in the Old World.
Second, we are talking about the relative willingness of the United States to take into account the interests of Europeans regarding matters of principle. This has made it possible, in particular, to create an illusion in the outside world about the independence of Europe and its ability to act as a centre of international politics and economics, separately from the United States. The central element of this independence was the energy cooperation between Russia and Europe, especially Germany, as the most powerful economy of the European Union. Historians are well aware of the serious efforts required by the German authorities in order to break the resistance of the United States in the midst of the confrontation between East and West in the second half of the 20th century.
This strategic partnership took shape approximately 50 years ago and proved to be the most important factor in the stability and development of a significant number of EU countries during the end of the Cold War, and has only been strengthened over the past two decades. Now the physical infrastructure of this cooperation has been devastated — the gas pipeline directly linking the Russian and German economies is ruined. That the US was ready, according to the former Polish foreign minister, to deliver such a blow makes us rethink the nature of the transatlantic relationship and consider the major challenges it now faces.
The military-political clash between Russia and the West around Ukraine is, of course, a direct result of the policy of expanding the sphere of direct US control in Eastern Europe. This is the territorial base from which the Americans were prepared after the Cold War for the inevitable new conflict with Moscow and Beijing.
However, the “tools” that made possible the exploitation of the rest of humanity by the community of Western countries are now in crisis. Moreover, deep internal contradictions accumulated over the past 100 years in the formation and development of the modern market economy put its leading participants in front of its most difficult problems. The accumulated problems were illustrated by the terrible losses that developed countries suffered during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020-2021. Their healthcare systems were not ready to protect their own citizens, and the solution to the economic problems that arose, with rare exceptions, was far from perfect. In addition, even for an unprepared observer, the difficulties faced by the domestic political systems of Western countries are obvious. The main problems of the Liberal World Order are located among its main and backbone participants.
As a result, we can observe a rapid erosion of what, in fact, allowed the United States to act as the main beneficiary of the global market and the manager of the goods it produces. This has caused the leading country of the West to be not only more selfish, but in reality unable to behave in the way it did characteristically during the Cold War and the first two decades after it. Thus, the resource base of US policy is being destroyed not only in relation to the rest of the world, but also in relation to its closest allies. We have seen for months how clumsily the US is trying to win over India and other major emerging nations in the West’s ongoing economic war against Russia. Even if Russia itself should not count on charity from its partners in the South and East, the US clearly does not already have the means to establish full control over their foreign policy.
It would be strange to think that a power with an internal political structure like that of the United States could be able to consider the interests of its allies as its own. This has never worked out in the security realm, and for obvious reasons — such a militarily powerful state really cannot consider any allies as essential to its survival. However, in the economic field, the United States has always contributed to the preservation of the resources and capabilities of its European satellites, allowing them to be useful in achieving American foreign policy interests. This, as we know, even allowed the Europeans to softly compete with the United States where such liberties did not go beyond the boundaries of rational US behaviour. As we see, however, such leader’s behaviour was only possible when the US could afford such a luxury as attention to the interests of allies.
Compression of the resources available to the leader of the Liberal World Order leads to the fact that it loses not only the ability to distribute something among other members of the international community, especially its closest allies, but is also forced to directly limit them in what it could previously allow. The first example was the mass coercion of small and medium-sized countries to ensure that their companies comply with US demands related to the economic war against Russia. Now we are talking about depriving America’s European allies of even the elementary resources that allowed them to lead a relatively independent existence. In this sense, the sudden disruption of Nord Stream may look like a fairly logical, albeit decisive step towards closing the page in the history of minimal European independence. Moreover, such an act aroused only admiration among some of the American satellites in Eastern Europe, despite its colossal environmental damage to the already long-suffering Baltic Sea.
From the point of view of Russia, everything that is happening is rather sad and telling. It’s sad, because we still associated certain plans with Europe to build a more just multipolar world order. Moreover, certain moves by Germany and France — the creation of a single currency, establishing their control over the process of adoption of secondary EU legislation, and even the resource development of Ukraine — could be interpreted as actions aimed at strengthening European self-sufficiency in the world economy and politics. What is telling about what is happening now in transatlantic relations is that a great power, in relations with its weak allies, inevitably faces the challenge of its own egoism.