09 April 2021

The Atlantic: “The U.S. doesn’t know how to Treat its Allies”

President Joe Biden is promising the world that “America is back”, but his effort to reclaim global leadership shouldn’t come at the expense of the country’s closest friends. At a NATO foreign ministers’ meeting last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken sharply criticized Germany’s efforts to get more natural gas from Russia through a pipeline project known as Nord Stream 2. The president, Blinken warned, believes the pipeline is a bad idea, bad for Europe, bad for the United States. Ultimately it is in contradiction to the EU’s own security goals. Not only is the Biden administration continuing former President Donald Trump’s punitive policy against an important ally, but it’s considering further strictures.

Blinken’s statement also reflected a major defect in Obama-era foreign policy: the condescending assumption that other countries don’t understand their own interests. But the U.S. focus on stopping an energy project domestically important for Germany is all the more misguided when the administration’s strategy for managing America’s top security concern—the rise of China—is utterly dependent on a dramatic deepening of allied cooperation. Biden has a choice: Should he prioritize concern about Russia, a nettlesome but less important rival power, or should he consolidate support among America’s allies? And the administration is on the verge of choosing the wrong option.

Kori Schake

See also:

  • refusing to contribute vaccines against a global pandemic, allegedly because of contracts signed by the previous administration. In addition to vaccines, the US has curbs on exports of key materials in place as well, which could delay the efforts to ramp up vaccine manufacturing in India.
  • threatening to impose retaliatory tariffs on six nations that introduced additional taxes on US-based tech companies (the UK, Austria, Italy, Spain, Turkey and India). This approach is particularly puzzling, as tariffs discourage trade between parties (thereby encouraging these traditional US allies to sell their products elsewhere, possibly to China) and increase domestic prices (which punishes US consumers). Previously, the Treasury Secretary has supported an international agreement at OECD level on taxation rules on tech giants, and these companies are under increased antitrust scrutiny in the US, so protecting their oversees profits makes little strategic sense.

I have the feeling that, in the decades since the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States have come to assume that its own perspective and interests are the only valid way to approach the world. This shortsightedness caused American leadership to miss Russia’s election interference in 2016 and Putin’s various other international infractions, to ignore the rise of a more assertive China, while Americans assumed international exposure would soften the regime and democratize the country. It will be a hard lesson to relearn to respect and treat other countries as equals, rather than expecting them to align to the American position by default – especially as this position abruptly changes from one administration to the next.

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