Germany is being pressurized to act against its own economic interests – and put those of US business first.
Wolfgang Kubicki, deputy leader of the opposition Free Democrats (FDP), called last week for the US Ambassador to Germany to be expelled for acting like a “high commissioner of an occupying power.” And it isn’t hyperbole.
We're coming up in a few months time to the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, which began the liberation of western Europe by Allied forces from the Nazis. Who would have thought that in 2019, we'd have a high ranking German politician from a party, known for its strong support of the Atlantic Alliance, calling for the American Ambassador to his country to be booted out for interfering in his country's affairs?
Last week, Ambassador Grenell criticized Germany's military spending plans within NATO as insufficient - echoing President Trump's calls for European NATO members to spend more on defense.
The premise behind this is that NATO’s actions protect Europe and therefore Europeans should pay their fair share ie 2 percent of GDP. But certainly since the end of the old Cold War, NATO's aggressive operations have actually made Europe – and Europeans – less safe. A terrible example of this was the Islamic State terrorist attack which killed 39 European tourists including two Germans, while they were relaxing on the beach and round their hotel in Tunisia in 2015. The gunman was reported to have trained at a jihadist camp in neighboring Libya, 'liberated' by NATO in 2011.
German troops were not deployed directly in that action (though there was behind-the-scenes assistance) but German holidaymakers paid the blood price. We now have a jihadist’s playground on the shores of the Mediterranean, where we didn’t have one before.
While it’s true that Berlin doesn’t meet the new 2 percent NATO spending target, (as of 2018 only six member states did), Grenell seems to have overlooked the fact that Germany has been the second largest provider of troops to the Alliance’s military operations in Afghanistan.
Furthermore, no country in NATO has been so generous in taking in refugees fleeing conflicts which the US and other NATO powers have helped to ignite.
In 2016, over 50% of all asylum applications in Germany were from citizens of Iraq or Syria.
In 2018 it was reported that Germany was home to 1.4mn ‘new’ refugees. How many has the US taken in, Mr Grenell?
If anything the German government should be raising its concerns to the US Ambassador that his country isn’t doing enough - and not the other way round.
It’s not just defense spending levels that Ambassador Grenell has criticized. Earlier in the month he warned the German Minister of Economic Affairs that the US was prepared to restrict intelligence sharing with Germany should Berlin allow “untrusted vendors” ie Chinese operators, to build 5G mobile networks in the country.
He also doesn’t like – and that’s putting it very mildly – Germany’s involvement in the Russian-led Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project.
This 1,200km (746 miles) long construction, which would carry gas straight from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea is good news for Russia, Germany and European consumers, who will see their gas bills lowered, but not for the US, which wants European countries to buy its more expensive LNG.
It’s also not great news for the US client state Ukraine, which loses out on transit fees.
A key reason behind the recent ratcheting up of Cold War tensions by the US has been to try and get Germany to cancel its involvement in Nord Stream 2, which is currently 70 percent complete.
In late 2018, Ambassador Grenell warned that German companies involved in Nord Stream 2 could face sanctions. The US really hates it when there’s a competitor in town. Europeans shouldn’t buy the cheapest gas, but what the US wants to sell them.
If the pressure on Germany to spend more on defense and pull out of Nord Stream 2 isn’t enough, there’s also the matter of the country’s trade with Iran. America wants everyone to follow its line on Iran, no matter how big the financial hit. To enforce this, once again there's been the threat of secondary sanctions.
Data last October showed that under this threat, German exports to Iran had dropped by 4% in the first 8 months of the year.
But for Washington, this still isn’t good enough. In February VP Mike Pence accused Germany (along with Britain and France) of trying to “break” the sanctions on Iran by developing non-dollar trade. “Sadly, some of our leading European partners have not been nearly as co-operative,” said Pence, doing his best Godfather impression.
Germany has been Iran’s most important trading partner in Europe – with the value of German exports to the Islamic Republic being worth 2,358 billion Euros in the seven months from January to October 2017.
Yet Berlin is expected to sacrifice this very lucrative business at the behest of anti-Iranian hawks in Washington.
While the protracted Brexit saga is making all the headlines when it comes to European politics, arguably an even more important story is this attempt by the US to make Germany, the biggest economy in the EU, commit what can only be described as acts of great economic self-harm.
The German left has for long wanted a new, less subservient relationship with the US, but now we have German industry and capital – through its political representatives (the FDP has traditionally been the party of business), saying "enough is enough". Will the US back down and allow Germany some leeway? Or imbued with its sense of manifest destiny, and a belief that it has the right to demand economic sacrifices of others that it would never make itself, will it continue to antagonize a traditional ally?
When Trump says "America First", the right cheer him, but it seems other countries allied to the US, aren’t allowed to do the same, showing that Kubicki’s imperial analogy was quite correct.
75 years after D-Day you really can’t blame Germans – and indeed other Europeans – asking the question: “Is it time to liberate ourselves from our liberators?”