For two years, from the campaign trail through to the White House, all of Joe Biden’s foreign policy pronouncements have been punctuated with one phrase: the pledge to “work with friends and allies”. It’s a mantra that everyone associated with his administration has clearly been instructed to repeat, ad nauseum. Biden and his minions have pledged to “work with friends and allies” to solve the border crisis, to protect Taiwan, to renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal, to contain the Taliban, to promote democracy, to prevent global warming—you name it, and you can Google it.
But not with Russia. In response to the Russian attack on Ukraine, the Biden administration updated its catchphrase to allies and partners. Boris Johnson apparently missed the memo, sticking with friends and allies. So did the Ukrainian ambassador in Washington, Oksana Markarova. So the friends are out, and the partners are in. Maybe that’s because the friends failed to deliver.
Biden claims to have imposed “profound sanctions” on Russia that “exceed anything that’s ever been done” before. These include a prohibition on Russia raising dollar-denominated debt, penalties on Russia’s leading banks, personal restrictions on the travel of influential Russians, and a re-suspension of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline connecting Russia directly to Germany under the Baltic Sea, bypassing Ukraine (a Trump suspension that Biden lifted last May at the behest of erstwhile friend and ally Angela Merkel). Unspecified further sanctions await the cooperation of allies and partners.
But Biden’s “friends” in Germany, Italy, and other Western European countries are unwilling “partners” in the push to punish Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine. Nor are they willing to place an embargo on trade with Russia. They haven’t even cut off Russian tourism. And completely off the table is any prospect of turning off the tap on Russian gas, much of which actually reaches Western Europe via Ukraine.
Western Europe accounts for roughly a third of Russia’s imports and takes nearly half its exports. If anyone has economic leverage over Russia, it’s the European Union, not the United States. Joe Biden has warned Americans to be prepared to pay the price of “defending freedom” through sanctions on Russia (by which he means that he’ll blame high petrol prices on the sanctions in order to deflect attention from his failing management of the domestic economy). One might have expected Western Europeans to pay the price for defending freedom in Eastern Europe, but one would be a sucker.
Western Europeans have shirked the expense of providing for their own security for thirty years. They certainly have no intention of ensuring the security of Eastern Europe. Poland, Romania, and the Baltic States (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia) take the security of Eastern Europe seriously, but there’s only so much they can do without Western support. Under Donald Trump, they got that support from the United States. They still do, to some extent, under Biden. But Western Europe, safe behind this tin curtain, takes little responsibility. Rich countries like Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg will certainly remain friends. But they draw the line at “partners”.
The European Union has more than ten times the GDP and three times the population of Russia. It may not maintain collective military forces, but economically, it could swat Russia like a fly. But that would require Western Europeans to pay a modest price for their own security, and no one these days expects Western Europeans to pay any price for freedom, least of all Biden. Trump demanded that they make a start, and was vilified by the American (and global) foreign policy establishment for even raising the issue. So once again the cost of freedom in Europe will be paid by the United States, the United Kingdom—and Australia? Don’t be shocked the next time an American president sees sense and decides that it’s not a deal worth making.
Salvatore Babones is The Philistine