However eager the incoming administration of new US president Joe Biden may be to pick up the reins of liberal globalism where Barack Obama dropped them, there are indications that it is too late to repair the damage to the USA’s international standing suffered under Donald Trump.
The EU-US trade war fault lines, already present under previous administrations, have cracked wide open under Trump’s America First bludgeon, forcing Europe’s hand. Faced with a choice of endlessly cowering before US bullying and sanctions, to the detriment of the national interests of member states, or taking a more independent stance, not excluding expanding commercial ties with Russia and China, there are clear signs that EU imperialism is gravitating towards the latter option.
When Nord Stream 2 is completed, Germany will get double the quantity of affordable Russian natural gas presently piped through via the Baltic, and Trump’s hysterical last-gasp sanctions slapped on the Russian pipe-laying ship, the Fortuna, only publicises the US’s inability to shape outcomes. Commerce between Germany and Russia is too profitable to be forever held hostage to arbitrary US sanctions.
As for the European Union’s relations with China, in December the EU concluded a deal with China on a new investment treaty in defiance of Washington’s bid to draw the rest of the ‘free world’ into a common front in an economic cold war against Beijing. And, according to the Financial Times, just one day before Biden’s inauguration, the European Commission signed off on a paper detailing Brussels’ plans to “curb Europe’s exposure to Washington’s ability to weaponise the US dollar”.
“Officials are well aware of the awkward timing of a paper decrying the ‘vulnerabilities in the dollar-dominated international financial system’ one day before Mr Biden’s inauguration. But they insist the EU needs to prove it can stand on its own feet despite the impending rapprochement with Washington.
“China is broadening its global economic power and political clout, while the US is internally divided and prone to violent changes of political direction. Mr Biden may be a far more amenable partner than Mr Trump, but no one knows who will follow the 46th president.
“‘The Trump years highlighted our vulnerabilities, and we need to address those even if he’s gone,’ says one EU official.” The draft paper is forthright on the need for the EU to stand up to US sanctions against Iran, and “even floats the idea of vetting foreign takeovers of EU companies against the risk that they would wed the bloc to another country’s sanctions policy.” (EU seeks to boost financial autonomy despite winds of change in Washington by Sam Fleming, Financial Times, 18 January 2021)
EU imperialism has grown increasingly frustrated at the effective US sabotage of the EU-based Swift, Euroclear and Clearstream payment systems for the settlements of international trades, and is trying to bypass Iran sanctions via its Instex channel.
Meanwhile, whilst Washington’s right to shape how the rest of the world should conduct its business is increasingly being called into question, Beijing is quietly signing mutually beneficial deals that bolster the country’s international influence. The EU-China trade deal was preceded in November by an ambitious free trade deal between 15 Asian countries including south Korea and Japan. The Belt and Road initiative is rolling along without doffing the cap to the US.
On the day the Capitol was stormed, Richard Haass, president of the US Council on Foreign Relations, blurted out a tweet which can stand as a fitting epitaph for US imperialism’s tombstone:
“No one in the world is likely to see, respect, fear, or depend on us in the same way again. If the post-American era has a start date, it is almost certainly today.” (America’s disarray is China’s opportunity by Gideon Rachman, Financial Times, 18 January 2021)