Sanctions are America’s go-to global weapon

An undersea pipeline to transport Russian natural gas to Germany is the latest target

Nowadays the US wields the threat of sanctions or crippling tariffs over the heads of trusted allies that rail against toeing Washington’s line — a far cry from the message of ‘America First’ candidate Donald Trump who had no desire to interfere in the affairs of other nations. Conversely President Trump has emerged as the Free World’s Punisher-in-Chief.

Using economic sanctions to deter rogue nations from engaging in threatening behaviours may be a legitimate response on the part of big powers in certain cases, although it should be borne in mind that the poorest members of society are usually the ones feeling the pain. Furthermore, with respect to US adversaries North Korea, Iran, Russia, Venezuela and Cuba sanctions have not succeeded in changing the status quo but merely serve to heighten enmity.

Companies engaged in the completion of Nord Stream 2, a $9.5 billion (Dh34.8 billion) undersea pipeline to transport Russian natural gas to Germany, are the latest to be targeted in an attempt to disrupt the relationship between Berlin and Moscow, which is nothing less than a breach of Germany’s sovereignty.

The new sanctions are based on a similar formula to those imposed on companies doing business with Iran. International corporations are left with no choice but to reluctantly comply with America’s demands.

Allseas, the Swiss contractor specialising in laying pipelines, swiftly dropped tools in response to a letter penned by two US senators warning that its involvement in the project “for even a single day” would expose it to “crushing and potentially fatal legal and economic sanctions”.

Unprovoked hostile act

To treat Germany, a longtime friend of America and an influential EU and NATO member, on a par with the Middle East’s most belligerent state actor is an unprovoked hostile act no doubt designed as a mean spirited attempt to turn up the heat on President Putin, a person Congress views as a bogeyman working to undermine America’s democracy. That smacks of paranoia to my ancient ears, echoing our fears of “Reds under the bed” during the Cold War era.

The US president has complained that Germany’s reliance on Russian energy would make it a captive of Moscow and would also sideline Ukraine’s role as a transit point for Russian gas flowing to Europe. The idea that Berlin would ever be a slave to Russia is laughable. Moreover, the latter point is defunct now that Kiev and Moscow have sealed a $2.9 billion five-year deal allowing Russian gasoline to transit through Ukraine to Europe.

Indeed, since the recent meeting between Putin and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky relations between the neighbours have visibly warmed. Reports suggest that the Russian president offered his Ukrainian counterpart a 25 per cent discount on gas and was amenable to many of his proposals. Certainly a détente between these nations engaged in a prolonged armed conflict would be a positive outcome but what if Ukraine and Russia were to cosy-up, would the US slap sanctions on unfaithful Kiev?

‘Interference in internal affairs’

The spokeswoman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned America’s “extraterritorial sanctions” as “an interference in our internal affairs.” “European energy policy is decided in Europe, not the US said the country’s foreign minister, a statement supported by the European Union.

Yet Merkel has declined to retaliate. Hardly surprising when Trump would hit back, potentially with the imposition of mega tariffs on German-made cars which could hurtle the German economy into recession.

At a time when the UK’s Boris Johnson is celebrating his party’s big win that gives him carte blanche to adopt policies without parliamentary hindrance while he touts the benefits of a fully independent United Kingdom shorn of EU regulations, America’s blatant interference in European affairs should give him pause for thought. As many heads of state around the world could attest, Trump changes his friends almost as often as his ties.

Johnson’s eagerness to pivot the nation towards its big brother across the pond with the lure of a big beautiful trade deal is crystal but in light of looming sanctions against NATO member Turkey over its purchase of a Russian defence system, together with America’s threat to impose 100 per cent tariffs on European goods, it appears the UK risks swapping a rules-based master for another lashing a whip that stands as a law unto itself.

Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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