Will Germany start the next world war?

If Joe Biden wins: is everything good for Germany then?

Status: 05.11.20 1:24 p.m.
by Robert Bongen, Stefan Buchen, Lennart Banholzer

Perhaps, if Joe Biden is actually declared electoral winner and inducted into the presidency, he will change some things in US foreign policy. At least that's what he announced during the election campaign. For example, he would like to rejoin the Paris climate agreement and end the dispute with the World Health Organization (WHO). That is also not insignificant for Germany.

Also Biden against Nord Stream 2

But in key areas of foreign policy, the Democrat is unlikely to leave Donald Trump's line. Ironically in areas that strongly affect Germany. The US paid for Germany's security, for example, protecting it from Russia. And yet Germany is making its energy supply dependent on Russia by supporting the construction of a second gas pipeline through the Baltic Sea, Nord Stream 2. Trump had made this accusation several times. Since 2017, Congress in Washington has passed several sanctions laws targeting the companies involved in Nord Stream 2. This year the government tightened the rules for implementing these laws and threatened to actually impose sanctions.

Joe Biden would stick to the hard line against the Russian-German gas pipeline, which is also supposed to supply Germany's neighbors with energy. Even as Barack Obama's Vice President, Biden had criticized the pipeline. During a visit to Sweden, for example, he advised Europeans to buy American liquefied gas instead of Russian gas. The coordinator for transatlantic cooperation of the federal government, Peter Beyer (CDU), does not expect a change in the American attitude to Nord Stream 2 under President Joe Biden. On the question there is "unity in Congress between Republicans and Democrats". From Washington's point of view, this is "about the Kremlin," Beyer said in an interview with Panorama, and that is a sensitive issue there. The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline is unfinished. The pipes for the missing section have been in the port of Sassnitz on Rügen for a year. Due to sanctions threats from the USA, construction was stopped in December 2019.

"tech war": US race against China

The same applies to the policy that would be expected of a Biden government with regard to China: the big line remains. At the center of the dispute between the USA and China is the race for the top spot in important areas of technology, especially information technology. In April 2019, the United States Department of Defense stated that in 2009 the ten most important Internet companies in the world were American. Four companies in the top group are now Chinese.

Martin Schallbruch, an expert on IT companies at the European School of Management and Technology in Berlin, has been observing this discussion in the USA for years, for example at a conference in Stanford on China's rise to IT power under the motto "Digital Totalitarianism". A "tech war" was raging between the USA and China, a "technology war", says Schallbruch, who was previously a department head in the Federal Ministry of the Interior. And that has an enormous impact on Germany. High-ranking delegations from Washington come to Berlin "at least twice a year" to warn the federal government of China's increasing influence in the technology sector. This is justified with security concerns. In fact, it is also about economic dominance in this area. The American agenda is to dissuade companies in allied states like Germany from working with Chinese companies. "The Americans are very tough," says IT expert Schallbruch. German companies would have to expect "to be sanctioned by the USA".

No sanctions threatened so far

The focus is on Telekom, which is building the fifth generation ("5G") cellular network with components from the Huawei Group, and the camera manufacturer Leica from Wetzlar, whose cameras are built into Huawei smartphones. So far, these German companies have not officially been threatened with sanctions because of their cooperation with China. With reference to the sensitive geopolitical situation, Leica does not wish to comment on the subject upon request. When asked by Panorama, Telekom announced that it would "phase out" its cooperation with Chinese suppliers in the core area of ​​the 5G network. In other areas of the 5G network, such as the antennas, the cooperation with Huawei, as well as with other suppliers such as Ericsson, should be continued. Martin Schallbruch warns: "The climax in the dispute between the USA and China is far from being reached." As US President, Biden would continue the tough anti-Chinese course of the Trump administration, predicts the Berlin expert. The course is largely based on the secret services and the military. The warnings from the security apparatus that China was threatening to outstrip the US in the IT area technologically and economically fell on fertile ground with both Republicans and Democrats.

Huawei is feeling the consequences of this policy. "We are suffering from American pressure," said Carsten Senz, spokesman for Huawei Germany, in an interview with Panorama, without going into details. Senz confirms the statement from the Huawei annual report from 2019, in which it says that the company is "fighting for survival". This formulation shows that the conflict is "on de-escalation", explains the Huawei spokesman. They hold on to the cooperation with German companies such as Leica and Telekom and have "no plans to leave Germany". As the latest measure against Huawei, the US government banned Google from making its apps for new cell phones available to the Chinese.

Probably even under Biden troop withdrawal

In US military policy too, observers under President Joe Biden expect a challenging line for Germany. The Democrat will probably stick to the troop withdrawal from Germany announced by Donald Trump, at least in part, says transatlantic coordinator Peter Beyer. The CDU politician advises, however, not to complain about this, but to strengthen Germany's and Europe's defense capabilities with their own resources. "The Americans have a point when they say that Germany has made itself too comfortable under its protective umbrella," explains Beyer. In general, he warns against hoping for transatlantic nostalgia when Joe Biden sits in the Oval Office. "I'm trying a bit to lower expectations. Under Joe Biden, I do believe that it will be easier to talk to each other about it. But from the point of view of the matter, one shouldn't expect German or European negotiating positions to be dealt with immediately. It will certainly more conciliatory, friendlier in tone, but most of the factual issues will remain on the table. "

With a US President Biden, the words would certainly not be so harsh. But his actions will be guided by American interests. And they're not always the same as Germany's.