Berlin Airlift, 1949: the Number One commodity flown into Berlin during that iconic early Cold War confrontation was coal. At its height, the airlift transported 5,000 tons of “commodities” per day, two thirds of which were coal. The operation began in June 1948, and by January 24 1949 the western allies had delivered 250,000 tons of coal. Modern cities need heat, all through the year.
The Airlift started because of an ideological dispute between Germany’s recent conquerors over how they should collectively administer their conquest. The western allies wanted to introduce a new currency to replace the Reichsmark which had become near worthless: Hitler, borrowing from the German Imperial government’s World War I playbook that had produced the hyperinflation then the Great Depression and then Hitler himself, had paid for his wars by printing money, resulting in excess amounts of paper in an economy in which by 1948 most goods were rationed. The Soviets, fearing the new currency would be successful in revitalizing Germany and that their own ravaged economy would look bad by comparison, opposed the idea. The allies introduced a new currency, the deutschmark, anyway, on June 18. The Soviets, who militarily controlled the territory in which Berlin sat, cut off electricity to and blockaded West Berlin.
Fast forward to today. Russia, fearing that a west-leaning and democratic Ukraine will make Russia’s autocratic and kleptocratic government, and shambles of an economy, look bad, is leaning militarily on Ukraine, creating tensions with the west not seen since the various Cold War Berlin crises. Berlin, today the seat of the reunified Germany’s federal government, is, today as in 1948, dependent on Russia for energy. If tensions persist between “the west” and Russia, Germany—whose membership in “the west” is partially debatable—could see a vital energy link to Russia jeopardized. But the jeopardizer this time is the United States, not Russia.
I speak of course of Nordstream 2, the still-unfinished pipeline to deliver Russian natural gas to Germany. Opposition to NS2 has been a “principle” of American foreign policy since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. I put quotes around the word principle because two U.S. administrations—the current one and its predecessor’s predecessor—appear completely unaware of the direct and glaring relationship between their domestic energy policies (which are identical) and the geopolitical implications of opposing NS2.
The Obama and Biden administrations are, energy policy-wise, political offspring of Jimmy Carter’s soft path romance: they are all about playing to the left wing of their party, which for various reasons has embraced renewable energy and energy conservation. Both loved, and love, terms like “energy transition,” “community energy,” “climate justice”—all the buzzwords that tell their base voters they’re still walking the line. Ideologically, they are in absolute lock step with Germany’s soft pathers. So when German Chancellor Merkel in 2011, following the Fukushima meltdowns (which today, nearly 11 years later, remain casualty free), rescinded her rescission of the German nuclear phaseout, the Obama administration likely approved of and maybe even applauded the move.
Obama maintained official U.S. opposition to NS2 but avoided mentioning how Germany could power its economy without gas. Biden, while he rescinded the policy months into his term, realized it could be a useful bargaining chip with Russia in the current Ukraine dispute and rescinded that rescission. But he has yet to mention the embarrassing internal political circumstances by which Russian gas came to be at the centre of Germany’s energy future.
But hold on. Germany is in the midst of an energy crisis. If it’s a bitter winter, gas supplies all over Europe will be depleted, prices will skyrocket—all the consequences of gambling on good weather to tide you over. This after twenty years of an “energy transition” in which the country mandated wind turbines and solar panels, tripled the cost of electricity, while reducing GHG emissions—ostensibly the whole idea of the “transition”—only marginally. Germany has the most wind turbines in Europe, but the lynchpin of its energy policy is NS2, whether the Americans like it or not. As it turns out, all through the year, Germany needs heat. Just like it did in 1948. But this time it’s not just Berlin, it’s all of Germany—all of western Europe.
So now we are listening to pundits predict whether Germany will or will not go along with Biden’s insistence that they at least threaten to cancel NS2. If Germany does, it will continue to rely on coal for power generation. It has painted itself into a corner by pursuing an irresponsible fantasy about decarbonizing energy with wind and solar, which obviously necessitates massive fossil backup. Until February 22 the idea was to buy that backup from Russia, in spite of Germany’s entire armed force posture being aligned with NATO, an alliance conceived for the purpose of handling an aggressive Russia. Two U.S. administrations mouthed the same ridiculous soft path rhetoric, pandering to their progressive base by misinforming the world about what is possible when it comes to keeping the pipes from freezing in winter. No Berlin Airlift is going to supply Germany, let alone Europe, with enough LNG to keep those pipes from freezing. In lieu of Russian gas, Germany will base power generation on coal.
American leaders should start telling their citizens and the world the truth: Germany has mortgaged its energy future to Russia’s transitory goodwill because German leaders have lacked the spine to stand up to anti-nuclear activists. Germany can have all the energy security it ever needed, and meet all its climate targets, by nuclearizing its dirty electricity. Germany, the most technologically proficient country in history, is perfectly capable of accomplishing that in a few short years. Antinukery, or rather German leaders’ cowardice in its face, has pushed Germany to undermine European and world security by throwing billions of Euros into the coffers of NATO’s anti-democratic enemy. Instead of colluding in the tiresome and facile charade of international climate summits where the conference chambers echo with false advertising about renewable energy, American leaders simply must get real about energy. It is life.