Climate Change, Energy and Alliances: The United States & the Emerging Faults in the NATO
IndraStra Global

Climate Change, Energy and Alliances: The United States & the Emerging Faults in the NATO

By Rahul Mehta and Kurnica Bhattacharjee
Department of Geopolitics and International Relations
Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal, India

Climate Change, Energy and Alliances: The United States & the Emerging Faults in the NATO

Global integration of States on various fronts have allowed them to fulfill their needs of resources since rarely any State on the globe is self-sufficient. Due to the imperative nature of their needs of energy resources along with other requirements to exercise economic sovereignty, resource-based associations have been long practiced by nation States. One of the recent examples of developing alliances on the grounds of oil & gas and renewable energy sources is that of the United States and India. Increasing cooperation on grounds of resources and trade has been a long term practice of the United States. The Marshall Plan, though it majorly focused on economic cooperation and financial rebuilding of Europe, it helped the United States forge a more dedicated confluence that aimed at stopping the spread of communism. NATO, in the 21st century, became a manifestation of the same during the cold war of the 20th century. NATO provided its allies with resources and security against the USSR to safeguard their values and identity. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, USSR) in 1991, NATO was left incapable of providing a definite answer to the fundamental questions of security as to security against whom and security for what NATO was providing. During the cold war, the US and the USSR helped each other in conforming to their own identities. In the lack of a defined adversary post-1991, the trans-Atlantic military alliance has seldom been put to definitive tests.

One of the recent developments that have taken place in the alliance is that the US has decided on moving more than 11,000 troops from Germany. Out of 11,000 about 6400 will return to their homeland and the rest of the troops are planned to be dispersed across Europe due to strategic reasons as cited by the Trump administration. Along with the withdrawal of troops, the US has also planned to move its Special Operations Command in Europe (EUCOM) from Germany to Belgium. While inconsistencies and insufficient monetary contribution by Germany towards NATO have been at the center of the troop withdrawal scenario, there is another angle that needs to be taken into consideration. Belgium, for instance, contributes even less towards the alliance. Despite the summit in Wales in 2014 by the NATO members to spend at least 2% of their country’s GDP, Germany as well as Belgium are in the same boat. What possibly can justify the troop withdrawal of the US is the decreasing gap between Russia and Germany.


Climate change in the 21st century has become an increasingly crucial security concern for nation-States across the world. It has also become a tool for States in exercising diplomacy and carving agendas that well suit their well being as well as economic growth. Due to the increasing global average temperatures, the Arctic has been witnessing rapid thawing of permafrost and melting of its ice coverage. Being home to abundant natural resources such as natural gas and rare earth materials, the possibility and feasibility of States utilizing the cleaner energy resources from the Arctic has increased over the years. Germany, for instance, has plans to move away from energy production dependent on fossil fuels to a carbon-free energy sector to reduce its carbon emissions and tackle climate change. At the same time, Berlin has also made plans to phase out nuclear energy gradually by 2022 due to historical anti-nuclear sentiments in the State with the Fukushima incident working as a catalyst in the movement. Thus, renewable energy sources and natural gas is the way forward chosen by Germany. In 2019, a quarter of Germany’s energy demands were met by natural gas, and the investment in its usage is poised to rise to about $3.8 billion in 2025.

The construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Germany and Russia has given way for the NATO alliance to be put to a test determining the boundaries and flexibilities of member States’ interaction with the adversaries of the US. Not only does it make the US insecure when its allies side with a former cold war breakaway State, but it also jeopardizes the European market for the US exporters. The Marshall Plan was also an attempt for the US to secure its position and trade in the European Market. While the US LNG was envisioned to be a global moral imperative and the European market seemed to be a fertile ground for increasing US gas exports, May 2020 witnessed a decline of 9% in exports to Europe from 37% to 28%. Germany and possibly other States in Europe may choose to combat climate change with the help of Russian gas rather than American values due to cost-effectiveness, proximity, and feasibility. Diversification of markets can also be one of the reasons for such a stance. The possible shift of this market to Russia is what is unfavorable to the US. The US can be found trying its best to break off this emerging cooperative relationship in any way it can. The US as well warned Denmark to halt the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline passing through its waters and have threatened sanctions if Russia continues to expand the spread of its alleged malintention(s) in Europe. Instead of the NATO allies working in tandem, the EU and the US have seemed to divide themselves into warning each other overdoing things that threaten their interests. 

The US is combating another adversary, conflict with whom has risen since the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Once envisioned of translating the relationship between the US and China into G2, the shortsightedness in case of a rising adversary has led to a deepening challenge in the peace and tranquility amongst the NATO allies. The US and the UK have been quick in deciding their future with Huawei, Germany has decided on continuing its development regardless of where it comes from. The strong trade relations between Germany and China is not something that Germany wants to jeopardize for the alliance it is a part of. The same is the case with the European Union as a whole which has urged members of the EU to make security laws and cybersecurity laws more stringent rather than completely putting a ban on Huawei.

The trend that seems to be emerging is that the major powers are still caught up in the cold war mindset and are playing tactics to gain support from more and more nations on their side. On the other hand, comparatively smaller nations do not have the liberty monetarily and technologically to stand by the identity that they still are a part of and rather falter to their interests. The US in the present day is experiencing challenges in protecting its identity and aligning its identity with the interests of its allies. Although, all is not to be blamed on the NATO members being vulnerable to their national interests above the alliance. The US itself has been experiencing a shift in its own identity. The withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, the severance of ties with the WHO, the silence over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, and pushing the NATO members for contributing “fairly” towards the apparent services that the US is providing. The shift in the stance of the US in what it stands for and what role it wants to play in a multilateral world order has left nation-States and its allies in uncharted waters. 

As far as the conflict of the day over cooperation between Russia and Europe over energy is concerned, the vision of acquiring LNG markets in certain European nations is far fetched as the Arctic and other Russian sources of energy are nearer and feasible for markets like Germany. The US displeasure over sovereign States’ energy securitization efforts raises questions like if Sovereign matters as such do warrant sanctions or are the US trying to gain dominion over its allies. The consequence of attempts to deter the entanglement of the European allies with Russia and China may have a delayed effect and Germany and Denmark may well choose to simply sit over the matter for a couple of months. The reason for this is the backdrop of the US Presidential elections of 2020. The Trump administration, for now, has been trying to consolidate domestic power by way of usage or the threatening of usage of hard actions against adversaries and allies alike. If Joe Biden succeeds in winning the election and becoming the President of the US, he has vowed to review all decisions taken by the Trump administration which may also include the issue of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. In such a scenario, the US once again may be looking at a redefinition of the US identity, values, and stance on issues of global leadership vis-a-vis military alliances, climate change, and narrowing down on defining the adversary of the US and thus of NATO in the 21st century. This may help the US reshape the existing relationships it has between States of identity and States of interest.

About the Authors:

Rahul Mehta (ORCID ID: 0000-0003-2818-5038) - Postgraduate research scholar in Geopolitics and International Relations at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal, India.

Kurnica Bhattacharjee (ORCID ID: 0000-0002-3093-0706) - Postgraduate research scholar in Geopolitics and International Relations at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal, India.

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DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this insight piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the IndraStra Global.