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Once, according to Chinese legend, there lived a county magistrate by the name of Ye Gong who loved dragons. Ye had them engraved on the columns of his house, painted on the walls, and etched on his bed.
Moved by Ye’s adoration, a dragon decided to descend from the heavens to pay him a visit. However, at the first sight of the dragon at his window, Ye was almost frightened to death before running for his life.
Ye has long gone, but his spirit lives on – perhaps rather surprisingly in the Biden administration.
When the explosions on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines in the Baltic Sea were first reported last September, the White House alleged that Russia was behind the attack. To many, the move signified the Biden administration’s readiness to embrace an investigation into the incident.
Such an inquiry would do much to substantiate its accusation. However, at a recent United Nations Security Council session in New York, the US fiercely opposed a resolution calling for a UN-led inquiry into the explosions.
The debate at the UN was prompted by a report on February 8 by Seymour Hersh, an American Pulitzer Prize winner, claiming that Washington was involved in the incident. It provided supposed details of the planning of the covert operation, alleging that US Navy divers planted the explosives that destroyed the pipelines.
Hersh’s claims have caused considerable controversy. They are credible, according to Professor Jeffery Sachs at Columbia University, a former adviser to three UN secretaries general. He said the US is one of a few countries that have both the motive and capacity to carry out the attack.
The Biden administration, however, dismissed the accusations as “complete fiction”. For its part, Russia called for a UN-led inquiry into the explosions.
Currently, Norway and Sweden are conducting their own investigation into the explosions. But some claim these countries are tainted by their associations with the US and Nato – one being a Nato member, the other an active applicant.
Moreover, the exclusion of Russia in the investigation points to a lack of transparency. Apparently, an independent international investigation is essential for finding out what actually happened. It is also critical if the findings of any enquiries are to be credible. Already, there are growing doubts that the world will ever get to know the truth of the explosions.
And yet, the pipeline explosions have global consequences. They were an environmental disaster, which released an estimated 778 million cubic metres of methane – the biggest burst of the potent greenhouse gas on record.
In addition, by pushing up energy prices by four times or so, the bombing of the pipelines has made many Europeans poorer and EU firms less internationally competitive. Its shock waves went far beyond the European continent, wreaking havoc in the global energy market.
The attack also has serious implications for security globally. It elevated the geopolitical contest to the domain of cross-border infrastructure, threatening its security even at peace time.
In this regard, the attack has created a dangerous precedent. If the egregious act is to be repeated or followed, attacks on adversaries’ civilian infrastructure could become a new normal. Consequently, no public infrastructure, be they seabed cables or satellites, would be safe.
The costs would be significant. An enormous amount of resources would, for example, have to be diverted to prevent potential sabotage. Therefore, it is extremely important for the world that those responsible for the explosions be held accountable so that the buds of a new version of state-sponsored terrorism can be nipped.
In opposing a UN-led investigation, the Biden administration maintained that UN resources should be preserved. However, if a small bottle of white powder, as presented by then US secretary of state Colin Powell before the UN Security Council in February 2003, was expected to justify the US invasion of Iraq, an incident of this magnitude certainly warrants a UN-led investigation.
Indeed, UN resources would be well spent on a mission aimed at uncovering the truth about attacks that even Denmark and Sweden deemed to “endanger international security and give cause for our deep concern”. The White House’s objection to the inquiry is nothing short of incomprehensible, especially when it was quick to act in shooting down a Chinese balloon.
On the contrary, the White House should welcome the international investigation. A UN-led inquiry would be a good opportunity for it to vindicate its claim of innocence while belying Russian “disinformation”.
As the Chinese saying goes, a man with a clear conscience would not be stirred by knocks on the door at midnight. To obstruct the international investigation would leave the world with the impression that the White House has something to hide.
In fact, there would no more effective way to raise suspicion over the Biden administration’s claims of innocence, which would surely undercut the credibility of the US as a responsible international player.
In truth, Ye Gong was merely fond of the dragon’s images, rather than of the dragon itself. Similarly, the Biden administration seems to be enthusiastic about investigations of others, but never of itself, especially when they might expose its own wrongdoings.
Zhou Xiaoming is a senior fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing and a former deputy representative of China’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations Office in Geneva