It strikes me that there’s a lot of shoulder-shrugging and a lot of strategically-voiced outrage at the revelations surrounding US bugging and intercepting of EU communications. Some of the shoulder-shruggers tell us it isn’t news and to get over it, while like Captain Renault some of the outraged declare themselves “shocked, shocked to find that spying is going on in here!”
There’s truth & method in both positions. Of course it’s not surprising that NSA and other factotums of the US government attempt this stuff, but the actual scope and penetration being concretely revealed is genuinely new. I’m sorry shoulder-shruggers, but perhaps you need to be given a review on what constitutes “news”.
And the outrage voiced by functionaries and elected officials of European states and the EU who have been long familiar with the US way of doing business, particularly since September 11th, does raise a rash of questions. Are they naive? Do they not know what the left hand is doing? No, they’re calculating, as you would expect they would. And because they collude in certain methods and institutions of security and defence among the Western states does not mean they happily acquiesce in others.
Detail makes the picture uncomfortably clear for the EU. For instance the suggestion that NATO’s Brussels HQ might have been part of system also undermines the story EU & NATO prefer to present to the world, one of friendship/partnership/
Three things strike me as arising from it all in realistic political terms:
First is that it provides leverage & political capital for the EU and national governments. They would be fools not to use it, whether in treaty negotiations or as part of pushback against this behaviour with regard to US corporations operating in EU, or most basically simply for appeasing their supporters and making a lot of noise. If they are worth a red Euro cent of their salaries it is reasonable for EU citizens to expect them to use an opportunity like this when it’s handed to them, particularly if there’s something to be won on behalf of EU citizens
Second, it gives EU institutions opportunity to describe a set of common interests around privacy etc, and place itself front and centre to articulate and defend them. The EU is looking for legitimation and role in wider world to sell to its citizens, and thanks to Snowden the US is handing them one. The EU can legitimately claim that individual nation states cannot contest this behaviour, whether by the US, China or Russia, alone. And astute politicians like Viviane Redding & Nellie Kroes ought to be tuned into that; it’s their pro-consumer position against airlines and mobile phone companies on steroids.
Third is that it gives EU institutions and states an opportunity to advance European tech companies by launching investigations and dressing down or sanctioning the likes of Facebook, Microsoft etc. There was a reason the German Federal Govenment abandoned Microsoft software and many EU industries & institutions can be nudged into abandoning American technology services and products. The NSA may have just shot the pre-dominance of American information technology companies in the foot, a pre-dominance the NSA relies on for more urgent intelligence work undermining violent extremists and military threats.
To sum up, yes, one can reasonably shrug the shoulders and compare what has been revealed with precedents from the recent oast, but the trajectory of this interaction between the US and the rest of us in this are is not determined. There remains room for manoeuvre.
Don’t be fooled that it isn’t news. Laying bare the detail is precisely what good journalism does, even if we long suspected broadly what has been going on. And what is unsurprising to the follower of such affairs may be surprising and extremely uncomfortable to the mass of people. Put yourself in a the shoes of a German for whom residual rawness at the experience of totalitarianism may remain.
With similar perspicacity we should be wary of our officials’ and politicians’ anguished crying. Their actions rather than their words will betray their attitudes and expectations. It remains to be seen if the EU has the ability to exploit the advantage and act on behalf of its citizens’ interests.
Another dynamic to be aware is that US Congress, who were willing to go after big tech companies via investigations and cross examination at committees, may be similarly poised to go after executive branch over-reach and spooks putting their foot in it if there’s advantage to be exploited. The mood music may be changing. If offending allies and trade partners were percieved to damage to US economic interests that may add to the change. After all as Calvin Coolidge proclaimed, the chiefe business of America is business.
Lastly the revelations of US hypocrisy is no doubt putting a smile on China’s face, which US will be conscious of.