By William Pfaff
PARIS—I am surprised that in the Edward Snowden affair no one I’ve yet seen has quoted the American statesman Henry L. Stimson. He was twice (1911-‘13 and 1940-‘45) U.S. secretary of war (we had such a cabinet officer in an America less abandoned to hypocrisy) and once secretary of state (1929-‘33). In the last-named office, he closed down Washington’s post-World War I code-breaking service, saying “Gentlemen do not read others’ mail.” I suppose the difference between a time when the country was governed by gentlemen and the present day is so colossal as to make such a sentiment impossible to credit.
In France, and at the European Parliament, there is discussion about granting Edward Snowden political asylum in France or the E.U. (necessarily minus the U.K., given Britain’s longstanding collaboration with NSA communications interception), or to establish some form of internationally guaranteed asylum available to those persecuted in their own countries for having performed what internationally is regarded as an act of courageous public service.
Something like this is not entirely impossible. The government in Washington and much of Congress, the press and public opinion seem wholly to have failed to grasp the outrage of those nations, which believed themselves America’s close allies, at discovering the private communications of their entire populations, as well as of their governments, being systematically pillaged for personal, commercial, politico-economic and security advantage by the United States. Fleur Pellerin, French minister for the digital economy, said she was shocked by “generalized surveillance of populations—that’s an affair completely different from espionage; it’s much more serious.”
Not only was the intercept of European states’ communications cause for outrage, but these countries’ diplomatic premises in Washington, the United Nations and elsewhere being penetrated and bugged, as well as those of the E.U. in Brussels—supposedly protected from such actions by their allies through international “gentlemen’s” agreements. Moreover, to find that American corporations in the U.S. and Europe are obligated by American law since 2008 to hand over to the American authorities all information of foreign origin! The Europeans now are being warned that it still may not be too late to awaken from the sleepwalking (as Paris’ Le Monde newspaper quotes a European specialist) “towards the irreparable loss of sovereignty over all of its information stocked in [American-controlled or -penetrated] computer ‘clouds.’”
According to the information furnished by Edward Snowden to the German magazine Der Spiegel, the Germans are the most spied-upon of all the European allies, with many million communications intercepted a day.
The interceptions, according to the magazine, are made by equipment at the vast American military base near Frankfurt, and according to another report, by American-controlled communications facilities at NATO headquarters outside Brussels in Belgium. The German minister of justice, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, said, “It is beyond imagination that our friends in the U.S. view Europeans as the enemy!” She described this as Cold War conduct, targeted this time at Europe. Elmar Brok, the German chairman of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said the spying “has reached dimensions that I did not think possible for a democratic country” The United States “has lost all balance.”
There have been many demands from officials, members of the European parliament and commentators that the negotiations for a transatlantic free-trade zone, scheduled to begin next week, be postponed or cancelled. How can one negotiate freely under these circumstances? One can argue that Europe would be better off without such an agreement when the other side’s conduct is demonstrably unscrupulous and predatory. Free-trade agreements have always been sought by Washington because the U.S. consistently benefits most from the access provided to others’ markets while indirectly blocking foreign access and withholding crucial domestic markets under federal and state “Buy American” laws, which govern more than 10 percent of the available U.S. market and are all but politically impossible to remove.
However, the gravest aspect of the Snowden revelations has been their demonstration of the vast exploitation and betrayal of America’s alliance relationships. If the U.S. spies on European governments from its enormous number of military installations or U.S.-controlled NATO facilities, the Europeans could well decide that they would be better off requiring these bases’ removal—as Gen. de Gaulle did in France in 1966, ordering the American military to leave France.
Even in the fantasy-case of a new Russian military threat to Europe, the Europeans would find themselves virtually as well-protected as they are now, since they are no longer dependent upon Russian energy supplies, and NATO today functions as a mere adjunct to the Pentagon, largely financed by Europeans. The U.S. could never afford, strategically or militarily, to abandon Europe to Russian (or any other) aggression. What Snowden has inadvertently done is to reveal to the world that NATO and the American military deployment, in Europe and elsewhere, together have become, with respect to America’s allies, a Trojan Horse.
Visit William Pfaff’s website for more on his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy” (Walker & Co., $25), at www.williampfaff.com.
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