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Fractured Alliances: America, the NSA, and the International Community

The disastrous 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers have given the American National Security Agency abundant reason to invest in and expand their counter-terrorist surveillance efforts. However, up until the leaking of classified NSA documents by defence contractor Edward Snowden, the world has been unaware of the scope and magnitude of such unconstitutional programs. It has been revealed that the NSA has not only collected data on the American people, but more shockingly has systematically spied on top UN delegates and 35 other world leaders. The reach of such surveillance has angered many state leaders, causing diplomatic rifts between the United States and the sovereign states affected by these programs. Such revelations have the potential to have disastrous effects on relations between the United States and the international community.

Leaked documents revealed that the NSA had forced nine of the biggest tech companies in the US to hand over large amounts of data from its users. It was later revealed that the NSA had hacked into the e-mail account of ex-Mexican President Felipe Calderon, gathered data on millions of telephone calls in France and Spain, and tapped  Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s personal mobile telephone along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s. Such ambitious defense strategies are justified by the NSA as constitutional and aim to curb radical terrorism, in order to protect America and its allies.

Conversely, President Rousseff thinks otherwise, as she launched a blistering attack on the American espionage at the UN General Assembly, calling it a “breach of international law”, and vowing to lay fiber-optic cables from Latin America to Europe in order to bypass the United States. It has been revealed that part of this PRISM program was designed to spy on Petrobas, a state oil company in Brazil, accessing valuable strategic information. Such abuse of cyber-power, evidently not intended to assist in the war on terror, can surely validate Rousseff’s outrage. Consequently, Rousseff cancelled a planned visit to the United States as a protest to the extent of American espionage. A deterioration of bilateral relations of these proportions can be devastating, as Brazil is a valued trading partner of the United States.

Similarly, relations between the United States and Germany have been severely strained amidst claims that the NSA had bugged Merkel’s phone since 2002. In light of these developments, the President of the European Parliament, in addition to other European politicians have called for a halt in free trade negotiations. German Chancellor Merkel is reportedly “livid”, and has demanded a meeting with Washington by the end of the year. Further indication that US-German relations have consequently hit a new low is the unprecedented move by a German MP Hans-Christian Stroebele, who travelled to Russia to engage with Mr. Snowden. After the meeting in Moscow, Stroebele revealed Germany’s readiness to help Snowden travel safely to Germany, in order to brief the German government on his former employer’s unlawful practices. Such clear defiance of Washington’s desire to have Snowden extradited to American soil is a microcosm of the current state of US-German relations. Likewise, the United States’ bilateral relations with Russia have reached a potential breaking point. In August, President Obama canceled a planned visit to Moscow due to the situation with Snowden, who was granted temporary asylum in Russia.

Additionally, relations between the United States and a large portion of Latin America have similarly been damaged. Bolivian President Evo Morales has threatened to shut down the US embassy in his country stating “without the United States, we are better politically and democratically”. Moreover, Presidents from five other South American countries met President Morales to discuss the matter. This Latin American outrage was ignited when Morales’ plane was stopped in Vienna, as France, Spain, Portugal and Italy refused to let the Presidential plane fly through their airspace, at the demands of Washington, as suspicion was arisen that Snowden may have hitched a ride. The United States seems to have methodically aggravated its relations with these countries. Adding insult to injury seems like a regressive way to repair relations, especially in a region of the world which has a history of strong American resentment.

However, it is important to note that the relationship between the US and UK has remained status quo. During some instances, British Prime Minister David Cameron has been at odds with other European leaders in defending the US and UK’s respective spy programs. This can be the result of the existence of the “Five Eyes” club. The US and UK, along with Canada, Australia and New Zealand, have what is essentially a no-spy agreement. Consequently, this further highlights how the NSA’s spying program has negatively affected American political relations with many countries it has been “keeping tabs” on.

Edward Snowden has successfully sparked a debate over what he claims is “an unaccountable system of pervasive surveillance”. His act of political expression and martyrdom has helped individuals and nations comprehend the more vivid state of their national sovereignty and security. These nations have been able to come together and tackle an international cyberbully: the United States. Not only has the NSA effectively engaged in unconstitutional behavior, it has subordinated the sovereignty of many nations with its abominable and unlawful practices. As a result, the NSA has single handedly ruined American relations with many countries around the world today. In a day and age where political transparency is essential to international relations, it seems the United States of America would be best served by heeding their own advice: “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”.

– Alex Chaboud
License (Image) Attribution Some rights reserved by PM Cheung

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