By Kelsey Chapman ‘15
German president Angela Merkel’s mobile phone has dominated international news this week amid allegations that it was the target of extensive surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA). This new development is just one of many brought about by the aptly named “Snowden effect”. Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has created more than just domestic issues for the United States; the secrets he has revealed have caused diplomatic repercussions across the globe.
A BBC article written late last week outlines just how far the “Snowden effect” has spread. That Wednesday evening the White House planned on hosting an event for Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff. Rousseff cancelled the event and her visit to the United States in protest over the apparent wide-reaching surveillance operation undertaken by the NSA. The Brazilian President has joined a club of international leaders whose personal communications have allegedly been surveilled by the agency. Just last Thursday James Bell of The Guardian accused the NSA of monitoring the phone calls of 35 world leaders. Worse yet, the article alleges that the NSA was given the phone numbers by an official in a separate U.S. government department. This revelation comes on top of the German diplomatic debacle, the worst between the two countries in living memory.
The allegations against the NSA made by German magazine Der Spiegel are especially disastrous for the United States, considering President Obama’s close relationship with Merkel. President Obama is reported to have told the German leader that he wasn’t aware of her phone being bugged. But as Roger Cohen, an op-ed columnist for the New York Times put it in his recent article “The Handyüberwachung Disaster,” “The White House’s assurance to her that the United States ‘is not’ and ‘will not’ monitor her communications was tantamount to confirmation through omission that in the past it has.”
Angela Merkel isn’t the only European leader who has expressed outrage over allegations of surveillance by the National Security Agency. Early last week reports in the French newspaper Le Monde alleged that the NSA had intercepted French phone traffic on a massive scale in the past. More and more revelations on NSA surveillance were made apparent to EU leaders as they met for a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday of last week. Adding to a scandal that now includes France, Germany, Mexico and Brazil, the latest allegations against the NSA were published by Spain’s El Mundo newspaper. The publication reported that the agency collected tens of millions of Spanish citizen’s phone calls. News reports of NSA spying have dominated the EU summit in Brussels as many leaders expressed concern over the allegations as well as a growing mistrust of the United States.
Europe isn’t the only part of the world that has expressed growing dissatisfaction with the United States. Pivoting to the Middle East, Saudi Arabia has been in the news more recently over their decision to decline an offered seat on the UN Security Council. Riyadh explained their decision as an intended message for the U.S., rather than the UN. Their grievances include President Obama’s failure to intervene in the conflict in Syria, his tactics in solving the Palestinian issue, and his increasing dialogue with Iran. Journalist Jeff Jacoby in his Boston Globe opinion piece “Saudi Arabia’s message to Obama” explained that, “Saudi Arabia’s refusal to take its seat on the Security Council had much less to do with the United Nations than with calling attention to Riyadh’s alarm and frustration at how its most important Western ally has been acting.” Other traditional allies of the United States in the Middle East such as Israel, Jordan and Turkey have expressed similar concerns with U.S. foreign policy in the region.
It looks like Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” will have to take a back seat as he struggles to maintain traditionally strong relationships with increasingly dissatisfied allies all over the world. Country by country, diplomatic concerns will have to be addressed if the United States wants to keep its ties with countries, especially the likes of Saudi Arabia, Germany, and Brazil. Whether or not these recent incidents will cause only brief embarrassment or longer-term diplomatic damage is hard to tell. So far frustrations have only been expressed with angry rhetoric, but the United States risks more concrete political and economic consequences if it fails to address the concerns of its closest allies. This is not a risk that the country should take lightly.