By Catherine Dallas
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was visibly elated after the men’s national team defeated Argentina to win the FIFA World Cup on Sunday. The win was not just a relief for Merkel after a twenty-four year victory drought by the team, but also a necessary bright spot after a dark week for the Chancellor. In light of revelations that German government workers were selling secrets to the CIA, Merkel expelled the agency’s station chief from Berlin, a rare move between two closely allied countries . Experts are declaring this latest scandal to be a low point of relations between the U.S. and Germany since Gerhard Schröder rejected the U.S.’s plan to invade Iraq in 2003. As more secrets about U.S. spy activities in Germany begin to unravel, one begins to ask: just how worthwhile is this espionage to U.S. interests?
Merkel and her Christian Democratic Union (CDU)-led government stand as perhaps the most powerful leaders within the European Union, and are key allies to the U.S. in both economic and foreign relations. Considering that the U.S. is currently facing the most fragile relationship with Russia since the Cold War, support from continental Europe’s most influential country is critical to making the gains it desires in easing the Ukraine-Russia conflict. The effect of these spying scandals on relations with Russia is already clear: in April, Putin stated on national television that “Handygate” (the moniker given to the revelation that the NSA had been tapping Merkel’s cellphone) is yet another example of how Western-bloc countries cannot be trusted with dealing with one another, much less with the rest of the world. The Russian president sees these espionage scandals as the perfect opportunity to criticize NATO and similar organizations, and as the full breadth of the U.S.’s spying activities in Germany begins to come into focus, it is evident that the U.S. is unintentionally playing directly into Putin’s agenda.
In addition to impacting US.-Eurasian activities, these spying scandals are also radically altering the nature of the U.S.-German relationship. Germany’s reaction to the CIA and NSA’s activities within its borders has been one of shock and hurt: experts note that Germans have considered their alliance with the U.S. to be one of “friendship” since at least the beginning of Konrad Adenauer’s term as Chancellor; the discovery that the U.S. has been taking advantage of this goodwill to spy on its ally has caused German public opinion of the U.S. to reach an all-time low. The response from the U.S. government has hardly been comforting to officials in Berlin, with White House spokespersons commenting that “allies with sophisticated intelligence agencies like the United States and Germany understand with some degree of detail exactly what those intelligence relationships and activities entail,” reprimanding Merkel for not directing her displeasure with U.S. intelligence agencies through private channels. The U.S.’s nonchalance towards its breach of trust with Germany is hardly comforting to Bundestag officials; Germany had long hoped to be added to the list of countries that have agreed not to spy on each other. Now they have not only been denied this desire, but have also discovered that they are the U.S.’s top spying target within the EU.
In reflecting upon U.S .actions in Germany, one has to question what information the U.S. could possibly have unearthed on this country that was worth jeopardizing its alliance. Surely the U.S, who faces crises in Iran, Syria, and Ukraine, yet remains allied with with Germany, a democratic country that also dominates in terms of both its economic and international influence, will be more helpful to its goals in facing these issues. Now, not only will U.S. relations with these countries be hindered by a potential lack of support from Germany, but it will also have difficulty conducting its affairs in Europe. Merkel has stated that, as of now, the U.S.’s actions will not affect the impending German-U.S. free trade agreement, but given that evidence of U.S. espionage continues to leak, it is unclear if the Chancellor will continue to be this willing to tie Germany so closely with a country that repeatedly breaches German trust. U.S. spying activities have shown the rest of Europe that it has little respect for the privacy of even its closest allies; in light of its duplicitous nature, it is entirely possible that other European countries will also lose confidence in the U.S.
Catherine is a Development intern at the EastWest Institute’s New York Office. Catherine studies Political Science and Managerial Studies at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and is from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She favors studying affairs in the Middle East and Europe, and is particularly interested in peace and conflict issues.