Petraeus’s and Allen’s Emailgate: Problem of trust between allies?

As David Petraeus served as ISAF Commander, the same with Gen. John Allen, would you say this “Emailgate” may have some impact on the relations within NATO in terms of trust? Do you expect some reactions from the European allies and should they react somehow?

Jan Gaspers, Gates Scholar, Centre of International Studies, University of Cambridge

The revelations about the private lives of General David Petraeus and General John Allen, as they have been presented in the media so far, will not affect trust among NATO allies. The credibility of NATO members within the Alliance is more or less the product of two elements, namely military resources and political commitment. Over the last 63 years, the United States has developed a sound track record in constantly devoting both elements to the Alliance. A possible lack of moral integrity of one high-ranking US NATO military official in what seems to be a very private domain will hardly harm this track record.

Having said this, General Allen’s role in the Petraeus affair may result in a loss of trust among NATO partners and particularly Afghanistan. As Commander of the International Security Assistance Force, General Allen is not only NATO’s face in Afghanistan, but he is also responsible for ensuring that the transition to Afghan full security responsibility will process as smoothly as possible. NATO member states will therefore make every effort to reassure the Afghan government and other partners in the region that possible allegations that General Allen may have prioritised personal matters over what is a very critical and demanding job are unfounded.

Beyond this exercise in damage control, European NATO members will refrain from commenting publicly on the Petraeus affair and its implications for the envisaged appointment of General Allen as NATO’s next Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR). The nomination of the SACEUR is the prerogative of the US President with the advice and consent of the Senate, and it would be rather unusual for members of the Alliance to interfere with the personnel decision of another member state.

Indeed, there is a case that might be regarded as a precedent for non-interference with NATO member states’ appointments of high-ranking NATO officials. When in 1983 the German NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe (DSACEUR), General Günter Kießling, was accused of being a security risk to the Alliance due to his alleged homosexuality, no NATO member state would comment publicly on the matter. Even Washington, which had always been rather unhappy about the appointment of Kießling as DSACEUR, agreed that it was Germany’s decision whether Kießling could continue to serve with NATO. Hence, when Kießling eventually retired from NATO it was on a request by the German Defence Minister.


Barbara Zanchetta, Visiting Fellow, Geneva Centre for Security Policy, Researcher, The Finnish Institute of International Affairs

At the moment this scandal seems to relate to the inner workings of the US services and the relationship between CIA and FBI. While the details of the affair, as they surface, do raise some questions of trust and reliability, these seem to be more of an issue inside the United States and, at the moment, I think NATO and allied countries do not want to take a position on this, and do not want to come to any conclusions. It does not seem to have impacted any NATO related issues, nor to have put at stake the life of NATO troops. Only if evidence in this direction were to emerge – and in my assessment it most probably will not – would NATO and European countries have to react. At the moment, NATO and the European allies are staying out of an issue that seems to touch exclusively American interests and will not want to take any position that might cause further embarrassment to newly elected US president Obama.

Kamil Zwolski, Lecturer in Global Politics and Policy, University of Southampton

There are two dimensions to the affair of the ex-CIA chief David Petraeus with his biographer Paula Broadwell. The first one is private and President Obama announced that he keeps his fingers crossed for the marriage of gen Petraeus. The second dimension is public. However, regardless of how ‘hot’ the topic is at the moment, I don’t envisage longer-term consequences. I also don’t think that the affair will have an impact on the relations within NATO in terms of trust. The only potentially significant international dimension of this scandal concerns the attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, but even this is mainly confined to American politics. I also don’t envisage official European reactions, although I am sure the affairs is hotly commented unofficially.

Jan Willem Honig, Senior Lecturer in War Studies, King’s College London

I suspect not too many allies are too bothered (some may think that the Americans are a bit too prudish about these things). So they’ll let it play out and feel lucky that it was caught before Allen was confirmed as SACEUR. One thing though maybe how keen the Europeans were on Allen as SACEUR — but I have no idea about whether some allies had their heart set on him and who might now be disappointed. I suspect that because the position of SACEUR is no longer as vital as it once was it won’t matter too much.

Peter Feaver, Professor of Political Science, Director of the Triangle Institute for Security Studies, Duke University

Generals Petraeus and Allen were respected voices who in the past argued that more rather than less ambitious outcomes were possible in Afghanistan.  This personal tragedy could very well have repercussions beyond their immediate circle, and beyond the obvious impact on morale within the U.S. ranks.  By silencing voices that might have made the case for a more ambitious endgame policy in Afghanistan, this affair could undermine optimism across the alliance.

Jean-Marc Rickli, Assistant Professor, Institute for International and Civil Security, Khalifa University

This “Emailgate” could have consequences on national and international security under two conditions. There could have been leaks of security issues to foreign services, or the affair could have been used as blackmail by foreign services. These two scenarios do not seem to be the case in the “Emailgate”. Therefore, I do not see how this scandal would affect US relations with NATO or with the Europeans. With the current information at public disposal, a primarily personal affair between adults has had personal consequences, as well as costs for US national security policy.  However, it does not extend beyond this. If Gen. Allen is not appointed as next SACEUR by President Obama, the latter will find a replacement and this would most likely have no consequences on US-NATO relationship.

Richard StollProfessor of Political Science, Rice University

I do not think these situations will cause problems in NATO unless further investigation shows that classified information was given out. I do not expect many comments from America’s European allies.

The cuts to the US defens


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