Edward Snowden versus American foreign policy

Edward Snowden topped Foreign Policy’s list of the Leading Global Thinkers of 2013.


1. Would you say there is any visible influence of Snowden’s revelation on the US foreign policy and relations with other countries or perhaps not so much, and why?

2. How would you shortly evaluate the impact of Snowden’s revelation on how the world, ordinary public perceive America? Any  real damages?


Kurk DorseyAssociate Professor of History, University of New Hampshire

1. I don’t think there will be major ramifications of the Snowden revelations, although there will certainly be many angry foreign leaders.  In the case of Germany, for instance, I really doubt that German officials had no idea that the NSA was interested in tracking people in Germany.  They are understandably angry that Angela Merkel turned out to be one of them!  And maybe they’re mad that they could not stop it.  But Germany’s interests have not changed overnight, even if they have decided that the trustworthiness of the United States, is not want it was last year. So in any important policy decisions, they will stick to their interests, not be guided by pique.  In that sense, it’s probably not as bad (at least not yet), as the Wikileaks problem, when some very undiplomatic language about foreign policy partners became public knowledge.  But even then, nations ultimately act on their perceived interests, and seasoned diplomats know that private language and public language is often different.

2. Since Germany is a good example, I think it would be interesting to see Barack Obama return to Berlin. Of course, in 2008, during the campaign, he got a welcome there that John Kennedy would have envied, but now I suspect that the reception would be a bit cooler.  Of course, it’s the same in the US.  Many people who thought they would get something new in an Obama Administration have been dismayed by the NSA stories.

Having said that, when I was in Hungary for four months back in 2011, I made a friend who had lived in the US, whose wife had served in the Hungarian army alongside Americans in Afghanistan, and was very welcoming to Americans. He told me directly that 9-11 was a US conspiracy.  I doubt that Edward Snowden has changed his mind about anything.

Jack Goldstone, Professor, Director, Center for Global Policy, George Mason University

1. Edward Snowden’s revelations — which may still not be complete — will have a great impact on US foreign policy and relations with other countries, because they have forced all nations to acknowledge two unpleasant truths:  that all countries, to a greater or lesser degree, spy on each other whether friends or foes, and that even chief executives do not always know everything that is being done by their spy agencies on their behalf.

In the short run, Snowden’s revelations have weakened the trust between the US and its allies; the US will have to exercise some care and humility to restore that trust.  However, in the long run, I think the U.S. and its allies will restore relations because the alliances are too valuable to allow them to weakened.

I also believe these revelations will lead the U.S. to seek agreements with its allies on information sharing that more explicitly states what is expected in terms of trust, notification, and monitoring of each others communications and policies.  It will also lead to closer oversight of the intelligence agencies to ensure that they do not embarrass their leaders.

What I do not know is whether these revelations will lead to a reduction in spying activity, or simply to efforts to make that activity more stealthy and difficult to detect.  Knowing the history of spying, though, points to the latter.

2. For the global, ordinary public, Snowden’s revelations will not change beliefs, but will reinforce what people already think of the US.  Those who do not trust the US and see it as dangerous will have that belief strengthened.  Those who do trust the US and see it as protecting stability in a dangerous world will be glad the US is doing exactly what they expect — listening in on the world for signs of danger.

Most important is that Snowden’s revelations only show the US doing what many people expect it to be doing — trying to follow people and communications around the world to search for threats.  It would have been far more damaging if there were any revelations that the US had used the information it gathered for bad ends: to blackmail friendly government leaders or to overthrow hostile ones.

In fact, it seems the US was remarkably restrained in the use it made of the information it gathered, using it mainly to inform summit strategies or prepare for negotiations, and of course to identify and thwart terrorist threats.  No doubt the scale and depth of US spying came as a surprise to many; but the use made of that information has so far not provided any incidents terribly damaging to America’s image.


One Response

  1. A Europa devia apoiar o Sr Edward Snowden

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