Among the most provocative aspects of the recent revelations by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden is the toll that they have taken on America's transatlantic partnerships.
Germany provides a case in point. Cooperation on intelligence and surveillance issues between Berlin and Washington has been broad and robust. A brand new $124 million U.S. Army base with bug-proof offices and a high-tech control center is currently being built in Wiesenbaden, Germany to jointly house elements from the NSA and Germany's Federal Intelligence Service, the BND.
German authorities have also budgeted an additional $130 million over the next five years to beef up their own surveillance effortsas part of an effort called the Technikaufwuchsprogramm ("Technological Coming-of-Age Program"). So it was not particularly revelatory when Snowden disclosed that the U.S. is "in bed together with the Germans" on intelligence matters.
These leaks, however, have brought critical attention to a process that had gone on constructively behind the scenes for quite some time. Worse still, they have made intelligence cooperation with America a distinct campaign issue in Germany's forthcoming national elections, slated to take place on September 22nd.
As a result, a new debate is now casting a shadow over Germany's political process: What did Chancellor Angela Merkel know about the NSA's Prism program? And, if she was in fact unaware of it, does that not indicate that she is incompetent? To the latter point, Merkel was recently lampooned for a comment she made during a joint press conference in which she called the Internet "Neuland," or "uncharted territory." Her comments became an instant Internet meme. Merkel continues to leave important questions unanswered, and German citizens remain skeptical. As a result, September is shaping up to be a referendum of sorts regarding Germany's intelligence cooperation with the U.S.
The problem is broader still. In order to achieve any kind of global multilateral agreement on governance in cyberspace, America will need to engage and harness already-existing international efforts. These include the International Telecommunication Union, a specialized agency of the United Nations, and the Freedom Online Coalition, whose membership spans Europe, North and South America as well as Asia.
To do so, however, the U.S. needs Europe. Prior to the NSA Prism scandal, America's closest ally in cyber governance, despite some differences, was the European Union. The logic behind that cooperation still remains, but the recent revelations by Snowden have given EU members reason to pause. As Neelie Kroes of the Netherlands, who serves as a Vice-President of the EU and as the European Commissioner for Digital Agenda, recently put it, "if European... customers cannot trust the United States government or their assurances, then maybe they won't trust U.S... providers either. That is my guess, and if I am right then there are multi-billion euro consequences for American companies."
Rebuilding that trust requires actively working with Brussels to create a transparent and accountable framework for intelligence cooperation and data sharing. A relationship in good standing is also integral for protecting U.S. economic interests in the EU.
Washington has done little on that score – at least so far. While every U.S. president since Lyndon Johnson has journeyed to Brussels, the headquarters of the E.U., to engage with the European Union as a body, President Obama – now in his fifth year in office – still has not done so. Yet rapprochement with the entire EU is key to creating a sustainable long-term structure for global cyber governance.
Fortunately, an opportunity to begin to do so is around the corner. The Freedom Online Coalition will convene at the United Nation's 8th Internet Governance Forum in Bali, Indonesia from October 22 to 25th. The world will be watching to see if the United States and the EU arrive as a consolidated alliance, or as estranged bedfellows.
Hadley Nagel is a researcher at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, DC.