Trust Matters (and is Lost) Between Friends

The political philosopher Francis Fukyama wrote an entire book about it–and now it appears to be in short supply among Western Allies.

For Germans, it is particularly painful. We remember well the days of the Cold War, when East Germans like Ms. Merkel were spied on by the Stasi. Again, in some ways this is worse: The Stasi wasn’t our friend; America is.

In International Diplomacy 101, one learns that the most important ingredient of international cooperation is trust, easy to lose but hard to gain. How can Ms. Merkel, or anyone else in the European political leadership, ever trust the White House again?

The problem is not that countries spy on one another per se. Everybody does it (well, many countries do it) with varying degrees of effectiveness and success. But few governments do it to the extent that the Americans appear to have — the tap on Ms. Merkel’s phone began in 2002, long before she became chancellor, and apparently continued even after she was awarded the Medal of Freedom in the Rose Garden a few years ago.

via Restoring Trans-Atlantic Trust – NYTimes.com.

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12 thoughts on “Trust Matters (and is Lost) Between Friends

  1. trawson7 says:

    I actually really agree with this article. I understand national security and the importance of intelligence- especially when we’re up against terrorism. It makes sense that the United States (and all countries really) spy on each other. But I’m not sure what part of our government thinks its okay to spy on our obvious allies, nor am I sure which part of the government thinks we have the money to fund that kind of surveillance. It makes me sad that the United States has betrayed the trust of so many important countries, and I can only hope that that somehow can be reinstated. A world in which the West is not aligned is not one that I want to live in.

  2. jmmorgan242 says:

    I have to agree with trawson7. As we go further and further in debt, how can we justify the use of public funds spying on people who are on our side. As a matter of national security, it is in our best interests to the keep tabs on our enemies, but what sort of beneficial intelligence could we possibly have gained from spying on our allies? It seems that our stupidity has just backfired and caused us to make more enemies, that we will have to keep tabs on…

  3. eebashaw says:

    What a complicated situation. On the one hand, everyone knows that is how relations are, but I agree with the article as well that there is certainly a need for trust. In many ways it seems as if the whole being the dominant world super power has gone to the American government’s head. They are overstepping their bounds left and right. Spending is crazy and the government can’t seem to agree on anything, spying on our allies is being revealed to also be a little out of control, and peace talks do not seem to be like a viable option with our enemies. I feel like the United States and its allies need to truly unite under a common cause for anything to be solved. The world economy still seems to somewhat be on the brink of utter destruction, and the Middle East is still a hot bed of conflict. To be able to figure anything out in any of these situations, instead of making enemies out of our friends, America needs to solidify these relationships. We need to think outside of ourselves somewhat. Of course we should focus on our interests as they are our interests for a reason, but the world is so interconnected on so many levels, that there is no way that any country can overstep its bounds like this for long.

  4. josephdecker says:

    As the article points out, “Everybody [spies] (well, many countries do it) with varying degrees of effectiveness and success.” Who is to say that other countries wouldn’t spy to the extent that the United States does if they had the funds for “effective and successful” surveillance? In my opinion, Merkel’s reaction to the recently surfaced revelations of surveillance is one of humiliation more than anything else. It is natural to retaliate when one’s pride is on the line. In the end, spying is spying. The fact that the United States may spy “more” on other countries than they do on us should not be a reason to cut off or damage relations.

  5. kmdavis2 says:

    Like has been mentioned previously, there are a lot of complications to both sides of the issue. While it is universally understood that there is spying going on, does it cross lines to spy on countries who are our allies?

    To quote Mr. Darcy (yes, I’m that girl), “My good opinion, once lost, is lost forever.” I believe that right now, America is losing the good opinion of a lot of countries who used to be our allies and we need to rectify the situation or we are going to lose our place as a world power.

  6. It’s such a challenge to strictly discuss this in terms of “right and wrong” or “good, better, best.” I think that a “thing 1, thing 2” approach is about the best we can do.

    Thing 1 is all about security and self-interest. Thing 1 suggests that whatever measures are necessary in order to make sure our people are safe must be taken. Thing 1 says “it’s better to be safe than sorry,” and “speak softly and carry a big stick.”

    Thing 2 is all about peace and friendship. Thing 2 says “do unto others as you would have them do to you,” and “the only way to have a friend is to be one.” It suggests that loyalty’s costs always pay off in the end.

    There is such a delicate balance between the two things. We trust our friends, but we also recognize that they ultimately serve their own interests. We seek security and stability, but recognize that it cannot be obtained without allies.

    I think that in the end I have to go with John Nash’s approach when he said: “The best for the group comes when everyone in the group does what’s best for himself AND the group.” In other words, try to look out for yourself and, as much as possible, the other guy.

  7. taylorking2 says:

    I guess the general idea is that spying on others is okay as long as you don’t get caught. So, do your best to control any potential Edward Snowden’s from your country and things will be great! I wonder what it would be like if I started spying on my friends. Even if it did give me a potential advantage in knowing what they wanted to do, and even if they knew I was spying on them and they were spying on me, I still feel like it would be wrong. Where do we get the right to spy on others? Who decided that it was okay to tap into Merkel’s phone way before she became Chancellor? Who decided that we could continue to spy on her after she became Chancellor? Another thing to consider is what we would do if we found out that a country was spying on President Obama. I think that it would instantly become a serious issue internationally, and we would make a big deal about it. I have conflicting opinions on this topic, because I understand that in this day and age, spying is required to keep up with the rest of the world. That being said, I still don’t feel okay about it.

  8. jacobbills says:

    I think the fundamental thing to remember here is that allies are not the same as friends. Is everyone you work with on a group project a friend? What if you run a business that competes with those same people? Are they friends now?

    Germany is a close ally of the United States (and will continue to be even if no changes are made because they don’t have enough leverage over the US, at least in a way that won’t seriously hurt them). Germany is not a friend though. They are playing a huge two level game here and in the end really the biggest thing hurt, as others have mentioned, is their pride. They were out down by a competitor.

    It makes good sense to tap the phone of a rising party leader with a good chance of becoming the national leader. It makes even more sense to leave the tap on. It’s already there, after all. I personally don’t see why it’s so hard to realize that.

    In all, it probably goes back to how some people seem to think that being able to balance a family (or even a business) budget makes them qualified for running (or just commenting on) a major economy. Governments are not humans and operate on different levels then them. Trust doesn’t matter nearly as much among governments as it does among people for that reason.

  9. madythorn says:

    I think Jacobbills makes a good point above. Germany is not necessarily our friend even though they are one of our allies. Our relationships with Germany and with many other countries around the world, especially European countries needs to be taken care of. It may be true that Germany needs us more than we need Germany, but the fact of the matter is that we both need each other, It is true that all countries spy on each other, but I think that the US went too far when they decided to tap into Angela Merkel’s private phone. The author of this article is right when he says we need to reestablish trust across the Atlantic. I don’t think it is the best idea for President Obama to simply apologize, but he does need to come up with a solution to show Germany that he understands we went too far in that instant. At the very least we need to be careful not to be caught again, but there is no guarantee of not being caught unless we don’t phone tap the personal phones of our allies.

  10. madeleineolewis says:

    I agree with a lot of what this article says. Particularly the last statement: “As tempting as it is to play tit for tat, the Europeans should resist it. If both sides make damage limitation their priority, then over time a sense of trust can re-emerge across the Atlantic.” It pretty much sums everything up. Both sides should minimize the damage, it’s in both countries best interest to trust each other, and it won’t help anything to continue this cattiness.

    That being said, I think the governments of European states’ reaction to finding out that the US was spying on them was a bit melodramatic. They new it was going on, and they do it themselves. It’s not a nice thing to find out, but has it hurt our relationships in the past? Probably not. But to save face in the public’s eye, I think these countries are over reacting to a situation they already were clued into.

  11. skylodwig says:

    I think spying and keeping tabs on a government as a whole is different from spying and tapping the personal phone of an ally. It seems to be a waste of resources to go that far across the careful line between allies. Yes, everyone (or mostly everyone) spies on each other to some degree. I don’t necessarily agree that spying is spying, so the degree to which you do it is irrelevant. As with everything in life, the extent to which you do something does matter, whether it is positive or negative. Illegal crimes have different punishments based on severity of the crime, the way in which the crime was done, etc. Just because friends and allies aren’t the same thing, doesn’t mean there isn’t a certain etiquette that goes with dealing with our international partners.

  12. cassidyhansen says:

    Honestly, spying is just a lazy form of diplomacy. I say this because it is much simpler to anticipate what the country you are currently “friends” will do when new situations come up that may change the relationship. By knowing what the “friend” will do in response to change through spying, you can consider yourself a step ahead. Also, it allows diplomats to address their home government before conflict or confrontation begins. In reality, spying makes diplomats less skilled, because they are not using their enlightened knowledge and skills to solve problems, but are relying on information that the other side did not know was readily available, which is poor political workmanship.

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