Germany’s fury over U.S. espionage may be more than mere theater: this week, Angela Merkel’s government demanded the exit of America’s CIA station chief in Berlin. (In other words, the current Zeitgeist in Deutschland is an exaggerated Empörung). The expulsion follows the discovery of two spies that the U.S. allegedly recruited within the German government, revelations which have only reignited anger at American intelligence activities (including the NSA’s monitoring of the Chancellor’s private phone calls). But many writers are demonstrating little patience for German complaints.
At Outside the Beltway, Doug Mataconis shrugs at German outrage: “Allies spying on allies is […] one of those things that everyone does to some degree but which is never spoken of publicly.” Nonetheless, public anger has the potential to harm diplomatic relations:
While this is something that goes on far more often than anyone admits publicly, it’s never pleasant for either side when it ends up getting revealed because someone gets caught. Even if its [sic] just for domestic consumption it’s inevitable that German politicians are going to react negatively to all of this.
At Foreign Policy, Shane Harris agrees, noting that even though “the calls to kick out CIA officials and the publicized haranguing of the American ambassador are largely symbolic gestures, public outrage over the spying could force the German government to reshape its relationship with Washington.” Advising Germans to “stop your kvetching,” Harris quotes a former U.S. intelligence official who calls the idea of ceasing espionage in Germany “unspeakably silly.”
In the end, for all of this indignation, will Germany actually succeed in changing U.S. espionage policy? Judy Dempsey of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is skeptical:
….European governments want to have their cake and eat it. They often complain that when it comes to conducting military missions, they are beholden to the United States. Yet they are not prepared to invest in the military capabilities that would give them the freedom and independence of action commensurate with Europe’s economic strength.
The second front on which Europe is overwhelmingly dependent on the United States—and, increasingly, on Asia—is communications and technology. Whether it be Google or Microsoft, Facebook or Apple, the technology that Europeans use is imported.
For these observers, it’s difficult to summon sympathy for complaints about a practice which is rather unremarkable, even among allies. And Germany’s complaints become even harder to take seriously when the country’s vulnerability, as Dempsey notes, is tied to self-interested choices it has made in economic and foreign policy. As Dempsey pithily, and coolly, concludes: “No wonder Europe is easy prey for foreign intelligence services.”