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Edward Snowden To EU: NSA Is Spying On All Of Europe : Personal Liberty – Conservative News and Political Commentary For Your Personal and Financial Freedom
March 7, 2014 by UPI – United Press International, Inc.
STRASBOURG, Germany (UPI) — European Union lawmakers received a 12-page testimony from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that says the NSA has been spying on all of Europe.
“I know the good and the bad of these systems, and what they can and cannot do, and I am telling you that without getting out of my chair, I could have read the private communications of any member of this committee, as well as any ordinary citizen.” wrote Snowden in his testimony.
Snowden did not reveal any new information in the testimony but said there are more programs that would infringe on EU citizens’ rights but that information will be given to responsible journalists.
Snowden explains that the NSA exploited loopholes in data agreements with individual countries to spy on the whole of Europe. The report being considered by the European parliament could put an end to the Safe Harbor agreement, which allows U.S. tech companies to self-certify that they are following EU data-protection laws. Further action by the EU could spell trouble for companies like Google.
Snowden also added that he would accept asylum from a European country if offered and once again reaffirmed he has not worked with the Russian or Chinese governments, although he did say that the Russian secret service did approach him.
“Even the secret service of Andorra would have approached me, if they had the chance: that’s their job,” wrote Snowden, “But I didn’t take any documents with me to Hong Kong, and while I’m sure they were disappointed, it doesn’t take long for an intelligence service to realize when they’re out of luck.”
Ellsberg: “I Am Grateful to Snowden for Having Given Us a Constitutional Crisis … a Crisis Instead of a Silent Coup” Washington’s Blog
What Snowden Has Revealed … Is a Broken System of Our Constitution, And He’s Given Us the Opportunity To Get It Back
Daniel Ellsberg told Amy Goodman:
[Snowden] came to believe, as I did, having made those oaths initially and the promises of nondisclosure, which were not oaths, but they are contractual agreements not to do that, which he later violated, as I did—he made those in good faith, by everything known to me, and came to realize, I think, eventually, as he said, that a nondisclosure agreement in this case and the secrecy conflicted with his oath, so help me God, to defend and support the Constitution of the United States, and it was a supervening—a superseding authority there that it was his responsibility really to inform the public, because, as he said, he could see that no one else would do it.
Congress knew [that Clapper’s statements that the NSA doesn’t spy on the American people] hey were false, the people he was talking to, the dozen, even the man who had asked the question, Senator Wyden. What we saw, what Snowden saw and what we all saw, was that we couldn’t rely on the so-called Oversight Committee of Congress to reveal, even when they knew that they were being lied to, and that’s because they were bound by secrecy, NSA secrecy and their own rule. The secrecy system here, in other words, has totally corrupted the checks and balances on which our democracy depends.
And I think the—I am grateful to Snowden for having given us a constitutional crisis, a crisis instead of a silent coup, as after 9/11 an executive coup, or a creeping usurpation of authority. He has confronted us. He has revealed documents now that prove that the oversight process, both in the judiciary, in the FISC, the secret court, and the secret committees in Congress who keep their secrets from them, even when two of them, Wyden and Udall, felt that these were outrageous, were shocking, were probably unconstitutional, and yet did not feel that they could inform even their fellow colleagues or their staff of this. What Snowden has revealed, in other words, is a broken system of our Constitution, and he’s given us the opportunity to get it back, to retrieve our civil liberties, but more than that, to retrieve the separation of powers here on which our democracy depends.
Congressional leaders and representatives of the US military-intelligence apparatus have stepped up their threats against Edward Snowden and the journalists who have worked with him to expose massive illegal spying by the National Security Agency (NSA).
At a hearing Tuesday of the House Intelligence Committee, Chairman Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, repeatedly suggested that journalists who received leaked NSA documents from Snowden and wrote articles about them were guilty of criminal acts.
These statements follow published death threats against Snowden from unnamed military and intelligence officials and demands from the Obama administration that he plead guilty and turn himself in.
Rogers engaged his main witness at Tuesday’s hearing, FBI Director James Comey, in a lengthy exchange over whether an unnamed journalist would be guilty of “fencing stolen material” if he published articles based on the Snowden revelations. Because reporters are paid for their work, Rogers suggested, they were engaged in selling stolen material for profit. He posed the question to Comey, “If I’m hocking stolen classified material that I’m not legally in possession of for personal gain and profit, is that not a crime?”
Comey was more cautious in his public utterances, agreeing that a journalist who sold stolen jewelry was guilty of a crime, but suggesting stolen documents might not be as clear a case. “I think that’s a harder question because it involves a news-gathering function,” he said. It “could have First Amendment implications,” he added. [Emphasis added].
However, Comey did not rule out prosecution. Rogers continued, “So if I’m a newspaper reporter for—fill in the blank—and I sell stolen material, is that legal because I’m a newspaper reporter?”
Comey eventually declared, after being pressed by Rogers, “I don’t want to talk about the case in particular because it’s an active investigation of ours.”
Rogers then asked, “It’s an active investigation for accomplices brokering in stolen information?” Comey replied, “We are looking at the totality of the circumstances around the theft and promulgation.”
After the hearing, Rogers made it clear that one of the journalists he had in mind was Glenn Greenwald, the former Guardian reporter who has written numerous articles on the NSA based on his access to the trove of documents taken by Snowden. “For personal gain, he’s now selling his access to information, that’s how they’re terming it,” Rogers claimed. “A thief selling stolen material is a thief.”
Rogers also said, referring to Snowden himself, “I can tell you from a whole series of classified meetings, the folks who do this for a living believe he is under the influence of the Russians.”
The obvious conclusion of the exchange between Rogers and Comey is that the Obama administration is considering criminal charges against Greenwald, as well as filmmaker Laura Poitras and Washington Post contributor Barton Gellman, who also have access to the Snowden documents and have reported on them.
Greenwald strongly defended his actions and the actions of his fellow journalists in interviews and Twitter postings after the House committee hearing. “There’s something that has become pretty sick about DC political culture if the idea of prosecuting journalists is now this mainstream,” he said on Twitter. “The main value in bandying about theories of prosecuting journalists is the hope that it will bolster the climate of fear for journalism.”
No journalist has ever been prosecuted in the United States on the claim that receiving unauthorized information was akin to receipt of stolen goods. Greenwald added, “What they’re trying to do is to remove it from the realm of journalism so that they can then criminalize it.”
The McCarthy-style threats against journalists by Rogers came amid mounting threats against Snowden and his allies by top military-intelligence officials.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, speaking at another hearing Tuesday, referred to the journalists who have extensively reported on the NSA as “accomplices” of Snowden, a term suggesting co-conspirators in a criminal enterprise. This comment followed Clapper’s testimony the previous week before the Senate Intelligence Committee, where he denounced Snowden as the architect of the “most damaging theft of intelligence information in our history.”
Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who commands the Defense Intelligence Agency, and Matt Olsen, chief of the National Counterterrorism Center, claimed that Snowden’s revelations had resulted in changes in how Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups conduct their communications activities.
“What we’ve seen in the last six to eight months is an awareness by these groups…of our ability to monitor communications and specific instances where they’ve changed the ways in which they communicate to avoid being surveilled,” Olsen said.
This is both unprovable and likely bogus, since the vast bulk of the Snowden revelations concern US government spying on ordinary citizens of the United States and other countries to accumulate a gigantic database of all the communications linking all individuals throughout the world. This has nothing to do with fighting terrorism and everything to do with profiling the population politically and preparing the military-intelligence apparatus to suppress movements from below that would threaten the profits and property of the financial aristocracy.
The Senate Intelligence Committee hearing coincided with the release of a 27-page report, “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community,” filed annually with Congress by the director of national intelligence (DNI). This year’s report for the first time cites internal leaks as a major danger to US national security and actually ranks such leaks ahead of terrorism as a threat.
“Trusted insiders with the intent to do harm can exploit their access to compromise vast amounts of sensitive and classified information as part of a personal ideology or at the direction of a foreign government,” the report warns. “The unauthorized disclosure of this information to state adversaries, non-state activists or other entities will continue to pose a critical threat.”
The DNI report now lists terrorism only third in its list of threats. Top billing is given to the danger of cyberattacks, with Russia, China, Iran and North Korea cited as the main concerns. This list gives a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes discussions in the Pentagon, CIA and State Department, where there is increasing focus on the prospect of direct military conflict with Russia and China, countries with the second- and third-largest nuclear arsenals after the United States.
The ranking of Snowden-type leakers ahead of terrorism as a threat has the most ominous implications. Terrorism has been used as the justification for an unprecedented assertion of presidential power to order the killing of American citizens without trial or any other judicial process. Obama has acknowledged giving the first such order, which was carried out in 2011 when a CIA-fired drone missile killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-born Islamic cleric living in Yemen.
If Snowden is an even bigger threat, as the DNI report suggests, what is to stop the “commander in chief” from ordering his assassination? In the course of the past month, there have been increasingly bloodthirsty declarations from NSA operatives and congressional Republicans advocating such an operation.
The White House has not joined in the open discussion of killing Snowden, but Obama’s style in such matters has been to act first and talk about it later.
Spy Agency “Masqueraded As An Enemy In A ‘False Flag’ Operation”
A new report from NBC News – based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden – appear to confirm our fears, documenting that Britain’s GCHQ spy agency has carried out cyber false flag attacks:
In another document taken from the NSA by Snowden and obtained by NBC News, a JTRIG official said the unit’s mission included computer network attacks, disruption, “Active Covert Internet Operations,” and “Covert Technical Operations.”Among the methods listed in the document were jamming phones, computers and email accounts and masquerading as an enemy in a “false flag” operation. The same document said GCHQ was increasing its emphasis on using cyber tools to attack adversaries.
Postscript: We await further revelations of “false flag” attacks by spy agencies.
CSEC used airport Wi-Fi to track Canadian travellers: Edward Snowden documents – Politics – CBC News
Airport Wi-Fi used to track Canadians 4:16
National Affairs Specialist
Greg Weston is an investigative reporter and a regular political commentator on CBC Radio and Television. Based in Ottawa, he has afflicted governments of all stripes for over three decades. His investigative work has won awards including the coveted Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism. He is also the author of two best-selling books, Reign of Error and The Stopwatch Gang.
A top secret document retrieved by U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowdenand obtained by CBC News shows that Canada’s electronic spy agency used information from the free internet service at a major Canadian airport to track the wireless devices of thousands of ordinary airline passengers for days after they left the terminal.
After reviewing the document, one of Canada’s foremost authorities on cyber-security says the clandestine operation by the Communications Security Establishment Canada ( CSEC) was almost certainly illegal.
Ronald Deibert told CBC News: “I can’t see any circumstance in which this would not be unlawful, under current Canadian law, under our Charter, under CSEC’s mandates.”
The spy agency is supposed to be collecting primarily foreign intelligence by intercepting overseas phone and internet traffic, and is prohibited by law from targeting Canadians or anyone in Canada without a judicial warrant.
As CSEC chief John Forster recently stated: “I can tell you that we do not target Canadians at home or abroad in our foreign intelligence activities, nor do we target anyone in Canada.
“In fact, it’s prohibited by law. Protecting the privacy of Canadians is our most important principle.”
But security experts who have been apprised of the document point out the airline passengers in a Canadian airport were clearly in Canada.
CSEC said in a written statement to CBC News that it is “mandated to collect foreign signals intelligence to protect Canada and Canadians. And in order to fulfill that key foreign intelligence role for the country, CSEC is legally authorized to collect and analyze metadata.”
Metadata reveals a trove of information including, for example, the location and telephone numbers of all calls a person makes and receives — but not the content of the call, which would legally be considered a private communication and cannot be intercepted without a warrant.
“No Canadian communications were (or are) targeted, collected or used,” the agency says.
In the case of the airport tracking operation, the metadata apparently identified travelers’ wireless devices, but not the content of calls made or emails sent from them.
Diebert is author of the book Black Code: Inside the Battle for Cyberspace, which is about internet surveillance, and he heads the world-renowned Citizen Lab cyber research program at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs.
He says that whatever CSEC calls it, the tracking of those passengers was nothing less than an “indiscriminate collection and analysis of Canadians’ communications data,” and he could not imagine any circumstances that would have convinced a judge to authorize it.
The latest Snowden document indicates the spy service was provided with information captured from unsuspecting travellers’ wireless devices by the airport’s free Wi-Fi system over a two-week period.
Experts say that probably included many Canadians whose smartphone and laptop signals were intercepted without their knowledge as they passed through the terminal.
The document shows the federal intelligence agency was then able to track the travellers for a week or more as they — and their wireless devices — showed up in other Wi-Fi “hot spots” in cities across Canada and even at U.S. airports.
That included people visiting other airports, hotels, coffee shops and restaurants, libraries, ground transportation hubs, and any number of places among the literally thousands with public wireless internet access.
The document shows CSEC had so much data it could even track the travellers back in time through the days leading up to their arrival at the airport, these experts say.
While the documents make no mention of specific individuals, Deibert and other cyber experts say it would be simple for the spy agency to have put names to all the Canadians swept up in the operation.
All Canadians with a smartphone, tablet or laptop are “essentially carrying around digital dog tags as we go about our daily lives,” Deibert says.
Anyone able to access the data that those devices leave behind on wireless hotspots, he says, can obtain “extraordinarily precise information about our movements and social relationships.”
Trial run for NSA
The document indicates the passenger tracking operation was a trial run of a powerful new software program CSEC was developing with help from its U.S. counterpart, the National Security Agency.
In the document, CSEC called the new technologies “game-changing,” and said they could be used for tracking “any target that makes occasional forays into other cities/regions.”
Sources tell CBC News the technologies tested on Canadians in 2012 have since become fully operational.
CSEC claims “no Canadian or foreign travellers’ movements were ‘tracked,'” although it does not explain why it put the word “tracked” in quotation marks.
Deibert says metadata is “way more powerful that the content of communications. You can tell a lot more about people, their habits, their relationships, their friendships, even their political preferences, based on that type of metadata.”
The document does not say exactly how the Canadian spy service managed to get its hands on two weeks’ of travellers’ wireless data from the airport Wi-Fi system, although there are indications it was provided voluntarily by a “special source.”
The country’s two largest airports — Toronto and Vancouver — both say they have never supplied CSEC or other Canadian intelligence agency with information on passengers’ Wi-Fi use.
Alana Lawrence, a spokesperson for the Vancouver Airport Authority, says it operates the free Wi-Fi there, but does “not in any way store any personal data associated with it,” and has never received a request from any Canadian intelligence agency for it.
A U.S.-based company, Boingo, is the largest independent supplier of Wi-Fi services at other Canadian airports, including Pearson International in Toronto.
Spokesperson Katie O’Neill tells CBC News: “To the best of our knowledge, [Boingo] has not provided any information about any of our users to the Canadian government, law enforcement or intelligence agencies.”
It is also unclear from the document how CSEC managed to penetrate so many wireless systems to see who was using them — specifically, to know every time someone targeted at the airport showed up on one of those other Wi-Fi networks elsewhere.
Deibert and other experts say the federal intelligence agency must have gained direct access to at least some of the country’s main telephone and internet pipelines, allowing the mass-surveillance of Canadian emails and phone calls.
Ontario’s privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian says she is “blown away” by the revelations.
“It is really unbelievable that CSEC would engage in that kind of surveillance of Canadians. Of us.
“I mean that could have been me at the airport walking around… This resembles the activities of a totalitarian state, not a free and open society.”
Experts say the document makes clear CSEC intended to share both the technologies and future information generated by it with Canada’s official spying partners — the U.S., Britain, New Zealand and Australia, the so-called Five Eyes intelligence network.
Indeed, the spy agency boasts in its leaked document that, in an apparently separate pilot project, it obtained access to two communications systems with more than 300,000 users, and was then able to “sweep” an entire mid-sized Canadian city to pinpoint a specific imaginary target in a fictional kidnapping.
The document dated May 2012 is a 27-page power-point presentation by CSEC describing its airport tracking operation.
While the document was in the trove of secret NSA files retrieved by Snowden, it bears CSEC’s logo and clearly originated with the Canadian spy service.
Wesley Wark, a renowned authority on international security and intelligence, agrees with Deibert.
“I cannot see any way in which it fits CSEC’s legal mandate.”
Wark says the document suggests CSEC was “trying to push the technological boundaries” in part to impress its other international counterparts in the Five-Eyes intelligence network.
“This document is kind of suffused with the language of technological gee-whiz.”
Wark says if CSEC’s use of “very powerful and intrusive technological tools” puts it outside its mandate and even the law, “then you are in a situation for democracy where you simply don’t want to be.”
Like Wark and other experts interviewed for this story, Deibert says there’s no question Canada needs CSEC to be gathering foreign intelligence, “but they must do it within a framework of proper checks and balances so their formidable powers can never be abused. And that’s the missing ingredient right now in Canada.”
The only official oversight of CSEC’s spying operations is a retired judge appointed by the prime minister, and reporting to the minister of defence who is also responsible for the intelligence agency.
“Here we clearly have an agency of the state collecting in an indiscriminate and bulk fashion all of Canadian communications and the oversight mechanism is flimsy at best,” Deibert says.
“Those to me are circumstances ripe for potential abuse.”
CSEC spends over $400 million a year, and employs about 2,000 people, almost half of whom are involved in intercepting phone conversations, and hacking into computer systems supposedly in other countries.
It has long been Canada’s most secretive spy agency, responding to almost all questions about its operations with reassurances it is doing nothing wrong.
Privacy watchdog Cavoukian says there has to be “greater openness and transparency because without that there can be no accountability.
“This trust-me model that the government is advancing and CSEC is advancing – ‘Oh just trust us, we’re doing the right thing, don’t worry’ — yes, worry! We have very good reason to worry.”
In the U.S., Snowden exposed massive metadata collection by the National Security Agency, which is said to have scooped up private phone and internet records of more than 100 million Americans.
A U.S. judge recently called the NSA’s metadata collection an Orwellian surveillance program that is likely unconstitutional.
The public furor over NSA snooping prompted a White House review of the American spy agency’s operations, and President Barack Obama recently vowed to clamp down on the collection and use of metadata.
Cavoukian says Canadians deserve nothing less.
“Look at the U.S. — they’ve been talking about these matters involving national security for months now very publicly because the public deserves answers.
“And that’s what I would tell our government, our minister of national defence and our prime minister: We demand some answers to this.”
Just five years after President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace prize (to much global amazement), Norwegian politicians have nominated none other than Edward Snowden for this year’s award for contributing to transparency and global stability by exposing a U.S. surveillance program. As Reuters reports, Snowden’s “actions have in effect led to the reintroduction of trust and transparency as a leading principle in global security policies.”
“The public debate and changes in policy that have followed in the wake of Snowden’s whistleblowing have contributed to a more stable and peaceful world order,” Norwegian parliamentarians Snorre Valen and Baard Vegar Solhjell said in the nomination letter obtained by Bloomberg.
“There’s no doubt that the actions of Edward Snowden may have damaged the security interests of several nations in the short term,” said Valen and Solhjell, who was environment minister in the former Labor-led government. Snowden’s “actions have in effect led to the reintroduction of trust and transparency as a leading principle in global security policies.”
Valen and Solhjell, who represent the Socialist Left Party in the Norwegian parliament, also said that they “don’t necessarily condone or support all of his disclosures.”
The Nobel Committee accepts nominations from members of national assemblies, governments, international courts, professors and previous laureates. It received a record 259 nominations for last year’s prize. While the nominees are kept secret for 50 years, names are sometimes disclosed by the nominators. The prize winner will be announced in October.
Is this the Nobel’s last best effort to regain some credibility?
What are the biggest political risks for 2014?
There are plenty of potential crises to keep us up at night in 2014. There are tensions between China and Japan in the East China Sea and elite-level executions in North Korea. Violence continues to worsen in the Middle East with a resurgence of a more localized Al Qaeda, a deteriorating security environment in Iraq, and 2014’s biggest geopolitical pivot point: the make-or-break Iran nuclear agreement. If the P5+1 and Iran strike a deal, it would be a huge boon for the Obama administration, but it would leave Iran economically emboldened and looking to backstop Shia initiatives across the region, putting it even more at odds with Saudi Arabia. A deal is, on balance, more likely than not. But if it falls through, it means a spike in oil prices, in addition to the likelihood that Israel strikes Iran before it can sprint to nuclear-breakout capacity. All of these geopolitical concerns are front and center for the coming year.
But above all, two essential questions best categorize the major political risks of 2014. For many of the world’s predominant emerging markets, it’s an internally focused question: How will key developing countries adapt to upcoming elections or implement ambitious agendas—and what does it mean for their behavior beyond their borders? For the United States, the question is externally focused. The international community perceives America’s foreign-policy behavior as increasingly unpredictable. Is the United States disengaging internationally? How will policymakers define the role that the US should play in the world? Much depends on these concerns, as America’s relationships with its allies become increasingly fraught.
When you add these two questions to the more conventional geopolitical security uncertainties, there is one clear answer: the erosion of global leadership and coordination will become more apparent and pronounced in 2014.
How will emerging markets respond to internal challenges?
This year, we will see domestic distractions in emerging markets, from election cycles to unprecedented reform agendas; do not expect them to play a significant role internationally that does not cohere with their more pressing priorities at home. We are in the midst of a new era of political challenges for emerging markets, as slowing growth, sputtering economic models, and rising demands from newly enfranchised middle classes create heightened uncertainty. As recent protests in Brazil, Turkey, Thailand, Colombia, Ukraine and Russia have shown, new middle classes have new demands—and are willing to take to the streets if they go unmet.
It is in this context that six of the world’s largest emerging markets—Brazil, Colombia, India, Indonesia, South Africa and Turkey—will hold national elections in 2014. In all six countries, the incumbent party will have ruled for a decade or more, but since coming to power, few of them will have faced an electoral cycle quite like this. Political, social, and economic dynamics in each of these countries vary immensely, but elections raise the risk of prevote populist policymaking in all of them. As emerging-market growth wanes, many of these countries need to implement economic reforms in order to enhance productivity and continue enriching their citizens. But as elections loom, the fears of politicians grow, and substantive reform of pensions, privatization, labor markets, and taxation will stall. Nor will the outlook improve substantially post-elections. We are likely to see second mandates of weaker leaderships—a political environment that is by no means ideal for big-bang reforms.
While these six emerging markets are the most important players for the global economic community, the emerging market elections story extends much further. A total of forty-four democratic emerging-market countries accounting for 36 percent of the world’s population will hold national elections this year. Growing middle classes across the emerging market space are expecting more and better services precisely as governments’ capacity to deliver (economically and politically) is diminishing. That leaves emerging market governments with their hands full at home.
Among emerging markets, Turkey is especially vulnerable in 2014. The country faces spillover effects from the civil war in Syria and a re-emergence of the Kurdish insurgency. More worryingly, Prime Minister Erdogan’s increasingly aggressive behavior is a huge variable at a time when he is likely to become president. Expect uncertainty and conflict over the division of powers between him and the prime minister.
China, by far the most important emerging market in the world, certainly does not face electoral pressure; in fact, the new leadership under Xi Jinping has consolidated power quickly and efficiently since the leadership transition in late 2012. But China will face demands from its constituents and domestic distractions all the same, as its economy is now undergoing a dramatic shift. The new leadership has embraced far-reaching reform to a greater degree over president Xi Jinping’s first year than we’ve seen in the past two decades. Beijing will prioritize reform over more rapid economic growth in 2014, likely focusing on reforms that address public concerns to bolster its political strength and popular legitimacy. Expect social-policy reform at the forefront, with energy policy as another priority. We could also see financial reform moving more quickly than current consensus would indicate.
These reforms constitute a huge potential positive for China’s investment climate and potential integration into the world economy. Beijing must, however, tread carefully: there are many dangerous moving pieces attached to the reform agenda. There will be losers in the reform process as industries go out of business, officials get purged, and firms come under heavy regulatory scrutiny. If reforms move too quickly, they could destabilize the ruling party from within, as these key stakeholders push back to protect their vested interests. To protect against public and bureaucratic backlash, the leadership is using anti-corruption and reeducation efforts to intimidate reform opponents within the party while using new technologies to mitigate public dissent. But if the reforms fail or are widely perceived to be moving too slowly, political instability and popular protest could grow. That is only magnified by the fact that Beijing is doing this in the context of a fundamentally changed information environment, where the proliferation of information leaves the ruling party more beholden to the demands of its citizens—and where rapid shifts in popular sentiment can arise quickly and unexpectedly. Missteps could undermine the broader reform process and the leadership itself.
If— or perhaps, when— there are bumps in the road, Beijing will try to divert public anger toward foreign targets. Xi Jinping’s first substantial foreign-policy move was to announce an Air Defense Identification Zone in the East China Sea; that caters to widespread anti-Japanese sentiment within China. Should trouble emerge domestically, the Xi government might be willing to deflect attention by playing up this antagonism. On the other hand, in the longer run, if China implements its reform agenda successfully, it could empower the regime to project its regional influence still further.
Russia is one emerging market where, under President Putin’s rule, there is a great willingness to intervene on the international stage—but often in unpredictable ways. Putin remains the single most powerful individual in the world, but two worrying trends are converging: his popularity has slipped, and after a decade of rising expectations, Russia’s economy is stagnating. This makes Russia under Putin, a leader unusually capable of getting big things done quickly, far less predictable at home and abroad.
Is the United States disengaging internationally?
As Putin injects uncertainty by intervening abroad, the United States is doing so as well—but predominantly by disengaging.
Some of this decline in consistent US foreign-policy engagement is determined by structural international changes. First, there are too many increasingly influential countries that need to be at the table for a negotiation to have global impact, making it more difficult to coordinate effectively at the multilateral level. On top of this, a distracted German-led Europe is focusing inward on economic prerogatives of repairing the eurozone and restoring competitiveness; for foreign-policy engagement, the United States would much prefer the more geopolitically aligned UK and France driving European affairs. Emerging markets, particularly Russia and China, are more willing to challenge US preferences abroad.
Some of this new American foreign policy tack derives from tectonic shifts in the US domestic picture. In the 2012 election, just 5 percent of voters ranked foreign policy as their priority, and widening income inequality is persuading many Americans that they do not share the benefits of US engagement abroad. With a reactive, risk-averse approach to foreign policy along with a weaker second-term foreign-policy team, the Obama administration’s preferences and recent actions have magnified the issue considerably. The White House has made a handful of important missteps in the last year, even if many were at least partially the product of circumstance. The NSA scandal in the wake of the Snowden revelations has undermined the United States around the world. The need for attention at home amidst congressional infighting, a government shutdown, and the Obamacare rollout fiasco has come with significant foreign-policy opportunity cost—perhaps most importantly, Obama’s need to miss the APEC summit. Obama’s vacillation on whether to strike Syria undermined US credibility, and when the chance for a chemical-weapons agreement arose (thanks to an internationally engaged Vladimir Putin…), Obama jumped at the chance to take the deal and chalk it up as a justification for Washington remaining a spectator to the broader civil war.
Add all of these factors together and it seems that a perfect storm of US foreign policy decline is brewing. A poorly defined, more risk-averse US role in the world has allies frustrated with and uncertain about Washington’s longstanding policy preferences and commitments. They are actively questioning some American security guarantees and worrying about Washington’s reluctance to deploy military, economic, and diplomatic capital.
This new period of uncertainty for American foreign policy will impact US relations with countries around the world—but by no means equally. Despite their consternation, America’s closest allies don’t have viable alternatives. Mexico and Canada are far too economically integrated with the US to effectively hedge the relationship with outreach to other major powers. For Japan, Israel and the UK—the United States’ preeminent ally in each of their respective regions—the same is true strategically. As a result, they are particularly exposed in an increasingly leaderless world order.
That’s not the case, though, for the US’s second-tier allies, who have flexibility in structuring their strategic partnerships. This a much larger group, including Germany, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, South Korea, Brazil, and Indonesia. All have governments that consider it unwise to bet too fully on the US, and they are preparing to hedge their position by shifting their international orientation accordingly.
The prime example is the deterioration in US-Saudi relations. In recent months, the Saudi leadership has rejected a seat on the UN Security Council and penned forceful op-eds in Western publications, explaining Saudi consternation with American policy in the Middle East—the Iran nuclear deal in particular—and the need for Saudi Arabia to “go it alone.” The Brazilians and Germans have been particularly vocal in their opposition to NSA practices in the wake of the discovery that their leaders’ personal emails had been monitored by US intelligence.
The implications of these shifting alliances will be stark. US corporations are primed for new challenges. Post-Snowden, American firms that rely on collecting or sharing information, such as telecoms, banks and credit-card companies, may encounter a more hostile regulatory environment in countries like France, Germany and Brazil. US defense companies selling into countries such as Turkey and the Gulf states could also find themselves on the losing end of a tilt away from the United States. And expect Washington’s multilateral agenda to suffer, as “coalitions of the willing” become harder to establish and important trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership lose some momentum. Confusion over US commitments will complicate choices for countries balancing security and economic interests between the US and China; some Asian governments may align more closely with Beijing. And as the US is no longer perceived as a credible driver of the single global marketplace, a weakening of international standards is likely in the years to come. We might see faster fragmentation of the Internet, more disjointed financial regulation, a weaker NATO, and an even more fragmented global environment.
But despite its waning foreign-policy engagement, the US is not in economic decline.Investors continue to look past America’s many challenges and bet heavily on the US economy.In fact, driven by an energy revolution, game-changing technologies in diverse sectors, favorable demographics, and strong underlying political and social stability, the American economic story remains among the most dynamic and exciting in the world.The United States may be hamstrung by issues such as its yawning gap between rich and poor and its increasingly ineffectual secondary-education system, but for now at least, corporate investment and international support for the US dollar remain robust. So despite Washington’s inconsistencies on the international stage, America’s allies—and the international community—are set to struggle with it most.
In 2014, as emerging markets look inward and American foreign policy goes wayward, the only certainty is that international coordination is eroding. That will generate a more volatile global landscape and unforeseen crises.
Ian Bremmer is the president of the Eurasia Group, global research professor at New York University and a contributing editor at The National Interest.
Image: Flickr/Beverly Goodwin. CC BY 2.0.