Do I need to apologize? Recently, I strongly criticized the United States of America in this column because although we have been allies for over 60 years, its secret service has been spying on us Germans. I quoted the top politicians in Germany – and seconded their reactions:
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “Spying on your friends? That won’t do at all,” President Joachim Gauck’s “Enough is enough,” and Minister of the Interior Thomas de Maizière wondering whether or not Germany’s counterespionage activities should be extended to include the US. Based on their words, my theory was that when it came to the wiretapping scandal, the Germans were defending American values that the US itself no longer upholds.
Now the tables have turned. The German intelligence service has not only eavesdropped occasionally on the telephone conversations of our transatlantic ally’s leading politicians, including Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, but has also spied on Turkey, a NATO ally. As far as I’m concerned, my country can no longer play the role of the “poor wiretap victim.” Instead, Germany’s political elite has proven to be as hypocritical as its counterpart in other countries.
I feel like I should be apologizing. But why, exactly? For the fact that, despite having been a journalist for over 25 years, I still want to trust my country’s democratically elected government? What alternative do I have?
A hard-boiled stance that is tough to sell as realism? Allowing maintaining a critical distance to those in power to turn into absolute distrust? Do I have to basically assume that every government spies on everyone else now – as 40 percent of my fellow Germans think, according to a survey? That “Politicians never tell the truth,” as the saying goes?
I don’t need to apologize for the fact that more and more people take this view of politics – the politicians whose behavior is making politics lose its credibility should be doing that. But thousands of apologies would not solve the problem – kowtowing is not the solution. What we need are a few deep insights.
Regardless of whether or not my country’s government wiretaps its allies or vice versa, this type of espionage is expensive – for me and all of my fellow taxpayers. It also weakens democratic countries because it corrodes citizens’ trust in their institutions – terrible timing, in view of the current conflict with authoritarian regimes like Vladimir Putin’s in Russia and fundamentalist, terrorist movements such as the Islamic State.
Instead of apologizing, I’ll repeat my key question regarding spying among friends: Why don’t we finally start talking about a no-spying agreement? Not only with the US, but with all allies?