Diplomacy Requires Trust Among Allies

Diplomacy Requires Trust Among Allies

Kiron K. Skinner

Kiron K. Skinner is the director of the Center for International Relations and Politics at Carnegie Mellon University and a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. She is a co-author of “Strategy of Campaigning: Lessons From Ronald Reagan and Boris Yeltsin.”

UPDATED OCTOBER 25, 2013, 6:22 AM

Trust is so central to maintaining a healthy alliance that the alleged U.S. policy of monitoring the phone conversations or phone records of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French citizens should be curtailed.

If Washington undermines its own leadership or that of its allies, the collective ability of the West to combat terrorism will be compromised.

Since the 1963 Elysée Treaty was signed, France and Germany have been the anchors for Europe’s democracies. Without these two leading economies, the European Union could not function and a peaceful Europe would be all but impossible to maintain.

Their membership in NATO is vital on both sides of the Atlantic. They have provided troops to the U.S.-led international security forces in Afghanistan. Even when they differ, they work together, as in the case of France’s intervention in Mali, when Germany ultimately offered the use of its cargo planes.

Diplomacy is based on trust, so when trust is compromised, cooperation — no matter how longstanding — gives way to discord. The Obama administration contends that a large portion of U.S. espionage activities are carried out to combat terrorism, but this does not justify the actions brought to light by the recent Edward Snowden-originated revelations. If Washington undermines its own leadership or that of its allies, the collective ability of the West to combat terrorism will be compromised. Allied leaders will have no incentive to put their own militaries at risk if they cannot trust U.S. leadership. Foreign leaders and their publics — not just the ideological and murderous nonstate actors that have made terrorism a global phenomenon — may demand retribution against Washington.

Robust U.S. counterterrorism policies are premised on credibility with those who join the U.S. on the front lines. Even though spying on allies has always occurred (U.S. spying on France provided important intelligence in World War II, for example), the digital age allows public revelations of classified behavior to happen in real time — not decades after the fact. It is little wonder that President Obama has been on the phone with his European counterparts this week. U.S. credibility is on the line.

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