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Tadae Takubo

【#220】International Relations Are Separate from Personal Relations

Tadae Takubo / 2013.11.14 (Thu)


November 11, 2013

      The U.S. National Security Agency's wiretapping of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cell phone was unveiled in late October. Since the United States and Germany are allies, they are destined to conclude a mutual no-spying agreement, the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper reported on November 3. But I'm worried whether German public anger would cool down easily.
      A poll released by German public television station ARD on November 7 said 61% of the German respondents described the United States as an unreliable partner, while 35% viewed the U.S. as reliable, down 14 percentage points from a year earlier. Given that there are 80 U.S. spying bases including Paris, Madrid, Rome, Prague, Geneva and Frankfurt according to media reports, it may not be easy for the United States to restore confidence from relevant countries.

No easy answer on whether wiretapping is good or bad
      If asked whether wiretapping is good or bad, we may usually answer it is bad. However, I doubt if international relations where national interests are at stake can be judged from trust-oriented personal relations. Angered Chancellor Merkel said, "Spying between friends, that's just not done.'' But it may be natural for the United States to be sensitive to developments even in friendly countries as far as its national security is concerned.
      We may have to pay attention to remarks by U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper at the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on October 29. He said that an intelligence agency's basic duty is to collect and analyze intentions of leaders, and that allies are also wiretapping phones of U.S. leaders. For Japanese who rarely separate personal relations from government-to-government relations in analyzing the international situation and have no full-fledged intelligence agency, there are no arguments in addition to simple discussions on whether wiretapping is good or bad. This Japanese situation is abnormal.

Shady side of international relations
      Given that the British Guardian newspaper and Germany's Der Spiegel magazine were remarkably active in reporting the NSA's wiretapping, the source of information on the wiretapping may be clear. Using these media has been former Central Intelligence Agency employee Edward Snowden who entered Hong Kong with four laptop computers on May 20, and flew to Moscow and took asylum in Russia later.
      Accompanying Snowden has been Sarah Harrison who works for the whistleblower site Wikileaks. As information is given out bit by bit, this kind of news will continue to emerge. Have China and/or Russia already deciphered hard-coded secrets that cannot be accessed without passwords? Japan alone cannot be indifferent to the shady side of international relations. Japan may have to learn lessons from the wiretapping incident.

Tadae Takubo is Vice President, Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.