UNDER THE OBAMA administration, American foreign and security policy have diverged further and further from European interests. It has reached the point that America’s actions outside of its own borders have become detrimental to Europe. Chief among these actions are America’s huge and uncontrolled spying apparatuses, their propensity for leading destructive military interventions, and the Obama administration’s high-handed attitude towards Russia.
Under the Obama administration the NSA has continued to grow, in line with policy going back at least to the beginning of the Bush administration. While the American people and Congress have been very concerned with the potential for the government to spy on American citizens, their concern stops at the Atlantic coast.
The American public have very few problems with the NSA listening in on the phone calls of foreign nationals, but this spying is an egregious breach of trust and protocol between Europe and America. The American government would be incensed if a European state had listened to Obama’s phone conversations, yet it has no problem bugging the personal devices of European leaders like Angela Merkel.
America’s sheer power means that Europe has been circumspect in its response to the NSA’s activities. Realistically the USA is too big and doesn’t care enough for diplomatic protests or international criticism to make a difference to its policies. The recent allegations about a spy working for America within Germany’s intelligence services, as well as the fact that 90% of the people the NSA spied on were not relevant to any intelligence operation, will likewise not change America’s attitude. For the last decade the American government has had as its policy that when it comes to non-nationals, even allies, any action is justified in the cause of “National Security”.
Libya slowly slipping into chaos
The Obama administration’s intervention in Libya is another example of an action taken with no thought or concern for its effects on America’s allies. The NATO airstrikes artificially tipped the balance of the Libyan civil war in favour of the rebel forces. Once the rebels won however, they quickly descended into faction fighting.
The result has been that Libya has slipped slowly into chaos, leaving an opening for people traffickers among other unpleasant criminals to set up large operations. These traffickers are organising the mass transit of refugees across the central Mediterranean to Italy in unseaworthy and patched up vessels. Consequently hundreds and possibly thousands of people drown as these vessels capsize or sink.
The mass migration from Libya is putting serious strain on Europe’s already weak economy and welfare services, in addition to the human tragedy of mass sinkings. That Britain and France were complicit in helping to destabilise Libya is worse, as it shows that America has sufficient pull to induce two European countries to undertake an action that ran directly against the interests of their neighbours, especially Italy, Greece and Spain.
America’s actions in Libya divided Europe, creating a crisis that the Obama administration will never have to think about but one which Europe will be dealing with for years to come. America dealt out destruction, and now Europe is picking up the pieces.
The third major area of foreign policy where America’s actions could have serious consequences for Europe has been the crisis in Ukraine. The Obama administration’s insistence on heavy sanctions against Russia and its aggressive stance towards the Putin regime mean that Russia sees the entire West as being against it. Given that Russia supplies roughly 30% of all of Europe’s gas, the leverage that Russia holds over the EU is far greater than the leverage Europe has over Russia. While team Obama will be insulated from the fallout of sanctions and a trade war with Russia, Europe will suffer on many levels.
With no alternative sources to take up the slack, any cut-off of Europe’s gas would mean a very cold and dark winter this year. Combined with the damage to European businesses who depend on the Russian market and Russian companies, a full blown crisis with Russia could tip the EU and Europe back into a serious recession.
Moreover, if diplomacy with Russia fails, Putin might take more direct action in eastern Ukraine, including possible military action. Conflict like this could trigger another refugee crisis, with Ukrainian citizens desperately trying to flee the fighting. Once again, the United States can happily push for more sanctions and harsher actions while being insulated from their consequences – consequences which will affect Europe directly.
Europe needs to take responsibility
The United States is a long-standing ally of Europe, and this alliance has been of tremendous benefit in the past. In the modern era however, the best interests of America and Europe have diverged significantly; Europe has no interest in conflict with Russia of any kind, and the continent is directly and negatively affected by increased turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa driven by American interventions.
Perhaps most importantly, the fundamental right to privacy of all of Europe’s citizens is being continually undermined by the actions of the NSA. It is time for Europe to start forging its own policies, and to push back against the American spying programme. Europe needs to take responsibility for its neighbourhood, including discouraging reckless interventions like the Libyan episode, and by taking charge of the West’s relations with Russia.
If Europe can start asserting itself, and discouraging or counteracting dangerous foreign policy manoeuvres by its neighbour across the Atlantic, we may finally see Europe in control of its own destiny, and not subject to the whims of its neighbours and allies.
Niall McGlynn is a graduate in history and science from Trinity College Dublin. He has written articles on Irish and global affairs for Trinity News, and blogs on both with his brothers at http://lazyhermes.blogspot.ie/ and tweets at @NiallMcGlynn1.