THE BLOG

The NSA Debacle: Get That Smile Off Vladimir Putin's Face and Move On

By Ambassador Andras Simony and Erik Brattberg

After weeks of haggling across the Atlantic, still absent from the current debate the NSA-spying scandal is a sense of the broader strategic aspects at play. While the outrage over the Snowden revelations has had some unfortunate impact for the worse on the relationship across the Atlantic, the 'Family,' as it were, cannot afford to let this crisis escalate any further. They must move on to tackle other, more pressing issues. In the meanwhile, Vladimir Putin must be laughing.

In Europe, many leaders fell for the obvious temptation to play to the peanut galleries of domestic popular outrage. Threats to derail the negotiations on a transatlantic trade and investment deal, aka the TTIP, worth billions of dollars and promising to re-invent the relationship between Europe and America, are silly. It fails to see the big picture. Truth be told, we are not that convinced that the European political elites are reading their publics' properly. Some signs indicate the public indignation is the scapegoat, a convenient excuse for not stepping up to the plate on some very delicate issues.

No kudos to Washington either. No denial to the stupidity of the spying on Mrs. Merkel. Counter-intuitively it would not have been seen as a sign of weakness for President Obama to personally step on Air Force One and fly to Brussels to address the European Parliament -- or at the very least send Vice President Biden in his place. A move like that would have served to demonstrate to Europeans the White House's concern for the 'family relationship.'

Eroding further, the European public confidence and trust in America is a threat, and could have long-term serious implications if left unaddressed. In a time when the geopolitical center of gravity is clearly moving to the East, and with a resurgent Russia and imploding Middle East in Europe's backyard, keeping the transatlantic relationship strong is in Europe's best interest. In times of crisis -- because it's what it is -- it takes courage and leadership.

Of course, Europeans are right to be upset about the NSA spying. In fact, they should be. But it would make the European political elite's voice a lot more credible if it was equally outraged with the treatment of LGBT people and human rights activists in Russia. In Mr. Putin's country, whistleblowers are murdered: that's why Sergei Magnitsky was killed. Where was the European outrage?

True enough, friends of America were left in the sun drying. Aspects of the closeness of cooperation between the U.S. and partners and allies alike, thus far kept in the background, were revealed. Some corrections and adjustments must be made -- but do not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

The proper response to the NSA scandal is therefore not less transatlantic cooperation -- but more! The transatlantic partnership must become an even tighter-knit security community, able to tackle a whole host of tough security issues. This requires willingness from Washington to work more closely with the EU and be more transparent about its intelligence operations. But it also requires that Brussels and European capitals can demonstrate that it has the capacity to be a serious strategic player -- something that few in Washington trusts these days.

There is a great sense of urgency to this task. Europeans have so far failed to grasp and respond to the pace of the changing U.S. strategic paradigm. America's on-going rebalancing away from Europe towards the Asia-Pacific region is real and is here to stay. The much-discussed 'Asian pivot' is benign compared to the long-term changes in strategic posture that could come should the Atlantic partners drift apart for real. Europe has yet to convince America about its global ambitions and its determination to provide the tools to that end and therefore must consider all of the above very seriously.

Amazingly enough Europeans have failed to see the broad and deep debate across political dividing lines within America itself prompted by the Snowden affair. America will adjust internally and in its external relationships. Europeans cannot overlook this fact.

TTIP is a game-changer. TTIP will give spark to a more strategic transatlantic relationship -- something that is desperately needed. As former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it, TTIP could potentially serve as a second anchor, in addition to NATO, binding together the U.S. and the EU. If so, this could mark the beginning for a new transatlantic partnership, upgraded to fit 21st century strategic realities. We can reinvent the relationship.

It is outright wrong, therefore, that some Europeans are now threatening to scale back cooperation with the U.S. on issues such as TTIP and security as a result of the NSA scandal. Rather than worsening the crisis, Europe and the US must lay their differences aside, work them out, and collaborate on the real threats and challenges.

It is in our mutual interest to get that smile off Vladimir Putin's face.