July 9, 2014
The German paper Süddeutsche Zeitung reported July 9 that the German criminal police have searched the Berlin apartment of a second man thought to be spying for the CIA. The first such case under investigation was reported in local German media on July 2 and got to the international (English) media on July 4. On Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, referring to the first reported case, that IF this is true, then it is serious.
This is a hot topic for German media, of course. But, while the World Cup is still going on, this is not a topic for the German public necessarily. It relates more to those following the news related to the international balance of power.
Germany allowed this information to be known – the German government could have decided to keep this secret and deal privately with the US. This can be seen as a message that Berlin sends to Washington – but what message? We may certainly interpret that this says that not everything is rosy in the bilateral relationship between the US and Germany. But this is true for all bilateral relationships – especially the strategic ones.
In the context of the Snowden leak last year and the Ukraine crisis – where Germany had a much more nuanced position than the US’s, the spies’ story adds more detail to Germany’s balancing act. It looks like it is telling the world – and the US in particular – that Berlin can pursue an independent foreign policy. In the current context, that could be translated into Germany having its own approach towards Russia, regardless of what the US says about it. Moreover, the never ending stories of America spying on its allies give Germany political arguments to selectively challenge or contradict the US on certain issues, thus giving Berlin room to pursue its delicate balance between its interests in the West and in the East.
This approach could well backfire. The US may react to what Germany is currently doing – while the US doesn’t discuss this kind of issues in public, it may well decide to do so this time. However, the ultimate – and most important question is not related to how will the US react but how bad does Germany intend to handle the US-German relations. The “IF” in Merkel’s response to the matter indicates that Berlin will not go beyond limits…or maybe not.