The revelations last week, based on classified National Security Agency documents, that the United States spied on 35 heads of state have left the Obama administration deeply embarrassed and running for diplomatic cover. The White House, which casually dismissed the NSA’s surveillance programme as “routine” espionage, is finding it harder and harder to ward off the intensifying criticism of its long reach. With the latest disclosures that the U.S. tapped the phones of crucial allies such as the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, a defensive Obama administration has been hard put to explain to its allies how “spying among friends” was justifiable. If America has been able to sustain its virtual global hegemony for over half a century, it is in no small measure due to the cooperation that Washington D.C. enjoys from governments abroad — whether dictatorial regimes or democracies. In its lack of hesitation in spying on its closest partners, America’s self-image as the leading democracy championing individual freedoms has been severely dented. The basis of U.S. “soft power” — a commitment to the rule of law and open societies — has lost moral credibility in the light of its efforts to tap phone calls, e-mails and Skype conversations across the globe. That NSA officials were able to lean on diplomats to demand correspondence details of world leaders and monitor their communication without White House approval, highlights the entrenchment of the surveillance state.
India has chosen not to join the chorus of protests emanating from the international community. As with its response to previous revelations by Edward Snowden, it appears that the UPA government is disinclined to allow this issue to cast a shadow on its emerging strategic equation with the U.S. New Delhi’s response has been that “there is no concern” the Prime Minister’s office has been spied on because Manmohan Singh “does not use a mobile phone or have an e-mail account.” Meanwhile, another emerging power, Brazil, has intensified its diplomatic pitch in targeting U.S. surveillance: President Dilma Rouseff’s government will soon introduce a co-sponsored resolution to this effect at the General Assembly. With a view to reducing the U.S.’s control over the Web, Brazil has also offered to host a summit in 2014 on internet governance, with the help of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Just as Brazil has made it clear to the U.S. that its government must be treated with respect, as should the privacy of its citizens, India should send a strong signal to the U.S. of its disapproval of these reprehensible tactics that in effect violate the country’s sovereignty.