Snowden strikes again, further straining international relations, revealing Australia’s monitoring of the phone of Indonesian President Yudhoyono.
International relations were further strained this week with reports of Australia having tapped the phone of Indonesia’s president and the continuing fallout of U.S. phone taps on German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Trust is at an all-time low with world leaders, statesmen and diplomats, as revelations of spying on world leaders by the “gang of five” persist.
There is considerable unease over the clandestine activities of the ‘gang of five’ — U.S, Canada, Britain, New Zealand and Australia, as they share intelligence. The last six months has exposed this group as the leading cabal when it comes to spying on other nations. The ‘five eyes club’ has also targeted Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. Now Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono joins the list.
In recent months, the Obama administration has faced awkward questions about the National Security Agency’s data surveillance program from the Senate committees, and Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott has refused to apologize.
Addressing the Australian parliament, Abbott attempted to justify the intrusion by citing his responsibility to protect the country and advance national interests. He added that every government conducts the same information gathering.
“National security requires a consistent determination to do what is best for Australia and that is why this government will support the national security decisions of previous ones, as we will expect future governments to respect ours,” Abbott said.
He went on to say that Australia should not be expected to apologize for taking action to protect the country, and that all information obtained is used to assist allies, not harm them.
Understandably, relations between Australia and Indonesia sustained damage. Responding to Abbott’s speech, Yudhoyono said “it was a hurtful action and that Australia had belittled the row. Jakarta would review co-operation.”
Indonesia recalled its ambassador on Monday and has summoned the Australia’s diplomatic representative in Jakarta to hear Indonesian officials’ complaints.
The diplomatic incident was sparked by Australia’s ABC network publishing documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The leaked document showed that Australian spy agencies named Yudhoyono, the first lady, the vice-president, and other senior ministers as targets for telephone monitoring. The documents showed that Australian surveillance agencies attempted to listen to Yudhoyono’s calls at least once, and tracked calls made to and from his mobile phone in August 2009.
But this is just one of many allegations that the Australian government is defending itself against. Last month, Indonesia expressed anger over reports that the Australian embassy in Jakarta was used as part of a U.S.-led spy network in Asia.
Yudhoyono said: “These U.S. and Australian actions have certainly damaged the strategic partnerships with Indonesia, as fellow democracies.”
The strained relationship between Australia and Indonesia may affect these nations in trade negotiations in forthcoming Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation APEC summit.
In Europe, revelations of the NSA’s data surveillance program of civilians in Germany, France, Spain, and the targeted surveillance of government leaders, has led to newly proposed laws for the European Union to curtail U.S spying. But in a remarkable U-turn, Merkel seems to be now downplaying the scandal in order to strengthen Germany’s relationship with the U.S.
In her address to the German parliament on Monday, she surprised many with her remarks, saying that the relationship between Germany and the U.S., as well as the future of a trans-Atlantic free trade agreement, have been put to the test by the NSA spying allegations.
Merkel then went on to declare that Germany’s alliance with Washington remains a fundamental guarantor for the nation’s freedom and security.
It remains unclear whether the U.S and its “gang of five” will continue to ignore international pressure to curtail their aggressive surveillance of allies. But even more unclear is whether nations like Germany will simply accept U.S spying as part the perpetual war on terror.