Daniel W. Drezner

Why Can’t Germany and France Be Invited to Join Five Eyes?

Why Can’t Germany and France Be Invited to Join Five Eyes?

To recap the intelligence news of the last 24 hours: revelations about the NSA tapping the phone of German Prime Minister Angela Merkel for the past decade are having a pronounced political effect.  Longtime NSA allies are jumping ship, President Obama is contemplating a move to ban spying on foreign leaders, and both the White House and the intelligence community are now leaking information designed to combat the other guy’s spin. 

The United States intelligence community has had better weeks.

That said, Obama’s proposal to ban spying on allied leaders seems a bit hasty.  As I argued last week, the issue here is that "European governments engage in the exact same hypocrisy, just with fewer intelligence capabilities." 

In the Financial Times, Richard McGregor and Geoff Dyer note that U.S. officials are split over just how much the Europeans are outraged because of the principle of spying on leaders and how much they’re cheesed off because they want to level the intelligence playing field:

Confronted with European fury at US spying, Washington is divided over whether its allies’ anger is genuine or a calculation that they can use the revelations to change the terms of intelligence sharing and targeting….

Underlying the debate over Ms Merkel are longstanding and deep tensions over intelligence sharing between the US and European nations such as Germany and France.

The US has for decades, and with few interruptions, shared intelligence with four other countries, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, under the so-called “five eyes” agreement which includes a proviso that they do not spy on each other.

“Germany and France have long resented this special relationship in intelligence,” said Tim Naftali, of the New America Foundation. “But the question is whether [France and Germany] would be able to accept the co-ordination of their foreign policies that comes along with the agreement.”

When intelligence agencies discuss targeting they are giving away what they know, said Mr Naftali. “Is the US prepared to do that across the board with France and Germany?”

Here’s an idle thought — why doesn’t the United States — after consulting with the other Five Eyes partners — offer to extend the arrangement to France and Germany?  Doesn’t that force France and Germany to confront their own hypocrisy on these intelligence questions? 

This sort of gambit happens pretty frequently in global political economy.  When the United States developed the Marshall Plan, it invited Soviet bloc countries to participate, confident that they would say no.  Similarly, the U.S. has invited China to join negotiations for a Trans Pacific Partnership, knowing full well that Beijing would be reluctant make the necessary concessions on intellectual property rights. 

This is an honest question — I’m not an intelligence expert, I don’t know the feasibility of this proffer.  But given the strong likelihood that Germany and France like spying on the United States and don’t want to give it up, is there any harm that comes from offering them membership into Five Eyes?  What am I missing?