Spying on friends doesn't necessarily make them enemies

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Audio Transcript: Marco Werman: Meanwhile Germany is showing just how fed up it is with ongoing revelations with US spying there. Today, the German government ordered the expulsion of a CIA official in Berlin. The move comes after allegations surfaced of two separate cases of alleged American spying in Germany and of course nobody there has forgotten the revelations that the NSA actually snooped on Chancellor Angela Merkel's personal phone. Jonathan Laurence is a senior fellow of foreign policy at the Brookings Institute. He describes the fallout. Jonathan Laurence: The officials in Germany say that nothing too serious was compromised, that it was more the Americans trying to get a sense of the discussions internal to the German intelligence and German foreign ministry, but of course between such good friends, the Germans say "Why don't you just ask us? We'll tell you what we're thinking." Werman: Do you think the Germans would supply information readily and easily if that request were made. Laurence: It would depend on the issue. There are differences that come up in terms of negotiating approaches to the nuclear question in Iran, regarding the approach to Putin and the crisis in the east Ukraine, so just like it came out that countries spy on one another before trade talks, it looks like countries spy on one another before engaging in diplomatic negotiations. Werman: It's interesting because your tipping to Ukraine and Putin leads me to isn't the bottom line here that this continues to happen because Germany can't do much more than just protest? Europe needs the US support and tolerating some spying just might be the cost, what do you think? Laurence: To a certain extent, you're right. The Germans have accepted the security umbrella provided by the United States, provided by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization so that we would be engaged in intelligence gathering in furtherance of that broad military stance is understandable and I think that they basically get that too, which is why there is no question of diplomatic relations being broken off, there is no question of tit for tat. This is pretty pro-forma stuff. When spies are uncovered, their handlers get sent home. If anything, they have to show that they are not completely impotent vis-Ã -vis the Americans in order to retain the credibility of their own electorates. Werman: If these spying scandals continue, could it affect German-US cooperation over Russia, over Ukraine? Laurence: There may be a bit more mistrust, a bit more iciness in the room since Germans have the sense that they really cannot trust their American counterparts but the bottom line, and this is really just the Realpolitik side of things, is that the US and Germany share so many interests security-wise and economy-wise that to break up or chill relations because of a fairly routine case of a couple of low-level spies being caught would be of course kind of an own goal situation. It would be more damaging to the Germans themselves since we are in the midst of negotiating a trade in investment partnership that would help Germany continue its dominance in exportation. And in the security situation as well, Germans don't want the United States to withdraw completely from eastern Europe because the fact is that Putin has shown that he is willing to intervene not only in Georgia of course but also in the Ukraine and even to annex parts of Europe. So I don't think the Germans are in any hurry to boot the Americans out but they did have to just slap us on the wrist by expelling the CIA officials because otherwise they would look like they were simply marionettes without any sovereignty of their own. Werman: That "own goal" metaphor a good one considering where Germany is headed on Sunday, huh? Laurence: I think they're more likely to kick it into the other person's goal but true enough. Werman: Jonathan Laurence senior policy fellow of foreign policy at the Brookings Institute. Thanks so much. Laurence: Thank you, have a good day.