Spying? Who cares? Profits are at stake!

Actions do speak louder than words, and thus the start of European Union-United States trade talks as previously scheduled would seem to hold more weight than European political leaders’ displays of public anger at the extent of the spying against them.

Resignation to their subordinate status, the extent of their own spying networks and the knowledge that considerable dirty work is necessary to remain a leading capitalist country are among the contradictory factors at work here. So, too, is a willingness by European leaders to rely on the U.S. to perform much of the dirty work, while European big business needs to sell to U.S. consumers. Business is business at the end of the day. Or at the (hoped) end of the scandal.

With the stream of new revelations showing no signs of stopping, the end of the scandal does not appear anywhere in sight. Nor does the spectacle of contradictory behavior by European countries, most dramatically exemplified by France.

Navy communicationsOn the one hand, the French government declared revelations that the U.S. has spied on E.U. offices and computer networks “completely unacceptable” and demanded a delay in the start of the E.U.-U.S. trade talks, intended to form a “Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.” Yet France not only meekly agreed to the trade talks beginning on time but acceded to U.S. arm-twisting that it close its air space to the plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales on the mere suspicion that whistleblower Edward Snowden was aboard.

How much of the complaints from France, Germany and elsewhere in Europe are posturing and how much is genuine anger is an open question, but perhaps ultimately irrelevant. Le Monde has revealed that the France intelligence agency DGSE spies on the French public’s phone calls, e-mails and Internet activity in a manner similar to that of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA). And Mr. Snowden has revealed that German spy agencies are “in bed together” with U.S. spy agencies.

The chief of Germany’s foreign intelligence agency has confirmed that his agency works closely with the NSA, Der Spiegel reports, with the U.S. agency using several German locations to engage in data collection. The arrangement is justified by the “fight against terrorism,” the favorite all-purpose excuse to trample constitutional norms and privacy concerns, both of which tend to be taken more seriously among Europeans than United Statesians. In its report, Der Spiegel asked:

“Is it really conceivable that the German government knows nothing of what the NSA is doing on its own doorstep? Last month Interior Minister [Hans-Peter] Friedrich said in a parliamentary debate on the NSA snooping: ‘Germany has fortunately been spared big attacks in recent years. We owe that in part to the information provided by our American friends.’ Sentences like that reveal a pragmatic view of the US surveillance apparatus: What the NSA gets up to in detail is secondary — what counts is what its snooping reveals. And that information, intelligence officials admit, is indispensable.”

The German government sees itself as dependent on the U.S., and that counts for more than public displays of anger that culminated in a German minister condemning revelations of U.S. spying on Germany as “methods used by enemies during the Cold War.” Whatever momentary anger her government may have felt, Chancellor Angela Merkel has not wavered in her support for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks. Germany’s economy, after all, is dependent on exports — increasingly so during the past decade as German workers have absorbed a decade of wage cuts — and German manufacturers are likely salivating at the thought of increased exports to North America.

You can be angry, but you’re still subordinate

After all the displays of anger and assertions of sovereignty, European government showed themselves not only subordinate to the U.S. but to their own industrialists and financiers. The U.S. government is similarly a captive of its own big business interests — that is what right-wing calls to “starve” government are about. It was all smiles on July 8 as the TTIP talks began, on schedule, with embarrassing discussions of spying relegated to a “parallel” track, separate from what really counts, the main negotiations to dismantle regulations.

Both newly seated U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht made the ritualistic grand claims of the benefits that will fall from the sky if the TTIP is implemented, and business groups competed with themselves to issue the highest “estimates” of the increase in wealth. The Centre for Economic Policy Research in London, for example, claimed the TTIP would stuff pockets with more than US$100 billion a year from added growth.

Similar pie in the sky promises were made for the North American Free Trade Agreement and many other trade deals, so, dear reader, all is forgiven if you are skeptical about such claims. “Free trade” agreements elevate corporations and investors to equal status with governments on paper, and above governments in reality because disputes between businesses and governments are sent to unaccountable tribunals controlled by organizations like the World Bank and in which the judges are frequently lawyers who specialize in representing corporations in disputes with governments.

Ambassador Froman, the new U.S. trade representative installed by the Obama administration, will not represent any change in direction. The American Enterprise Institute, a leading lobbyist for multi-national corporations, gave its seal of approval:

“No white smoke floated up from the White House when the president announced that he had chosen deputy security adviser Michael Froman as the new US Trade Representative; but there was a huge, collective sigh of relief from all elements of the US business and trade policy communities. … Michael Froman is an excellent choice. He is close to the president, was deeply involved in passage of the Bush [free-trade agreements] with [South] Korea, Colombia, and Panama.”

Ambassador Froman’s neoliberal credentials are assuredly in order. He worked as chief of staff to former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, who played a leading role in the Clinton administration’s deregulation of the financial industry, and before that was a managing partner at Citigroup. He seems to have done well at Citigroup, receiving more than $7.4 million from the company from January 2008 to when he joined the White House early in 2009, including a year-end bonus of $2.25 million.

Full speed ahead! The U.S. Chamber of Commerce — a hard-line organization that has never seen a regulation it likes or a tax that is justified — had already called for a speedy agreement before any pesky elections get in the way. Eurochambres had declared that it sought “the highest possible standards of protection for investors” — thinly disguised code for an elimination of rules and regulations. As Systemic Disorder has previously noted, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, intended to go beyond NAFTA and formally codify the maximization of corporate profits as the central principle of governments, is the model for the TTIP, and it is unlikely that it is a coincidence that the two giant trade pacts are being negotiated simultaneously.

Some country has to be the top dog

The growth of spying operations and the shrinking of democratic spaces that accompanies bilateral and multilateral trade agreements progress hand-in-hand. The capitalist system has always required a center to hold it together. Capitalism has had a succession of dominant centers; each successive center has been bigger to be able to cope with increasingly complex tasks.

When London succeeded Amsterdam as the financial center, the financial center became located within a country with a powerful military, not only a large merchant fleet as Amsterdam’s United Provinces possessed. When New York succeeded London, the country at the center became continental in size, possessing a military that can be projected around the world, further intensifying the links between financial and military power that had solidified during Britain’s rise to dominance.

The projection of, and willingness to apply, force is crucial to the maintenance and expansion of the capitalist system. That force nowadays may be more often financial and commercial rather than military, but the military and intelligence services are in reserve. From the dozens of coups in Latin America to the forcible installation of regimes willing to do U.S. bidding in Iran and Iraq decades apart to propping up dictatorships around the world, the common thread has been using power to gain advantage for U.S. multi-national corporations. “Free trade” agreements are another methodology to the same goal.

All of the world’s advanced capitalist countries are a part of this system. They acquiesce in it however much they sometimes chafe at their subordinate status (in relation to the U.S.); their willingness to enter into trade pacts binds them to the dominant power. No single country is large enough or possesses a big enough military to challenge U.S. domination; today, only a unified Europe could challenge U.S. hegemony. European capitalists desire the ability to challenge the United States for economic supremacy, but cannot do so without the combined clout of a united continent.

The E.U., in its current capitalist form, is a logical step for business leaders who desire greater commercial power on a global basis: It creates a “free trade” zone complete with suppression of social accountability while giving muscle to a currency that has the potential of challenging the U.S. dollar as the world’s pre-eminent currency.

Thus the proposed TTIP is in the interest of industrialists and financiers on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean at the same time that its approval would spell disaster for working people — more concentration of power in the biggest corporations; less ability for citizens to influence government policy; and weaker labor, safety and environmental regulations. Concentration of power and shriveling of democracy can’t be accomplished without a stifling of dissent, which in turn requires, inter alia, more spying and less accountability by spying agencies.

There are common interests at the same time that spying is also deployed to gain competitive advantages for favored corporations; the latter is exemplified by U.S. bugging of E.U. offices. Those shared interests in maintaining the system, however much the advanced capitalist countries may compete, tend toward cooperative relations. Thus although countries like France and Spain demonstrate their subordinate status in humiliating fashion by closing their air spaces under U.S. orders, the blocking of President Morales’ plane is not reducible to only that subordination; European governments have shared interests in maintaining the system. That force is what maintains it speaks for itself.

4 comments on “Spying? Who cares? Profits are at stake!

  1. Alcuin says:

    This is a very interesting observation:

    “Those shared interests in maintaining the system, however much the advanced capitalist countries may compete, tend toward cooperative relations.”

    I read in an art journal this statement:

    “Neoliberalism is a philosophy—an anthropology—of human relations that makes competition the organizing principle of society.” — Isabelle Bruno, e-flux #14

    It is becoming clear to me that there is really no difference between neo-liberalism/capitalism and the every day behavior of the majority of humans. We compete and we cooperate. It appears, though, that neo-liberalism/capitalism stresses the competition part and not the cooperation part. Somehow, we have to tip the balance in favor of cooperation. Perhaps climate change will be that tipping point. Black swans, anyone?

    • The contradiction is that corporations compete against each other, becoming bigger as competitors fall, at the same time that their continued ability to operate requires a mutual defense of the system in which they act. With globalization, this is now occurring on an international level; in turn, the governments of capitalist countries over which the most powerful capitalists have decisive influence compete to give their corporations a leg up in international competition at the same time they have to collaborate to maintain the system.

      The bitter competition underlying these struggles for survival is a product of capitalism. The “everyday behavior of humans” is a consequence of the material relations and economic conditions inherent in capitalism. I completely agree that we have to tip the balance to cooperation, but a system that rewards and promotes cooperation would be a different system that capitalism.

  2. The level of secrecy with which these negotiations are being conducted perfectly reflects the democratic deficit that has long been at the core of the European project and has become increasingly obvious in the United States. In neither bloc is the opinion of the people (or peoples) relevant to the allocation of wealth and power.

    That said, the proposed trade deal is fascinating from a European perspective, and two immediate questions spring to mind.

    First, what on earth would Charles de Gaulle have made of this? De Gaulle stridently opposed Britain’s entry into the (then) Common Market, seeing Britain (correctly) as a Trojan horse for American interests. For de Gaulle, the European project was not just a way to solve “The German Problem”; it was a way to solve (the relatively new, at that time) American Problem. And now the Americans are going to be invited in through the front and back door? What is the acronym for ‘WTF’ in French?

    Second, Britain’s Eurosceptics now face a bit of a dilemma. Largely at the behest of The City, which did not want its fabulous casino to be supervised by Brussels bureaucrats, the right-wing of the Conservative Party has fought European integration tooth and nail (or at least put on a jolly good show to that effect). But when Europe offers the money men the institutional and trans-Atlantic (and Trans-Pacific?) structure of their dreams, what are the Eurosceptics going to say? Has this always been a case, analogous to the right-wing’s anti-government rhetoric here, of simply seeking to control the outcome of the process by limiting the range of available options?

    • I imagine de Gallue would be quite opposed to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Theoretically, any French political leaders ought to be opposed to it along the same lines, not to mention to be able to retain French cultural autonomy. François Hollande gave a nod to the latter with his administration’s insistence on a cultural carve-out, but when we see how readily he caved in to U.S. demands that Evo Morales’ plane be blocked on the mere suspicion that Edward Snowden might be on board, we can reasonably be skeptical how serious Hollande will be.

      As to British finance capital, and the Tory right, they are surely making their calculations, and if they decide that the TTIP would be jolly fine way to block Brussels from implementing any pesky regulations (and that may well be the goal if it is modeled on the Trans-Pacific Partnership), they will develop a public formulation to enable to them to back the TTIP. Or perhaps they’d prefer to keep their TTIP advocacy behind closed doors; I suspect so and I’d go further and suspect that the City is one of the European movers behind the TTIP.

      The British, whether Conservative or Labour government, steadfastly cling to the role as the loyal No. 2 of the United States, having realized this would be the way to maintain their imperial status in a world in which they had been definitely displaced at the top. If a trade bloc under U.S. hegemony, with significant British input, covers continental Europe and effectively eliminates the ability of Brussels to regulate the British financial casino, Conservative Eurosceptics will mutter about adjustments having to be made to an increasingly globalized world and the necessity of Britain maintaining its leading role and “reluctantly” advocate for a British future inside a trans-Atlantic trade pact.

      Of course, millions of people in the streets and active in other ways on both sides of the Atlantic can put a stop to these trade deals. The World Trade Organization talks have been stymied for more than a decade thanks to organized opposition.

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