Wednesday, July 3, 2013

More on India's response to Snowden

I should have included these in my last post.  More Indian reactions on External Affairs Minister Khurshid's characterization of what NSA has been doing as 'not snooping'.  Khurshid is wrong.  It obviously is snooping.  That is the NSA's job, just as it is the job of all intelligence agencies around the world to snoop on all important players, friends and enemies.  Intelligence agencies motto might be a slight modification of the Godfather's dictum to keep friends close but enemies closer:  keep both friends and enemies close.  If anyone needed any example of how unrealistic a lot of commentary is about this whole affair, two examples from The Hindu should suffice, in addition to their editorial.

First, Vijay Prashad says that the Vienna Convention prohibits spying on diplomatic missions and communications and that US actions violate international law.  "To be so cavalier about the implications of espionage shows that India, like the US, has become cynical about international law" he says.  India has walked down from "the high ground" it once occupied.  International law? Seriously?? Even assuming that something like this exists, which court is to try this?  And who would they try? Every state in the world? Almost all of them, and especially the major powers (read my previous post), spy against diplomatic missions.   Moreover, diplomatic missions themselves engage in intelligence collection.  Drive down Shanti Path and look at the antennas on top of those embassies -- they are definitely not architectural embellishments.  Most of them are scooping up telecommunications from all around New Delhi.  And of course, this goes on in most diplomatic missions of most countries in most countries.

Prashad also cites European responses to show up how poor Khurshid's response was in comparison.  I do not think that Khurshid needed to justify US snooping -- I am mystified by that too.  But much of the European response is ludicrous, and much of it is domestic politics more than anything else, as Steve Walt pointed out.  European hypocrisy was too much even for the New York Times editorial board in this case.

Another piece in The Hindu by Srinivas Burra also takes recourse to international law to argue that Snowden should be given asylum (though he is vague as to who should give him asylum).  Oddly, Burra seems to accept that granting of asylum is a political act made on political calculations -- but makes no political argument why any country should invite US displeasure by harboring an American fugitive.  In yet another contradiction, Burra says Snowden should be granted asylum for protection of human rights of universal significance -- but sees no contradiction that he is appealing to countries that have poor record of protecting such rights.

International law is a weak reed on which to base these arguments -- or indeed most IR arguments. These essays prove once again why it is so.  India has been moving towards greater pragmatism, even if in fits and starts.  But the moral pontificating is a difficult habit to be rid of.

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