The United States and its key intelligence allies are quietly working behind the scenes to kneecap a mounting movement in the United Nations to promote a universal human right to online privacy, according to diplomatic sources and an internal American government document obtained by The Cable.
The diplomatic battle is playing out in an obscure U.N. General Assembly committee that is considering a proposal by Brazil and Germany to place constraints on unchecked internet surveillance by the National Security Agency and other foreign intelligence services. American representatives have made it clear that they won't tolerate such checks on their global surveillance network. The stakes are high, particularly in Washington -- which is seeking to contain an international backlash against NSA spying -- and in Brasilia, where Brazilian President Dilma Roussef is personally involved in monitoring the U.N. negotiations.
The Brazilian and German initiative seeks to apply the right to privacy, which is enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to online communications. Their proposal, first revealed by The Cable, affirms a "right to privacy that is not to be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with their privacy, family, home, or correspondence." It notes that while public safety may "justify the gathering and protection of certain sensitive information," nations "must ensure full compliance" with international human rights laws. A final version the text is scheduled to be presented to U.N. members on Wednesday evening and the resolution is expected to be adopted next week.
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MUNICH - The first panel at the 2012 Munich Security Conference examined whether Germany should assume a role as the regional, benign hegemon in Europe. But one speaker, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, told the Germans that it's just never going to happen so they shouldn't even try.
The question posed to Sikorski and the other panelists at the Friday evening discussion was whether Germany could play a role in Europe today similar to the role the United States played in Europe after World War II. Sikorski said that Germany doesn't have the attributes of a hegemon, such as an overwhelming economy, a large military budget, and an international role commensurate of a preeminent regional power.
"So you will not be a benign hegemon in Europe and you shouldn't even try," Sikorski told his largely German audience. He even referred to lingering concerns about German power left over from the WWII period.
"Why is Russia always a bigger security challenge than Germany for Poland? When Germany gets too big for its boots, we always automatically add allies," Sikorski said. "So don't get too dizzy with success."
"Germany cannot be said to be said to be similar to the United States [in the post WWII period]," Sikorski said. "The position of benign hegemon for Germany is not attainable, and therefore I would propose your actual position in the EU, which is a very honorable one, is the position of the largest shareholder."
Economically, Germany is only marginally larger than France and Britain, whereas the United States economy dwarfed its rivals when it became a world power, Sikorski said. Also, German trade is largely localized, with 9 out of its 10 largest trading partners located in Europe.
Sikorski said a hegemon must have a significant share of resources, must be able to supply public goods to the wider community, and others must believe the hegemon pursues policies that are at least relatively beneficial to all. Germany doesn't fit the bill, Sikorski said, even when one looks at Germany's defense budget, which is about $43 billion.
"[Former German Chancellor Helmut] Kohl was more right than [former Secretary of State Henry] Kissinger. Kissinger said [Germany is] too big for Europe, [but] too small for the world. Kohl said [Germany is] too big to be first among equals, but too small to dominate in Europe," said Sikorski.
Nevertheless, Sikorski graciously offered to aid Germany's role as the largest, if not the dominant force in Europe.
"Poland declares that we are ready on a pragmatic basis, despite the history, to help you," he said. "As long as we are working towards European solutions."
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MUNICH - As part of the opening events Friday evening at the 2012 Munich Security Conference, the German government honored Sen. Joseph Isadore Lieberman (I-CT) with the Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit as a tribute to his last year serving as a U.S. senator.
"You know, if I had known I would be so honored upon my retirement from the senate, I probably would have retired before the last term," Lieberman said in his acceptance speech. He thanked Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for inviting him to co-chair the U.S. Congressional delegation to the conference over 20 years ago. Every year since, McCain and Lieberman have brought a large contingent of American lawmakers and experts to the conference.
The award is officially awarded by German President Christian Wulff and was presented Friday by German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. Lieberman was quite impressed that Westerwelle knew his middle name.
"I'm usually known as ‘Joseph I. Lieberman' and very few people know what the ‘I' stands for," he said. "In one of my early campaigns for state office, I had a friend who was supporting me who happened to be Irish and Catholic. He was convinced the ‘I' stood for Ignatius."
Lieberman promised to keep on working on behalf of the U.S.-German relationship even after he leaves the Senate.
"I assure you that although I am retiring from the Senate, I'm not retiring," he said. "The U.S. German alliance is an alliance built not on the temporary coincidence of shifting interests, but on the firm values that our two societies share and these are the values of human rights, democracy, free enterprise, the rule of law, and individual freedom."
Westerwelle noted that the Germans have not always agreed with Lieberman, such as when they opposed the war in Iraq, but he praised Lieberman's commitment to the relationship.
"Over the years we've agreed on many issues. Of course I cannot deny we've also had some disagreements on others. And I believe that is the way it should be among friends and allies," he said. "But you always kept talking and we never gave up finding solutions to the problems that lie ahead of us."
Westerwelle then quoted Vice President Joe Biden's speech from the 2009 Munich conference, when Biden said, "When sharing ideas and searching for purpose in a more complex world, Americans and Europeans still look to one another before they look to anyone else."
Saturday, the conference kicks into full gear, with highly anticipated speeches by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton, and many others.
Also on Saturday, Lieberman will become the third ever recipient of the Ewald von Kleist Award, named after the man who founded the conference in 1962. The first two recipients were former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who was in attendance at Friday's ceremony, and former NATO Secretary General Javier Solana de Madariaga.
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Two senior administration officials held a late evening conference call with reporters Thursday night to explain how NATO agreed to take over military operations in Libya and why the U.S. and NATO leadership seem to be giving totally conflicting messages on whether NATO is taking over political control of the war as well:
President Barack Obama spoke on Monday evening with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the two agreed that NATO should have a command and control role in the Libya war, according to a White House read out of the phone call. But today in Brussels, the French government said it doesn't agree.
"The President and the Prime Minister reaffirmed their support for the full implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973, in order to protect the Libyan people," the White House said. "The leaders agreed that this will require a broad-based international effort, including Arab states, to implement and enforce the UN resolutions, based on national contributions and enabled by NATO's unique multinational command and control capabilities to ensure maximum effectiveness."
The Turkish government has been very clear that it does not support NATO-led enforcement of the no-fly zone over Libya if the mission goes beyond the U.N.-sanctioned objective of protecting Libyan civilians.
"We do not want Libya to become a second Iraq.... A civilization in Iraq collapsed within eight years. More than a million people were killed there," Turkey's daily Hürriyet newspaper quoted Erdogan as saying on Monday on the way back from Saudi Arabia. "We will not participate with our fighting forces. It is impossible for us to think that our fighters would drop bombs over the Libyan people."
Turkey laid out its position at Tuesday's NATO meeting in Brussels. The Turks are still upset they were not invited to the Paris planning meeting on March 19, the day the air strikes began. Turkey has also taken over as the protecting power of the U.S. in Tripoli, meaning they would be in charge of direct interactions with the Libyan government and responsible for the abandoned U.S. embassy, their government announced on Monday.
Meanwhile, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Tuesday that France now opposes NATO taking over the Libya mission. The French and German representatives reportedly stormed out of the Monday meeting in Brussels over disagreements about NATO's role, albeit for very different reasons. Germany is opposed to the military intervention altogether.
The confusion is causing problems for the rest of the coalition as well. Norway said Tuesday it was "suspending" its promise to use F-16 fighter jets in combat in Libya until the command structure issue was worked out, even though its jets had already arrived at the staging base in Italy.
All of this puts into question the viability of Obama's pledge on Monday that the U.S. will transfer command of the military mission in Libya in "a matter of days."
Adding to the questions over the endgame, Obama and Erdogan also "underscored their shared commitment to the goal of helping provide the Libyan people an opportunity to transform their country, by installing a democratic system that respects the people's will," the White House said.
The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.