November 2nd, 2013
02:47 PM ET

Law of the jungle not good enough

By Fareed Zakaria

The revelations about the U.S. National Security Agency and its spying on foreign – even allied leaders – has been embarrassing for the Obama administration at a time when it hardly needs more bad news. Last week, European leaders reacted angrily to claims that the United States had been eavesdropping on calls, including listening in on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone.

The revelations prompted Merkel to warn relations with the U.S. had been severely shaken. But is all this more than just an embarrassment? And should it raise alarms abroad and at home?

At first glance, this is a story that is less about ethics and more about power – the great power gap between the United States and other countries, even rich European ones. The most illuminating response to the revelations came from Bernard Kouchner, formerly the foreign minister of France. He said in a radio interview: "Let's be honest, we eavesdrop too. Everyone is listening to everyone else." Kouchner went on to add "we don't have the same means as the United States, which makes us jealous."

America spends tens of billions of dollars on intelligence collection. It's hard to get the data to make good comparisons, but it's safe to assume that Washington's intelligence budget dwarfs that of other countries just as it does with defense spending.

It has seemed particularly strange that this rift should develop between the United States and its closest allies in Europe. But it was predictable and in fact, in a sense, predicted.

More from GPS: Intelligence situation unacceptable 

In 2002, the British diplomat Robert Cooper wrote an influential essay in which he argued that Europe had become a "postmodern" international system in which force was no longer a serious option. Instead, economic interdependence and cooperation were the governing ideas of statecraft. And certainly when one looks at the European Union, this does seem to describe its reality. The prospect of war between France and Germany – which had gone to war three times between 1870 and 1950 – seems utterly impossible.

But outside of Europe, the world is not post-modern. Cooper argues that the solution is "double standards." Within Europe, one set of rules. Outside it, he recommends “rougher methods of an earlier era – force, preemptive attack, deception, whatever is necessary.”

“Among ourselves we keep the law, but when operating in the jungle, we must use the laws of the jungle,” Cooper wrote in Re-Ordering the World.

This is what was violated by the NSA activities. Washington was playing by the laws of the jungle, but inside Europe's system. Partly this is because the distinction is not easy to maintain: what if you're looking for terrorists within Europe, that is, people who still play by the laws of the jungle – or even worse.

More from CNN: 5 things to know

America as a global power is operating all over the world, trying to tackle some of the nastiest threats out there. Perhaps it doesn’t have the luxury to retreat to a garden and renounce nasty tactics. If it did, it’s not likely that China, Russia, Iran – not to mention al Qaeda – would follow suit.

But precisely because Washington has to get its hands dirty, it should be smart about this. The rewards of spying on friendly heads of government are probably outweighed by the risks. And most troubling, it's not clear that many of these specific activities were clearly thought through and directed by the White House. Nor do they appear to have been vetted by Congress. At least, not thoroughly enough.

In the wake of 9/11, America got scared and dropped any sense of constraints on its intelligence activities. It is not an accident that the eavesdropping on Chancellor Merkel began in 2002. But the fact that technology now allows the NSA to do anything doesn't mean it should do everything. We need a better and clearer set of rules for intelligence activity. And we need confidence that these rules are being followed and observed.

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Topics: Europe • Spying • United States

soundoff (150 Responses)
  1. rightospeak

    With the 9/11 hoax and being able to get away with it, the leadership became arrogant. The colonies of the Big Capital in Europe used to obedience were turned off by the arrogance.and are beginning to rebel with diminishing US power in the world.
    People claiming moral high ground and countries as well can not get away with arrogant behavior and not pay the price. Simply put : if you want to have friends , behave like a friend and not like some kind of a moron.

    November 2, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Well put, rightospeak. Thank you.

      November 2, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
      • j. von hettlingen

        National interests prevail. Every country wants to know the others are up to. Even couples spy on each other sometimes.

        November 3, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
      • Dennis

        Not without cause.

        November 4, 2013 at 9:18 am |
    • CBR599

      What an idiot!

      November 3, 2013 at 9:19 am |
      • Organic1

        CBR599 is correct!

        November 3, 2013 at 11:52 am |
      • rightospeak

        Orgabic 1 removed my comment and put his own comment within minutes so he is the Thought Police Thrall to manipulate comments. Thank you for proving my point.

        November 3, 2013 at 11:56 am |
      • rightospeak

        My comment was , before I was rudely interrupted by the CNN censor : Is Bush the idiot that believes people would believe that a building not even hit by a plane can fall so neatly at the same time ?

        November 3, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
      • rightospeak

        What you removed , ORGANIC 1, that I called the CBR a wise man for believing the 9/11 fairy tale. The fact that you removed my comment is telling me how paranoid you guys in the media are for the truth to come out .

        November 3, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
      • rightospeak

        I am complaining right now to CNN management that ORGANIC 1 is your employee, who removed my comment to CBR 599, stuck his own comment " CBR 599 is correct" infringing on my right to self expression. ORGANIC 1 acts like a Russian commissar in Bolshevik Russia manipulating these comments on GPS .
        In a free society it is an outrage !!.

        November 3, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
      • rightospeak

        It seems that a comment removal to manipulate the public opinion is the standard practice in the US while we talk of democracy. For a democratic society to exist one needs a FREE PRESS. PRESS that manipulates comments is not free. The media has become one big monopoly in the US spewing propaganda.

        November 3, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
      • interesting but not compelling

        hoax? just because you can dominate the comment section does not mean you should

        you need to get out side and get some air, enjoy nature, take a walk

        read some non conspiracy books

        February 10, 2014 at 4:04 pm |
    • KHS

      How can you call 9/11 a "hoax", with 3000 dead?

      November 3, 2013 at 8:01 pm |
      • Not Blind

        What everyone does not realize is that while everyone was busy concerning themselves with the towers, we all forgot about the pentagon. That is where things truly were covered up. Tons of witnesses still believe it was a missile strike and has anyone ever looked at what was stored in the area hit in the pentagon. I believe that is the true cover up and conspiracy.

        November 4, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
      • interesting but not compelling

        yes blind, I take that back not interesting, boring

        not even a plus that you are not saying that the holocaust was a hoax too

        give it a rest

        February 10, 2014 at 4:08 pm |
    • ^^^^^^ Mel Gibson - Conspiracy Theorist

      You should probably double layer your tinfoil hat, just to be on the safe side. Oh, and, getting back on your meds would probably be a very positive step in your life. Have a good day!

      November 4, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
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    November 2, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
    • rightospeak

      Just do it, JR. You must have been in the bathroom when I wrote my comment. Are you guys short on manpower at the Thought Police ? I know , with all these budget cuts. For the good of the country your department should be eliminated now !

      November 2, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
    • lamination

      get back on your meds

      November 3, 2013 at 8:06 pm |
    • KHS

      Since CNN likes to censor so much, why don't they censor your insane, incoherent ravings?

      November 3, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
  3. Joseph McCarthy

    This time I totally agree with Fareed. No, the law of the jungle( darwinism) is definitely not good enough but try telling that to the right-wing thugs in Washington! This is now the way we conduct of foreign policy abroad with absolutely no respect for the rights of other nations. The current crowd in Washington is a total disgrace and sorely needs to be voted out of office for it's arrogance and self righteousness. Unfortunately, that won't happen any time in the near future!

    November 2, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
    • ✠RZ✠

      I'm on board with all this too, except for one minor problem. Farheed, if my global operations and advanced technologies might even remotely include the chance of tapping into your cell phone, with you of course clearly being an invaluable friend and trusted ally, then the least I should have had is the common decency to respectfully tell you in advance that it might happen, or did happen, or was happening. And had I done so, you would likely be asking me jokingly "Well, did I at least sound ok?", instead of "What do you think I am, a terrorist ? Some friend you are!"

      November 3, 2013 at 9:39 am |
      • ✠RZ✠

        Above comment is by a handle thief. I've been away for awhile.

        January 30, 2014 at 10:43 pm |
  4. JAL

    Great article.

    November 2, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
    • JAL

      The new date of Nov30 given by President Obama for the Healthcare website is and should be well taken. A few minor tweaks and things should be ready to move forward. My guess is that the website will be up and running well before that date.

      November 3, 2013 at 7:16 am |
  5. Reddog9500

    "They all hate us anyhow, so let's drop the big one now. Let's drop the big one now."

    November 3, 2013 at 7:19 am |
  6. CBR599

    Fareed, I agree with you most of the time but not with this. We, the US should use all means necessary to know what EVREYONE is doing. The Israelis are spying, mostly industrial, China?, come on!, the brits French and germans you bet. We should watchem back. As far as them, NSA, checking me?...boring.

    November 3, 2013 at 9:18 am |
  7. Helen Troy

    well written but sounds like the talking head ex football players on tv right now... offers no new insight or ideas.. juts a regurgitation of what has already been said.. expect better from GPS..

    November 3, 2013 at 9:19 am |
  8. jdoe

    There needs to be a certain amount of trust in any alliance. You can't just proclaim "Everyone is doing it" as an excuse. Is there proof that Germany or France has been bugging U.S. leaders? Without trust there can be no alliance.

    November 3, 2013 at 9:34 am |
  9. patw

    Will liberals ever realize that is their god Obama that authorized the NSA to spy on us.

    November 3, 2013 at 9:45 am |
  10. wrm

    How about the power gap between the government and the people? I don't mean that in some OWS way, I mean the fact that the citizens have next to no control or influence over what happens in DC.

    November 3, 2013 at 10:39 am |
  11. sly

    I saw James Bond almost 40 years ago, so I am not surprised nations have spied on each other for about 1000-2000 years.

    Y'all Americans are pretty fickle – one year you are all 'Oh, stop the Terrorists', and now it's like, 'Please don't listen to the 50,000 terrorist phone calls, you may interrerupt their dinner.'

    November 3, 2013 at 10:50 am |
  12. gstlab3

    I wonder if anybody here or within the government has ever studied in depth the worlds great monopolies "corporations" and its' relationship to all the worlds greatest super powers and the wars funded by their respective central banking cartels?
    Just saying what I think about and study is of some import.

    November 3, 2013 at 11:31 am |
    • what you think about and study

      go on, write more about it, nice introduction, as Wendy's says "where is the beef?"

      February 10, 2014 at 4:14 pm |
  13. Sumsanity

    I listened to F Zak a couple of times. Read his columns until I realized he was just an arrogant pseudo-intellectual lib. He has a twisted view of reality. Too much Kool-Aid, he Pelosinates.

    November 3, 2013 at 11:33 am |
    • koolaid

      yeah, you are a beacon of light for smarts

      February 10, 2014 at 4:15 pm |
  14. JohnDeere33

    We cannot be trusted.

    November 3, 2013 at 11:33 am |
  15. gstlab3

    I hope to see the rebirth of the peace and love back to the Earth movement coupled with a new science based conservative nationalist movement.,It's either that or full blown communism and the new world order will come to America soon.

    November 3, 2013 at 11:35 am |
    • new world order

      they say you want a revolution, hey you know, we all wanna change the world

      February 10, 2014 at 4:17 pm |
  16. jharry

    Hey R2S, you lost me with 9/11 hoax.

    November 3, 2013 at 11:50 am |
  17. Lazlo

    Since when is the US operating within the European framework? Each of the nations in this dysfunctional patchwork is a potential adversary. To believe otherwise is to ignore the vast history of nations. It is pure hubris to believe that we have 'evolved' beyond the fundamental forces that drive world events, or beyond the innate tensions that brought us the wars of the past. Although it is poo-pooed by the current intelligencia, "peace through strength" is still the dominate philosophy for world diplomacy, and that includes superior intelligence on both friend and foe alike.

    November 3, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
    • europe trully is interesting

      how this european union ends up will be fascinating... controlled chaos

      February 10, 2014 at 4:19 pm |
  18. Krakalakin

    The trillion dollar witch hunt for terrorists who kill less people than falling furniture in the US is a farce, it's about global hegemony, control, economic advantage......the US' position as top dog is sliding, and they are aggressively fighting it. We will always live in a jungle if we use technology only to perpetuate retrograde human behaviour. Angela Merkel is no terrorist, Fareed is advocating immorality lite, nothing more....belligerence alienates and fosters like behaviour, or worse...

    November 3, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
    • rightospeak

      Outstanding comment , Krakalakin, full of inconvenient truths and telling it like it is. I wish we had investigative journalists of your analytic abilities . Thank you.

      November 3, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
      • rightoshuttup

        You also have the right to shut up!!

        November 4, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
      • rightospeak

        It must bother you , rightoshut, that people can think for themselves and that you can not b.s. them with your propaganda. I do not expect you to appreciate the genius of Mr. Krakalakin, you are not smart enough judging by your comment. People like you would like to shut up reason and independent thinking, but it is not working ? Is it. People like you probably were getting rid of comments when people were saying that JFK was not killed by Oswald. When I saw it happen on TV I knew then that it was a conspiracy, that Oswald was the fall guy. Now years later, we find out that we were lied to. So if you do not have something intelligent except telling people to shut up, maybe you should be the one listening to your own advice.

        November 4, 2013 at 5:25 pm |
      • yawn

        so you are all alone at home and the comment section of GPS is your only friend?

        February 10, 2014 at 4:21 pm |
  19. Jeff

    The need for wiretapping of our allies leaders' phones tells the something about the alliance: it's evil.

    If you can't even trust your best friend, you're in a bad company.

    November 3, 2013 at 8:22 pm |
    • tara

      It would be great if the States just acknowledged out loud that the rest of us are nothing more than enemies you sometimes trade with. Our leaders need to have it drilled into their heads that America is neither our friend nor our ally, but a great source of danger.

      November 4, 2013 at 10:36 am |
      • so the US should be passive

        and not proactive

        I don't buy it, I also don't buy that it is the US's fault

        I think what is being done needs to be done, all this attention drawn to it will cause a newer form of spying to develop that is harder to detect, nothing will change, and yes everyone does it and has done it in one form or another through out history

        economically, there are a certain number (choose your currency – I choose dollars) in the world, the fight to get the larger slice of the pie is what it is all about

        February 10, 2014 at 4:31 pm |
  20. allenwoll

    Snooping CAN NOT be detected by the Snoopee.
    .
    Therefore, HOW shall one know whether snooping IS present or is NOT present or WAS present but CEASED, etc, etc ?
    .
    SUGGESTION : Do NOT send private communications over Wireless or Internet channels without absolute encryption : It is THAT simple. . Next, Cool Down, Get a Life ! ! . Wired taps are also possible, but more difficult for the Snooper.
    .
    Individuals who are paranoid in this area MAY - even probably - bear watching, being likely up to no good for you or I or the Nation ! !

    November 3, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
  21. SuZieCoyote

    Billions on defense. Billions on spying, internally and externally. Billions on subsidies to big agribusiness and oil. Holy $hlt! We're out of money! Cut food stamps, STAT!

    November 3, 2013 at 9:07 pm |
  22. chrissy

    Lol @ rightospeak, still fighting the good fight with trollio/foolio, i see my friend! Its frustrating i know just trust that one day the right exterminator will come along and JR will be no more! Or maybe NSA will get tired of his garbage.

    November 3, 2013 at 10:01 pm |
  23. chrissy

    Lol @ SuZieCoyote, yes as if that will make a big difference huh? If they just eliminated all the financial foreign aid, now THAT might make a difference! And some cutbacks in our "phat" government would be a big help also! And they could start with an audit of the Federal Reserve. Then start paying Congress for being part~timers since they are only in session 159 days a year and accomplish little to nothing during that time! Now there are the true "high end welfare recipients" ~ Congress! And why should they have free medical for life? They haven't earned it! Lets hope our youth don't use them for examples on work ethics!

    November 3, 2013 at 10:11 pm |
    • rightospeak

      Would off shoring their jobs to India or China get more done at a lower price , chrissy ? We might as well, they are not worth a minimum wage . They seem so dysfunctional.

      November 4, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
  24. Phillip Wynn

    While assessing the NSA's overreach, let's not forget the role of folly, always a better read of such misadventures than simply just "bwa ha ha!" malice. Snowden's relevations reveal an agency functioning as a paradise for amoral nerds, run by a management so clueless that it actually thinks the way to find a needle in a haystack is to add more hay. My son put it best: the whole misadventure is starting to read like "1984" rewritten as a Dilbert cartoon.

    November 4, 2013 at 2:02 am |
  25. LORD BARRINGTON

    Screw Fareed...It is about time for Americans to get a set of balls again. Who gives a (bleep) about other countries especially in the Eurozone. Those countries are museums. Trample all over them!

    November 4, 2013 at 5:05 am |
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Thank you, LORD BARRINGTON. It now appears that the Tea Party Movement has spread to England. Yes, the Eurozone countries are now little more than U.S. satellite states. As a nation, we have become the world's biggest bully and that's bad, bad and bad!

      November 4, 2013 at 9:23 am |
      • Jtom

        You are clueless re the Tea Party. We believe the government needs to be fiscally sound. Period. This means the gov. should not be spending billions snooping on others. We should not be providing for the general defense of other countries, but only provide help if they are actually attacked. We should be closing our military bases outside the US, and we should focus on securing our own borders. We see the biggest threat to our country as being economic turmoil created by massive government debt, not third-world mental midgets blowing themselves up.

        November 4, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
  26. Mossback

    As our surveillance technology and techniques become more sophisticated, our diplomats and politicians become less so.

    November 4, 2013 at 5:52 am |
    • our policians were once sophisticated?

      maybe a very select few, no my reading of history is that all this has happened before, only the names have changed, and even sometimes the names keep reappearing

      February 10, 2014 at 4:37 pm |
  27. rashby12a

    So Zakaria wants fairness, even though other nations blatantly spy on the US (Israel, France, etc.) both for government and corporate reasons. This from the guy that plagiarizes for his own benefit.

    November 4, 2013 at 10:20 am |
    • The REAL Truth...

      It's pure naivete for those in the US (and Fareed) to believe that "we" are the evil in the spying arena. Much as US citizens are paranoid about the US Govt, spying is ubiquitous, and Germany (France et.al) are pointing fingers because they got caught with THEIR OWN pants down... the question THEY should be asking themselves - but don't want the embarrassment the US now has as a result of the deflections - is why weren't their OWN intelligence services aware of the bugging, and IF THEY WERE, why wasn't the leadership informed ????

      November 4, 2013 at 11:30 am |
      • nothing new here

        they are doing it, what are they going to say: we spy too? no it is not in their self interest to do that, no they will look for the possible advantage to themselves and try to score self rightous points, "oh we behave better", no I don't think just because you say you behave better that that means you actually do

        February 10, 2014 at 4:43 pm |
  28. Jeff99

    Thousands of cell phone was tapped in Europe Now I understand why divorce rate is so high in Europe

    November 4, 2013 at 11:42 am |
    • now there is a thoughtful response

      cause and effect that can be measured

      February 10, 2014 at 4:45 pm |
  29. sfg

    What a load of boring cr@p, but he is a minority so they put up with his plagiarism and lack of analysis.

    CNN needs to keep up appearances.

    The best day will be the day Fareed heads back to Pawk ee stawn.

    November 4, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
  30. palintwit

    Sarah Palin supporters are the very definition of low information voters. They watch Fox, a proven source of misinformation. Studies show Fox watchers think they are well informed but are really factually deficient.

    November 4, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
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