Snowden and the limits of American imperial power



The Snowden papers have illustrated both the global reach of the world’s superpower, but also its limitations.

Most people, outside America at least, are horrified at the comprehensive collection of their communications by the National Security Agency and its British partner, the Government Communications Headquarters. They believe Edward Snowden is a genuine whistleblower and should be given asylum.

If Western governments were truly reflecting the wishes of their people they would be competing to give refuge to Snowden. However, the subordination of Western governments to the American superpower is so institutionalized that it is hard to shift.

France provides a good example. After revelations of NSA spying on the French and EU missions in America President Francois Hollande said “we cannot accept this kind of behavior” and that “there can be no negotiations or deal-making [on a US-EU trade agreement]” until “safeguards” are obtained.

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Yet next day, ever obedient to Washington, France denied overflight rights to the Bolivian president’s plane, on the grounds it might be carrying Edward Snowden – the very person who had so generously provided the information on the extent of US spying on France.

The response from Latin America was quite different. With one voice Latin American governments condemned the diversion of the Bolivian president’s plane, and Venezuala and Nicaragua offered refuge to Snowden. There is also a furore in Brazil against the massive NSA spying on that country. Latin America has changed from being the continent most compliant to America edicts to the one resisting them the most.

Weakening economic ties with the United States have facilitated this new independent spirit in Latin America. China is acting as a counterweight to the United States in Latin America and is now a major trade and investment partner.

The United States may still be an economic superpower, but its relative strength in the world economy is declining year by year. Militarily it remains supreme but America hasn’t been able to use this military strength for much economic gain. In partnership with Israel the US may dominate the oil-rich Middle East, but its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have hardly been a stunning success.

Bit by bit, the “soft power” of the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) is beginning to challenge the predominance of the US. Western European nations may also start challenging the US more. After all, the Snowden papers show that the US considers other advanced capitalist nations as antagonists as much as allies and fair game to be spied upon. Increasingly the NSA will be used to spy on non-US companies for the benefit of US firms. There is some evidence this has already occurred.

Meanwhile the Key government seems blind to the downside of helping the US spy on the rest of the world through its active role in the Five Eyes electronic spying network – as I pointed out to the Intelligence and Security Committee last week. New Zealand is upsetting most of its biggest trading partners – including China. Being absorbed into the Five Eyes also restricts New Zealand’s ability to conduct an independent foreign policy. No less stupid is John Key’s promotion of the GCSB Bill and the Telecommunications Interception Capability Bill requiring all telecom and internet firms to be “intercept capable”. As the internet community is pointing out, this will make New Zealand much less attractive as base for IT companies.


  1. Pictured – three of the most important figures of the first two decades of the 21st century

        • WTF has this got to do with this article you morons! You got nothing better to do than nitpick over allegations that have not been substantiated? What are you? A bunch of trolls?

      • New definition for rapist: Someone whom pisses powerful big money interests off gets called this when there is no other accusation that can be thought up.

      • Unless you were in the room with Anna Ardin or Sofia Wilen when they and Julian had consensual sex or are part of the team paid to discredit him you have as nuch relevance to this thread as they do.

        As Keith points out the downside of this debarcle is both liley to be damagingly economic as well as un-necessarily totalitarian.. Given the impending TPPA currently being negotiated in secrecy and the level of incompetency already.. Add the lack of oversight and indeed naivete we have already seen from this government in both their dealings with U.S agencies AND corporates fully with Keith’s concerns..

  2. Amerika thrives on divide and conquer. South American countries realise this, hence their unity. If the EU followed their lead, it could render the US impotent. It is places like NZ that seem insignificant but have become crucial in their scheme of things, that they rely on being compliant. The old maxim “follow the money” applies in all cases.

  3. Good stuff. It is a disgrace that we bow down to the U.S. every single time. I regard all of these men as heroes. One of them has been accused of rape, this does not make him a rapist!

  4. Pictured – Bradley Manning, a man tortured and locked in solitary confinement for months without ever being charged with a crime.

  5. rape
    1. The crime of forcing another person to submit to sex acts, especially sexual intercourse.
    2. The act of seizing and carrying off by force; abduction.
    3. Abusive or improper treatment; violation: a rape of justice.
    tr.v. raped, rap•ing, rapes
    1. To force (another person) to submit to sex acts, especially sexual intercourse; commit rape on.
    2. To seize and carry off by force.
    3. To plunder or pillage.

    Certainly the US has proven its self worthy of the definition. Whether it’s the plunder and pillage of many nations, the numerous allegations of rape being used as a weapon during the “war on terror” or the many cases historically where the US supported forces that used rape as a weapon of war.

    For anyone with the courage to oppose the machinations of a deviant, malevolent state; you can be certain the propaganda machine and secret services will be at work to portray said person as who-knows-what variety of deviant criminal to discredit and ease their capture. They just need to reflect on themselves for ideas to set-up the thorn in their side.

    As for Snowden, his transit to his asylum destination is the major sticky wicket – I wish him luck.

  6. Whilst I appreciate the tone of this article, which I read to be “America ain’t that shit hot” I find it very hard to accept the line:

    ” Militarily it remains supreme but America hasn’t been able to use this military strength for much economic gain. ”

    It is my understanding that this isn’t correct at all.

    It is my understanding that American big money interests gained all the contracts for the rebuild of Iraq, that is, American companies were employed, not locals. I believe that mercenary soldiers are involved in these wars that America initiates (more profit) and of course the arms industry profits when its products are used (some might say such wars create demand after the market has become saturated). There is also an issue with the Federal Reserve Banking System, which I believe was set up by the ‘rebels’ before Libya had even been taken….and whatever happened to all Libya’s gold?

    I think there has been a lot of economic gain in these wars, and I really don’t think the people conducting pre-emptive strikes would do so if there wasn’t profit to be gained. That is the whole point of these wars isn’t it??

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