The Snowden Effect

MADRID – The continued leaking of classified information by the former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden has provoked heated debate about privacy and international law, which, unfortunately, has overshadowed the geostrategic dimension of his actions. In fact, Snowden’s revelations about US surveillance programs, and his own ongoing struggle to avoid extradition, reveal much about President Barack Obama’s conception of US foreign relations.

More than any other incoming American president in recent memory, Obama raised expectations worldwide. Yet he has proved to be mainly, if not solely, interested in domestic issues, resulting in a foreign policy of reaction. The Snowden affair highlights three elements of this: US-Russia relations, US influence in South America, and US relations with Europe.

The Kremlin’s handling of the affair is indicative of the tense state of US-Russia relations. In the aftermath of the bilateral relationship’s ill-fated “reset,” Russia has been eager to maintain its global position as a foil to the US, causing many people on both sides to revert to a Cold War mentality. By falling into this trap, the US has provided President Vladimir Putin with endless fodder to score political points and solidify his domestic position.

Putin regards anti-Americanism as an effective tool for short-circuiting domestic discontent. Developments like the US Congress’s enactment of the Magnitsky Act, portrayed in Russia as an American provocation, have allowed the Kremlin to rally support at home with retaliatory measures such as a ban on foreign adoptions, while providing cover for a crackdown on domestic opponents.