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The Western Alliance in the Digital Age

MUNICH – This weekend, Helmut Schmidt and Henry Kissinger will participate in a discussion at the Munich Security Conference (MSC) – just as they did a half-century ago, when they took part in the first “Internationale Wehrkunde-Begegnung” (the forerunner of today’s conference). In the meantime, many developments around the world have given us reason to rejoice – but also to reflect.

It is not only the crises extending from Ukraine to Syria that will prevent the MSC, the fiftieth, from becoming an exercise in self-celebration. The transatlantic partnership, traditionally the backbone of the conference, has seen better days than these.

The United States has now at least recognized that a great deal of trust has been lost in recent months, owing to the scale of surveillance undertaken by its National Security Agency. President Barack Obama’s speech about reforms of US intelligence-gathering activities, as well as his subsequent interview on German television, represented a first attempt to regain the confidence of America’s allies. But it signals, at most, the beginning of an intensive transatlantic dialogue on the issue.

The topic is too broad to be discussed solely among governments and secret services. What we need is a more comprehensive international debate that engages, say, the American and German publics, as well as the US Congress and the German Bundestag – in short, an intra-Western debate about our relationship in the digital age.