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BND-NSA friendship saves lives?

May 31, 2015

Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen says collaboration with US spies is essential to the safety of German troops. The Christian Democrat has also addressed the conflict in the South China Sea.

Ursula von der Leyen
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Schreiber

In an interview published in the Sunday edition of the mass-circulation daily Bild, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said collaboration with US spy agencies had proved essential to the safety of Bundeswehr troops abroad. The Christian Democrat said Germany's federal intelligence service, the BND, had worked closely with the US National Security Agency (NSA) on issues of importance to both countries.

"The precise cooperation established with the Americans has already saved the lives of several soldiers," von der Leyen told Bild am Sonntag. "In all necessary discussions with the Americans, we will not forget that. The USA has always warned us ahead of attacks in Afghanistan and they continue to do so." She added: "Being able to trust each other is key and that cannot be lost in all the necessary debates. Both sides need to work every day toward mutual trust."

Revelations by the whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013 seemingly confirmed long-held suspicions about US intelligence overreach - the Americans had even reportedly kept tabs on Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone - but Germans were shocked by news that the BND had helped the NSA spy on European officials, agencies and individuals. Merkel's coalition partners, the Social Democrats, have called on the chancellery to release selectors such as metadata and search terms that the agencies used in their espionage.

In an interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung that ran Saturday, Merkel, too, had defended Germany's collaboration with the NSA, saying that the BND had not engaged in nonpermitted espionage with the chancellery's knowledge.

The NSA has also come under heavy fire within the United States.

South China Sea

On the sidelines of a security conference in Singapore on Saturday, Defense Minister von der Leyen said that she had grown worried about the multination battle over territory in the South China Sea. She said that the world's top exporters had a stake in unobstructed waterways to transport goods. Half of goods shipped by sea go through Asia-Pac - a significant amount for an exporter like Germany.

"As Germany, we, too, have an interest in the Asia-Pacific zone, that maritime law is complied with and that free trade is possible," von der Leyen said on Saturday at the Shangri-La Dialogue, adding that Europe, with its years of conflict talks, could perhaps step in and help bring about a resolution. "It has become practice to sit at a conference table together and negotiate," she said.

Recently, China has grown more adamant about its territory claims in the sea, even building an artificial island on which it has installed two mobile artillery vehicles. The Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have all laid claim to surf or turf in that part of the South China Sea.

The conference comes during a busy month for von der Leyen. Last week, she met with Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi, and it has emerged that Germany and France are considering working together to create a new tank, called the Leopard 3.

mkg/jr (AFP, dpa)