When an intelligent person like FDP* leader Christian Lindner wants to take the free trade agreement with the USA hostage, when the assumed German-American historian Fritz Stern calls intercepting the chancellor’s cellphone a “criminal act,” then an outraged rhetoric is overpowering a cool head.

The free trade agreement: Whether it will ever be ratified is as certain as the fate of the energy transition. There are too many economic interests at stake; there are too many exceptions reducing the respective competitive advantages. But the EU would profit a lot more. Therefore the cool head asks: Are threats which cut more into European than American flesh plausible? Should we generally blurt them out in our own trivial interests, if we lose out more ourselves in the process? Or is there a more economical way to protect the data traffic of our politicians?

‘’Criminal act’’: At home, phone tapping without real permission is punishable. However, there is no world law that forbids intelligence — i.e. spying — abroad; the word “criminal” is therefore a metaphoric exaggeration and not a wise counsel. You don’t spy on your friends? Yes, you do. A whole private-eye industry shows evidence of that, helping husbands to trace their wives’ movements — and vice versa. My friend could also flirt with my enemy; good to know what both are planning.

Sometimes, friends also become enemies; look at Gerhard Schroeder’s ad-hoc alliance with Paris and Moscow in 2002 through 2003 to stop George W. Bush’s march into the Iraq war. Conversely, it would be very useful for Berlin to know what the superpower is planning — for example, in the nuclear talks with Iran, in which Germany is also involved, or in the everlasting rivalry between Boeing and Airbus. To put it harshly: A government that abstains from intelligence of this kind would be to blame for the “criminal” neglect of German interests.

Unfortunately, the superpower has much more capability to do so with its 16 intelligence services. But here a classic, albeit unconscious, reflex of a refined Germany is employed: If we abstain from something, then others should too. We frown upon force as an instrument of politics — why can’t the others be just as morally advanced? We don’t want nuclear energy, GM foods — are we therefore on the right side of the story? We are too fair to sound out our friends; that is something the others have yet to learn.

The world, however, is bending itself towards German demands. Now Obama wants to delete the chancellor’s phone number from the NSA list. In this way, the outrage would have proven to have a quantum of usefulness. But can we imagine that his enormous surveillance equipment extends to all four? That the British and French will stop scanning German digital traffic? Or even the Russians with their sensors in the Berlin embassy?

Trust is good, self-assurance is better. A surge is good for the soul, defense and armament are more dependable. There are a hundred ways to stop the digital Horch und Guck** attack. It can be achieved with respect—the strongest foundation for all friendships.

* Editor’s Note: The Free Democratic Party—German: Freie Demokratische Partei—abbreviated to FDP, is a liberal political party in Germany.

**Editor’s Note: A German political periodical.