In cancelling her state visit to the United States on account of the National Security Agency’s spying excesses, President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil has taken a principled position that most leaders around the world have shown little appetite for. While every major power affected by the NSA’s intrusive surveillance programme — with the honourable exception of Germany — has gone out of its way to brush U.S. highhandedness under the carpet, Brazil has expressed its displeasure at the highest diplomatic level. Ms Rousseff’s state visit, originally scheduled next month, would have been the first by a Brazilian head of state to Washington, D.C. in nearly two decades. Evidently, the symbolism attached to it meant little for the President in the face of allegations that her office, and other institutions, including Brazil’s largest company Petrobras, had been bugged by the NSA. That these revelations follow the arbitrary detention of David Miranda — the Brazilian partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald who published the NSA leaks — by British authorities at Heathrow has alienated her government further. Former President Lula da Silva suggested in an interview to The Hindu that U.S. President Barack Obama “must apologise” for the NSA’s snooping. The Rousseff administration is even mulling “relocating” to Brazil its citizens’ data hosted by major U.S. companies.
Compare this commendable response to that of India, another emerging power which, like Brazil, has enjoyed cordial ties with the United States. India too was affected by the NSA’s schemes: it is now on record that our embassies, government leaders and ordinary citizens were spied upon. When NSA documents were made public, Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid sought to justify the Agency’s conduct as commonplace. And where Ms Rousseff chose to cancel her visit, there are indications that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh might end up making concessions on a host of issues that are of great concern to American businesses when he meets with President Obama on September 27. The Hindu earlier reported U.S. attempts to get India to phase out refrigerant gases under the Montreal Protocol. Apart from pressing for speedier progress on the purchase of American nuclear reactors, the Obama administration is also likely to demand protection for American patents in the pharmaceutical and renewable energy sectors over and above that required by Indian law. Prime Minister Singh need not call off his visit à la Rousseff; but the least he could do is to publicly register India’s anguish at NSA’s spying, while buffeting U.S. attempts to wrest uneven concessions on the economic front.