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Co-operation on European security issues

24 - Relations with the US on counter-terrorism

Grade: B+
Unity 4/5
Resources 3/5
Outcome 7/10
Total 14/20

President Obama modified his use of drones in response to domestic and international pressure but Guantanamo Bay remained open and the Snowden revelations threaten transatlantic co-operation.

Since 9/11, European governments have simultaneously assisted with and sought to alter US counter-terrorism policy. While assisting with deep intelligence and military co-operation to track down, capture, or kill members of al-Qaeda and their affiliated organisations, they sought to alter US policy on torture and indefinite detention in Guantanamo Bay. The election of President Obama in 2008 promised to close the transatlantic gap. However, Obama was unable to close Guantanamo without the co-operation of Congress. In May 2013, the European Parliament passed a resolution on the hunger strike by prisoners in Guantanamo. The resolution stated that “the fight against terrorism cannot be waged at the expense of established basic shared values, such as respect for human rights and the rule of law”, and showed continuing European opposition to the use of Guantanamo Bay.

The Obama administration also pioneered a new type of counter-terrorism policy – a drone war – that became more controversial internationally in 2012 and 2013. In response to these concerns, Obama made a speech in May, in which he suggested that the “war on terror” might be nearing its end and introduced new policy restrictions on the use of drones. The changes brought the US somewhat closer to European views, and the numbers of strikes decreased throughout the year. Nevertheless, the EU failed to draw the US into meaningful discussions on common legal standards and did not manage to clarify and articulate its own views on when drone strikes were permissible.

Finally, the Snowden revelations about NSA spying in Europe (see component 25) threatened to damage EU–US counterterrorism policy. For instance, in October 2013, the European Parliament voted to suspend the SWIFT data-exchange agreement with the US because of concerns that it was being used for purposes other than to combat terrorism. However, talks on data protection between US Attorney General Eric Holder and European Commission Vice President Viviane Reding showed signs of progress on privacy rights for foreign nationals, with an agreement expected in the spring of 2014.