I am reading an interesting analysis of the conundrum NSA leaker Edward Snowden finds himself in: namely that he is facing the prospect of an asylum-less world.
It’s not that there are no countries who would grant him asylum. It’s that there are very few countries that are actually capable of delivering on that promise.
Should Snowden move to, say, Ecuador, I wonder how long before he’d be “rendered” by American agents?
Even getting there may prove to be a difficult task. The mere suspicion that Snowden may be on board the presidential aircraft of Bolivian President Evo Morales was sufficient to force the plane to land in Vienna and be searched, in an almost unthinkable breach of diplomatic protocol. (Actually, we don’t exactly know what happened, as there are too many conflicting stories. The airplane may simply have landed for fuel. Why it needed to be searched, though, is a darn good question.)
Behind Snowden’s difficulties is the fact that we live in the era of a lone superpower. There are no checks and balances that would limit the United States’ use (or abuse) of its nearly limitless powers.
So then, perhaps Snowden did the smart thing, flying to Hong Kong first and then to Moscow, China and Russia being among the few countries that are beyond the reach of the CIA, where Snowden could still expect reasonably civilized treatment. (North Korea may also be beyond the reach of the CIA, but Snowden knew better than to go there.) Of course, there is something deeply hypocritical about a person who leaks documents in defense of free speech and individual rights, seeking asylum in the country that recently jailed members of a punk band. I hope once Snowden is granted asylum in Russia, he’ll take the time to visit the still jailed members of Pussy Riot in prison.
As to the rogue superpower… I keep asking myself if that is really such a bad thing. Two millennia ago, Roman hegemony resulted in a world that remained peaceful and prosperous for centuries. Pax Americana may not be perfect, but it may mean a decent and peaceful life for generations to come. Is this an acceptable moral compromise?