The great hunt for Edward Snowden continues.
In this world-wide game of "Where's Waldo?" — just when we seem to get a handle on Snowden's location — the rumor mill grinds into high gear and there are reports of him halfway across the world.
The latest sighting of Snowden put him on the plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales on Tuesday night. His plane home from Russia had to take a detour to Austria when both France and Portugal refused to let it cross their airspace. As a country has jurisdiction over the air above, it is presumed that their relationship with the U.S. would impress upon them to arrest Snowden if he passed through their territory.
But representatives of the Bolivian government adamantly deny that Snowden was on the plane, or that there was any reason to suspect that he was a stowaway. The Venezuelan foreign minister rebuked the detour, according to the Washington Post, stating "All the countries that have denied permission for the flight of our brother president, Evo Morales, must be held responsible for his life and his dignity as president." This illuminates a critical facet of international relations — all states are not equal.
It is clear that the self-interested system favors strengthening relationships with superpowers like the United States, even if it dismisses those considered less vital, like Bolivia. But hasn't this cavalier attitude to the smaller nations led to some of our biggest world catastrophes? Nations like Iran and North Korea are showing us that with unyielding leaders and some first-strike capable nuclear weapons, anyone can play ball on the international stage.
The simple act of re-routing the plane could have lasting consequences. CNN quoted Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca as saying "This information that has been circulated is malicious information to harm this country" and went on to elaborate "This is a lie, a falsehood. It was generated by the U.S. government." We've entered a sticky part of international law. While Morales's diplomatic rights and those of international air transportation have been violated by the divergence, a country's right to sovereign jurisdiction is such a powerful norm that it supersedes many conventions.
The moment Snowden fled the country, he dragged the international community into this intricate web of spying, treachery, and secrecy. By escaping to foreign soil with a U.S. warrant out for his arrest, he made the United States government reliant on another country's desire to assist. While the U.S. government can call for extradition, and claim jurisdiction over Snowden's crimes, they are wholly dependent on the host country's desire to arrest him.
Perhaps Snowden could now find asylum in Bolivia. This incident has only served to weaken the already-strained relationship between the United States and Bolivia (and this isn't the first time the problem has included airplanes). It seems to me that whichever nation, if any, decides to offer asylum to Edward Snowden will inevitably shift the balance of power both within the United States and in the international community.