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Wikileaks and Diplomatic Trust

by on March 11, 2011

A friend of mine from BSU recently wrote a fine article for the BSU student paper, wherein he takes on the Wikileaks controversy. All in all, I found it to be well written and informative. You can read the entire thing here.

There isn’t a lot in the article I actually disagree with, other than his conclusion, which is that Wikileaks has done more harm than good. I think that is certainly debatable. The rest of his article, though, is quite sensible. He states that Wikileaks has done some good in that it could lead to greater government accountability. If you, as a government official, know there’s a good chance embarrassing information could be leaked, you’re probably going to think twice about doing that embarrassing thing in the first place. On the other hand, Wikileaks could have the effect of making people rather cavalier towards publicizing sensitive information.

I’m not sure anyone would deny that secrecy is sometimes very important. Not everything can be open and transparent. You really don’t want nuclear secrets spread far and wide, just like you don’t want all the details of your personal life spread far and wide. Some things are meant to be secret, and that is that.

My purpose here is not to take on the argument about whether Wikileaks has been, on net, a benefit or a detriment; rather, I want to question merely one aspect of his article, that the Wikileaks releases will really harm our ability to work with other countries. One argument has been that diplomats will be less likely to work with us, divulge sensitive secrets, and so forth, because they may be released for all the world to see. I’m not convinced about that.

As the article correctly points out, the releases haven’t contained any serious bombshells for those of us who pay attention to the news. There wasn’t anything especially mind-blowing, shocking, or world-changing. The information that was spotlighted by the media was the sort of stuff one could expect to find in a celebrity gossip magazine. Embarrassing secrets of foreign leaders, cheap pot-shots at figureheads, and so forth. None of it is particularly damaging to any of the foreign leaders singled out by the U.S., but you can be sure they were rather annoyed about it all. Who wants to be called “feckless“, anyway?

But let’s be realistic: name-calling and gossip are hardly going to get in the way of serious diplomacy. Diplomats and foreign leaders aren’t stupid. If something is a matter of national security, a bit of name calling can hardly be expected to deter two countries from working together. And in fact, the wikileaks releases may get the American diplomatic and security apparatuses to be more careful about the stuff it allows to be officially written down and classified. I bet there have already been about a hundred different policies created in reaction to the releases, explicitly prohibiting the sort of trivial accusations and muckraking that seems to have been so commonplace. That could be very conducive to even greater diplomacy.

In the end, I think diplomacy with our allies will go on as it did before, but perhaps with a bit more maturity. Diplomacy and communication are far too important in this world to be damaged by silly things like gossip and name calling.

We’ll be fine, in other words.

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