Saturday, December 4, 2010

Cable Gate

The latest WikiLeaks exposure is certain to make diplomats and politicians alike more than just a little embarrassed. Things said in confidentiality are seldom suited for prime time news.

But will it have a lasting impact on how our diplomacy works, and will it seriously harm relationships between nations?

I don't think it will do much harm - unless, of course, if cases of criminal behavior are revealed - because diplomats and politicians aren't naïve. It's only natural for them to have their own personal views on the people with whom they work. That their views are made public in this manner is of course embarrassing, and the next meeting with a person you are now known to have made fun of will be a bit awkward. But then what? Life goes on, and these professionals have more important things to attend to than worrying about whether or not their diplomatic counterparts like them.

It's a well-known fact that e.g. certain Afghani politicians are involved in drug trafficking. And that German Chancellor Merkel is not seen as being very creative is probably not the biggest news.

Perhaps people will choose their words more wisely in the future, but I don't think the leaked cables will change much.

A more interesting discussion, I think, is the one revolving around freedom of speech vs. protecting state secrets. More than anything else, the WikiLeaks affair - already having earning it's very own 'gate' term (Cable Gate) - demonstrates that it is almost impossible to keep things secret once they reach a certain point of complexity. Anyone can leak confidential information to an organization like WikiLeaks. How can the world function if a minimum of trust doesn't exist? We have to trust that people won't tell others what we say. If we don't trust others, we can't share knowledge and information. If an erosion of trust between nations and leaders becomes the result of Cable Gate, that would be a true tragedy.

Maybe the realization that high level secrets can no longer be kept will force politicians and diplomats to make more ethical decisions. One could hope so, even though in general I think people at this level are honest, decent people who are confronted with difficult decisions the rest of us will never face. Overall, I choose to trust our politicians and diplomats - regardless of their political orientation - because if I don't, I contribute to an erosion of the very idea of representative democracy. Widespread distrust of government is poison to our democracy and will only lead to things like domestic terrorism like in the case of Timothy McVeigh in the United States, who blew up a government building killing innocent people.

Most people would probably agree that embarrassment is better than an erosion of democracy.

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