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Rethinking Diplomacy After WikiLeaks

Like a global version of the Chinese water torture, Wikileaks has been dripping revelations day after day that will render diplomacy painful and less useful for the common good.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange/Worldcrunch (Jose Mesa via Flickr)

Paris-The fact that international relations' specialists aren't learning anything new from these revelations is beside the point. What is at stake here isn't discovering new facts or even one man's judgment of another. What maters in this violation of the secrecy of diplomatic cables is the erosion of trust. Ethically, it is dangerous to mistake the legitimate search for transparency with the violation of a form of secrecy that remains necessary to effective diplomatic action.

In the aftermath of World War I, on the strength of Woodrow Wilson's doctrine, the United States strongly and properly condemned the diplomatic drift of secret alliance treaties that had led Europe to war. Diplomacy was too serious a matter to be left solely in the hands of diplomats. "Civil society" too had to be informed of international challenges.

But that is not what Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, has in mind. His goal is not to make the international system better by inserting a new form of transparency. He is an anarchist, if not a nihilist, and his ambition is to create as much chaos in the world as possible. He does not want to change the rules of the game -- he wants to destroy them in the name of chaos.

It is therefore important to return to basics and common sense and try not to be fascinated by this "Robin Hood of the web". The alternative to the lack of distinction between what is on the record and what is off the record is a universal "double speak." The Romans took care in separating the written and the spoken word: "verba volant, scripta manent." Words that are spoken fly away; written down, they remain. These were simpler times with no computers, no blogs, no twitter and… no hackers.

Today, constant technological progress forces us to radically rethink diplomatic practices. The deliberate and provocative violation of all forms of secrecy will most likely lead to less transparency. Trust between people, trust in diplomatic procedures and trust in the United States will have to be restored at all costs. What should we think of a power that is so bad at keeping its own secrets? Isn't there a huge rift between its place at the center of the world and its vulnerability when it comes to controlling its communications? Calling it a "diplomatic 9/11" like the Italian Foreign Affairs Minister did is probably an exaggeration, but it is not so absurd. Considerable damage has been done and it will have long-lasting effects on America's credibility abroad, especially in the Middle East.

Sunni monarchies in the Gulf never really understood why the US chose to weaken them by the de facto reinforcement of the Iranian regime that came when they toppled Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. By reveling their obsession with a nuclear Iran, by proving how close their positions are to those of Israel and major western powers, Wikileaks is potentially weakening these regimes even more and consolidating any doubts they may have about their leading ally, the US.

Paradoxically, this "excess of transparency" can only lead back to a secretive diplomacy: a modern version of the "King's Secret", the quasi diplomatic secret service created by France's Louis XV to increase the country's influence in Eastern Europe. Information won't spread as freely and "special envoys', trusted by the "princes who govern us', will gradually replace traditional diplomatic missions. These envoys will travel the world to bear the final message. This will last until a better regulation of the web allows the return of practices in line with modernity and the conveniences of modern technology. Looking at matters of diplomacy today, and maybe finance tomorrow, we will definitely be able to point to pre and post-Wikileaks.

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Photograph of Police and emergency services working at the site of a shooting in Jerusalem that saw two gunmen kill three people at a bus station in the Israeli capital.

Police and emergency services are working at the site of a shooting in Jerusalem that saw two gunmen kill three people at a bus station in the Israeli capital.

Anne-Sophie Goninet and Bertrand Hauger

👋 ନମସ୍କାର*

Welcome to Thursday, where Hamas claims responsibility for a shooting that killed three people in Jerusalem just hours after Israel extended a ceasefire in Gaza, Henry Kissinger dies at age 100, and Singapore gets some company at the top of the world’s most expensive cities. Meanwhile, Turin-based daily La Stampa’s correspondent at the Israel-Gaza border describes conditions amid the fragile ceasefire.

[*Namaskār - Odia, India]

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