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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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Populists With A Plan: Welcome To The Age Of Reactionism

Right-wing reaction to the globalized, liberal order is starting to look less dispersed and more systematic, like 20th-century political movements like socialism and communism.

Photo of Bolsonaro Supporters Storming Congress

Supporters of former Brazilian President Bolsonaro clash with mounted police in the capital.

Juan Gabriel Tokatlian


BUENOS AIRES — In a 2018 text published in the International Studies Quarterly, academics Joseph MacKay and Christopher David La Roche asked why there was no "Reactionary International Theory." In December of that year, speaking with Crisis journal, I myself stressed that beyond Europe and the United States, international reactionism was taking root in Latin America. Then in 2019, "Reactionary Internationalism" and the philosophy of the New Right were the subjects of another paper by Pablo de Orellana and Nicholas Michelsen.

As an emergent trend, the "reactionary international" is worth considering.

This international is comparable in scope to 20th-century currents like the Communist International, Socialist International and Christian Democrat International. While those were prominent in Europe, the new reaction has emerged most emblematically in Anglo-American countries and remains a solidly Western phenomenon. Its expressions in peripheral countries, eastern Europe or Latin America have effectively adopted its mainstream proposals.

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