Thursday, January 06, 2011

WikiLeaks: The news item of 2010

The leaking of sensitive information isn't new.  But the actions of a certain US soldier in leaking truckloads of diplomatic cables is a clear game changer.

Those cables run the gamut of international relations, laying bare a huge number of sensitivities of a large number of nations.  Yet there's irony that has largely been overlooked: next to none of the revelations are a surprise at all.  They're pretty much what we expected to be happening behind the scenes: what governments really think of each other and of key world issues.  (One might be seen as an almost-surprise: China being all but ready to ditch support of North Korea.  But doesn't that make eminent realpolitik sense?)

Having a ready outlet for leaks means never having to scrounge around for a publisher.  Anything is up for grabs, open to leakage.

This could lead to significant upheaval.  At the very least, it renders gentle diplomacy potentially useless as a tool of international politics.  The absence of that option is sure to lead to more direct conflict, if the only conversations to be had are necessarily open ones.  More direct, honest communication, true, but more blunt and abrasive, too.

On the flipside, there is plenty of scope for abuse of this concept.  Strategic release of disinformation may become the tool of choice for intelligence agencies.  This can be an equally destabilising force in international relations.

It's not clear that all this will come to pass. But certainly that single massive leak action is having a global effect, and fallout both overt and covert is inevitable.


bazza said...

One of the added interesting things in this case is the fact that he has been arrested on sexual harrasment charges.
This has led to a debate about whether this should affect the other issues.
Interesting indeed!
Bazza’s Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

S Simmonds said...

I didn't actually mention that because I didn't think it was relevant to the wider issues.

I know someone who reckons the arrest is an international conspiracy, but it doesn't really take that to get him arrested.

In fact, Assange's character doesn't sound exemplary, and he comes across in interviews as evasive and speculative.

Erstwhile colleagues of his set up a competitor to the WikiLeaks site, OpenLeaks, simply because they didn't feel they could work with him.

Yet the success of the international cultural meme depends on a household name. WikiLeaks has become that; it would take a significant hit like the US cables for the rival to imprint itself on the wider consciousness. And is not operational yet.

Kate said...

I found you from To Discover Ice. I love your site. I’m going to poke around a little bit, but don’t worry I’ll put everything back where I found it!!

S Simmonds said...

Thanks Kate, feel free to wander around. Personally, I think those posts on evolution and genetics have the most fascinating and unusual material.

Some time I intend to do some pruning, though...