The leak of US Diplomatic cables has been heavily criticised by most governments, but I wonder if, for all their noise about how irresponsible and unpatriotic Wikileak’s is being, governments doth protest just a little too much. I have two observations:
1. This is embarrassing more than anything
Every government in the world does this. Hell, every body in the world gossips about the people they work with. So what if US diplomats look down their noses at foreign leaders. Does it really cause offsense? If you’re David Cameron then you’re probably pretty annoyed that a diplomat thinks you “lack depth”, but he’s probably also philosophical enough to realise that he can make the most of his “offence”. It’s worth a decent photo op with Obama at Camp David, maybe more. Does this really change anything? No. There are no real shocks in here, just jucy “he said, she said” gossip. Does it endanger lives? I thinnk that’s stretching it really, and all the moralising by the US government risks destroying whatever sympathy people may have had for them in this mess.
2. This will happen more in the future
This is disruptive to diplomacy in the same way napster was disruptive to music labels. Technology makes it easier to copy and distribute this kind of thing. If your organisation relies, even a little bit, on the old difficulties in compiling and distributing information, it’s on shaky foundations. Take the business of foreign relations: If it were invented today would it be necessary to have Embassies in the form that we have them today? Would it be necessary to have teams of Ambassadors, each with support staff? Would it be necessary to capture, store and relay information it in ways that thousands of people can potentially see? I doubt it, but the system is the way it is because once upon a time it used to be necessary. Just like it used to be necessary to have shops that sold little plastic discs with music encoded on them.
One way or another governments will have to change the way they work, information will have to go direct to the people who are making decisions and who can be trusted. Things will be more focused, effecient and secure, there will be fewer diplomats and the ones who’re left will have moved higher up the value chain, perhaps by offering more in the way of decision making power. This will happen either because governments want it to, or because they’re forced to by repeated leaks like this.
In the mean time though, chasing the people who did this or complaining about the distributors of this information is a little like standing on the beach and commanding the sea to retreat. This is a fact of life now: Anything you write down on a computer can be (and probably will eventually be) published globally, the sooner you accept that fact the sooner you can start adjusting accordingly.