Wednesday, December 01, 2010

wikileaks is not leaking everyone

in response to the wikileaking of those diplomatic cables stephen walt poses a hypothetical:
How much difference would it really make if all these "private" diplomatic meetings were public? Suppose there was no such thing as a "private" diplomatic meeting or a backchannel discussion. I can easily imagine that world leaders wouldn't like it very much -- but how much would world politics change if all these conversations were held in public so that people could see and hear what was being said?
while that may be an interesting thought experiment, i don't think it's very illuminating when evaluating the rightness or wrongness of the wikileak. wikileaks is not making all diplomatic communications public. it is making the united states' diplomatic communications public. lurking behind all of this is a collective action problem. even if we assume that the end of secret back channel diplomatic communication would be a net good for the world, that doesn't mean that the U.S. wouldn't be disadvantaged if everyone else gets to have secrecy when the U.S. doesn't. and it's a lot messier question whether hobbling the u.s.' ability to engage in diplomacy relative to other countries would be better or worse for the world.