WikiLeaks, Diplomacy, and History
Earlier this week, K.C. Johnson made the argument that diplomatic and political historians needed to enter the WikiLeaks debate, in order to add the necessary context to the question of the effect of the revelations of the State Dept. documents. I had hoped to do my part here, as a diplomatic historian, but other work this week intervened. Fortunately, Paul W. Schroeder takes up the task admirably in today’s NY Times. As he notes, many diplomatic achievements of modern history probably wouldn’t have been possible if WikiLeaks had its way and all such dealings were 100% transparent. What’s interesting is that he brings up Nixon and Kissinger without bringing up their most famous secret diplomatic success, the opening of relations with China in the early 1970s. Without secrecy, Kissinger never would have been able to make the necessary preliminary trips to meet with Zhou Enlai and Mao prior to Nixon’s own public trip to Beijing. Not only did the move change Cold War international relations, but it helped change the direction of Chinese history, bringing it the economic success that we’re seeing today. But in Julian Assange’s world, that success should not happen, because it was done in secret.
As an addendum, I include this column from a former Canadian diplomat arguing about the human rights benefits of secrecy in diplomacy. Again, transparency is a worthy goal, and there are ways to improve transparency without damaging government operations, but WikiLeaks’ approach is both wrong and damaging.