IG’s Peace Blog

Peace and its many aspects

Wiki, wiki, wiki

I am not going to say much about the whole Wikilinks imbroglio…too new, too hot too controversial.   Still, there might be a few underlying issues brought out by the media storm that are worth mentioning and thinking about.  For instance, there is the ever present issue of secrecy and its consequences and implications (again, I’m not discussing the rightness or wrongness of the actual leaks–there are laws after all).

Personally, I’m not a big fan of secrecy but I can  see that it is probably necessary in some instances.  Not everything that the world’s leaders and councils  have to deal with can really be for public consumption–at least not immediately.  Some of you might have heard of Woodrow Wilson’s “new diplomacy” that he brought to the Paris Peace Conference after World War I.   One of the themes was “open covenants, openly arrived at”.  This sounded pretty good at the time because most felt (rightly, I think) that it was, at least in part, the system of secret alliances among Europe’s leaders (in many cases Imperial leaders) that helped to unleash the “perfect storm” of events that carried the world into a war that  was really in nobody’s interest.  The idea was that if these agreements had been subject to public scrutiny they would never have taken the form they did, and overall the world would have been better off.

While this has several very attractive aspects, we now know that there is a problem here.  “Open covenants” (ie subject to public scrutiny) are fine.  However, “openly arrived at” is not so good.  Why, because, particularly in our day, if you let the harsh panoptical light of the media shine directly on the nuts and bolts of diplomatic activity, all sorts of things can go wrong.  For instance leaders are tempted to “grandstand”, to “play” to the domestic political audience and try to use the negotiations to increase their political support, instead of solving the problems at hand.  In short, good diplomacy cannot be done in a fish bowl.  There needs to be a space where leaders and diplomats can speak frankly and explore alternatives calmly.  So, I guess some things need to be secret for some time.

This being said, it is not a very long step from the degree of secrecy described above to a “cult of secrecy”, where having access to information and depriving others of this access becomes a key aspect of power.  Not having frequented the “corridors of power”  I cannot say much about this except that it seems to me the more  you hide, the more potential problems you may have if/when things come to  light.  Needless to say, in our day of new information and communication technologies this is more and more  of  an issue.

So, where does all this lead.  Well, I can’t help thinking that when all is said and done while secrecy may be a necessary “evil” it also needs to  be “consumed with moderation”.  How secret can a “democracy” (I’m talking in the abstract here–not about a specific country) be and not start to lose some of its democratic character?  I don’t have an easy answer to this (who does?), but I think the question merits serious (and regular) reflection.  Or, how much secrecy can be justified in the name of “national security”, before the very practice of secrecy itself becomes a threat to core national values.

IGbarb says:  “Who is IGbarb19?  Is it s a secret?  Nope…I’m Charles Lerche (as if you didn’t know).


December 1, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

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