Long Term Consequences of Leaked Diplomatic Cables

Kevin Drum asks:

[A]ll governments have a legitimate need for a certain amount of secrecy. In particular, embassy officials need to be able to report candidly to their superiors about what’s going on in their sphere of responsibility. So what’s the most likely consequence of the Wikileaks document dump? That governments around the world realize the error of their ways and become more open about their dealings with the rest of the world? Or that governments around the world — and in particular the United States government — clamp down hard on classified information and restrict its distribution even more than they have in the past?

In part number two, but in part I think we’re going to be looking at something even more dastardly than tightly controlled dissemination of information. We’re going to be looking at telephone calls! One of the lessons of the Presidential Records Act should be that it’s really really hard to force transparency. Basically the main way people have responded to PRA in practice is that folks who you might have emailed with back before they joined the Obama administration now only want to talk on the phone. We’ll have more oral briefings via telephone (and face to face), and “candid assessments” will come to even more closely resemble high school gossip.

Whatever you think the bounds are of “legitimate” secrecy (read Henry Farrell on diplomacy and hypocrisy), there’s no question that the kind of bid for global hegemony that the United States is currently engaged in requires quite a lot of at least semi-secret goings on. And I don’t find it remotely plausible that attacking the logistical basis of the secrecy is going to alter the structural features of US and international politics that drive the bid for hegemony. So there’ll be a redoubling of efforts—more phone calls, more compartmentalization, more expenditure of resources on tracking Julian Assange down—and life will go on.