Atanu Dey On India's Development

The Actual State of the World: Wikileaks

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This one has the makings of something earth-shatteringly great. Starting today, Wikileaks will post American diplomatic cables to the web. NYT says,

A cache of a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables, most of them from the past three years, provides an unprecedented look at backroom bargaining by embassies around the world, brutally candid views of foreign leaders and frank assessments of nuclear and terrorist threats.

. . .
The anticipated disclosure of the cables is already sending shudders through the diplomatic establishment, and could conceivably strain relations with some countries, influencing international affairs in ways that are impossible to predict.

You have to read that NYT article to get an understanding of what those cables reveal. One thing is sure: they are going to change the way we look at the world. That change, in my opinion, is good. We don’t usually know what the people in power are actually up to. But gone are the days when the powerful could manipulate matters to their advantage at our expense, confident that their crimes will never be discovered.

It’s like those surveillance cameras at road intersections monitoring traffic. Their mere presence deters would-be red light violators. They make the roads safer for all of us.

What I am eagerly looking forward to is this. I am sure that some of the cables will reveal what the American diplomats really think of Indian politicians. We all know that people say it like they see it when they know that it will no go out to the rest of the world. For instance, a journalist friend of mine said this about a very very important “young” politician, after spending a few days with him on the campaign trail last year, that “he is an effing idiot.” That judgement was revealed in a private phone conversation, and it would never show up in the newspapers — even expunged of the four-letter word.

These leaks do a remarkable service. They advance common knowledge of areas that is sorely needed in a world made so dangerous by the military-industrial complex of advanced industrial nations, by the thieving politicians of banana republics large and small, by Islamic terrorism, and by news corporations that make it their sworn duty to provide cover to public malfeasance of people in power.

(Just BTW, common knowledge is not the same a general knowledge. In two previous posts, The Theatre of the Absurd Part 1, and Part 2, I have explored what common knowledge is. You must read them to appreciate what I mean. Funny how those posts were also about wikileaks.)

Indian newspapers are reporting stuff like this.

American diplomats have warned India to prepare itself for potential embarrassment from the expected release by WikiLeaks of three million confidential U.S. diplomatic cables. The message was conveyed to the Indian embassy in Washington after a senior State Department official tried unsuccessfully to reach Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, who is travelling in Sri Lanka.

. . . Since such cables are meant to be confidential, it is a standard practice for the diplomats writing them to be candid and blunt in their assessments and sometimes even disrespectful to officials and leaders in their host countries. It is this aspect of the forthcoming leak which is particularly worrying U.S. diplomats. Some cables could also contain information about surreptitious activity by U.S. missions. [Emphasis added.]

So now we’ll be reading the equivalent of “so-and-so is an effing idiot” as related by American diplomats. That will be common knowledge. We should be grateful to Wikileaks for illuminating the dark recesses of the world.

  • SR

    The leaks will probably help cement what the wise already know about the world – e.g we know that ISI is the viper’s head and we know that Pakistan is the viper etc. That is all great, but in general the leaks are immoral and greatly harm world interests. We don’t need state dept secrets being leaked, we need ISI/Pak govt secrets being leaked – these cables are all innocuous observations – is it a great secret that Qaddhafi may have a harem of Ukrainian or Russian prostitutes? But it would have been great if we could have stuff such as “Yeah the ISI did the 26/11 attacks’ or that ‘Zardari asked for a 10% cut for the f-16 planes’ etc….we need intelligence where it will probably hurt most – innocuous and innocent US cables are hardly that…

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  • no name

    That young politician must be ‘rahul gandhi’.

  • RC

    These leaks are useless and does NOT help the cause of liberty in any way.
    Why only US secrets are leaked, and not Chinese? If Chinese (or Russian) secrets are leaked then someone will have the fortune(mis) of drinking tea with very special ingredients.

    How are these leaks going to save the world from the islamic terrorism that is the biggest political problem affecting the world?

    The purists who think that dialog between nations can never involve incentives or deals and Anarchist who are against all kinds of structures are more likely to like and enjoy these leaks.

    There hasnt been a single substantive thing that has come out the leaks anyways. (China was behind Google attack … yeah like we didnt know)

  • http://oshantomon.blogspot.com Sambaran Mitra

    Wikileaks is bringing information in domain of common knowledge. As the common-knowledge-puzzle (in your earlier blog) showed, common knowledge can have powerful impact.

    At the same time, I am not fully convinced that common-knowledge is necessarily good in all circumstances. Nitin Pai explains it well here: http://acorn.nationalinterest.in/2010/11/29/the-return-of-information-silos/

    So is wikileaks good? I don’t know. Confused very much, am I.

  • pankaj

    india will rarely figure in diplomatic cables as we are by and large an insignificant country ,and if it will then it will be scornfully.