Tuesday, November 30, 2010

An attack on secrecy

The US has responded hysterically to WikiLeaks' airing of its dirty diplomatic laundry, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton branding it as "an attack on the international community".

Bullshit. Oh, its certainly an attack on the reputation of the US, in that it exposes their double dealing and those embarrassing little free and frank comments that all diplomats make. But American is not the world, and its hard to see how this harms the rest of us. Oh, the secret positions and embarrassing behaviour of some governments will be exposed. Big deal. Those are arguably positions and behaviour that should have been exposed anyway.

Some people have talked about secrecy being necessary for diplomacy. Possibly - but only insofar as it allows governments to hold positions unacceptable to the people who elect them, and to make deals we would never agree to if given a real choice. Diplomatic secrecy lets governments negotiate treaties like ACTA among themselves, in their own interests, and then present them to us as a fait accompli which must be accepted for fear of going back on "our" (meaning their) word. It allows governments to behave in a two-faced manner, pretending to us that they oppose torture while enabling it behind closed doors. In extreme cases, it allows them to plan and perpetrate crimes against humanity in secret - such as the war in Iraq.

In short, secrecy allows governments to get away with shit. And as a voter, I don't like that one bit. I want my government to be honest with me. And I want it to be honest with the world. I understand the need for diplomats to avoid topics in order to maintain a relationship (in the same way that I understand it with political parties in coalition - you talk about what you can work together on, not on what you can't), and that they will have opinions on the people they deal with which are as unflattering as my own. But on the big stuff - e.g. if the government is telling us that it will not negotiate away Pharmac in any FTA, while doing exactly that - then I want it exposed so I can hold those responsible to account. And that's the real problem: not that some American diplomat thinks (rightly) that Andrew Windsor is an arse, but that there is not enough democracy in our foreign policy. That's the real thing which has to change here. And hopefully, this leak will help it a little.