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Question: What does WikiLeaks really mean for the future of diplomacy?

Parag Khanna: Wiki Leaks has been a fascinating phenomenon in terms of its relationship to diplomacy. One of the things that you often heard in the last few months since the Wiki Leaks scandal broke is this is the end of diplomacy and it’s funny because in this book I talk about all of the times in the last 200 years that people have proclaimed the end of diplomacy. When the first cable came into Whitehall in the 19th century in London Lord Palmerston said this is the end of diplomacy and there have been figures, very prominent figures such as Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national security advisor who said, “In the age of mass media and with correspondence to the New York Times all over the world I just need a subscription to the New York Times.” “I really don’t need the entire foreign service and the cables that they write.”

So the end of diplomacy has been proclaimed so many times and it has been in the Wiki Leaks situation as well. I think that is nonsense. Diplomacy has existed since the beginning of time. It always adapts to technology. In a way Wiki Leaks represents the empowerment of information, the spread of information, even sensitive, secret information. The legality of that is certainly very, very questionable and hotly in debate, but diplomacy is about who has access to that information, what are they doing with it, what does it show about the relationships among these different actors and now you have the United States government pursuing an non-state group, a sort of a diffuse entity known as anonymous that is publishing the Wiki Leaks, so you have this cat and mouse thing going on between a state and non-state actor. You have many new players getting that information and doing things with it, so I think that Wiki Leaks really shows the evolution of diplomacy in many ways and certainly not the end of it.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Mataparda.

More from the Big Idea for Wednesday, November 28 2012

Today's Big Idea: Transparency

The Western world has followed China's economic rise with bated breath, awed and somewhat frightened by the phenomenon of "managed capitalism" – by how much it's possible to accomplish how quickly... Read More…


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