The Wikileaks list seems interminable. American diplomats spy on the United Nations Secretary General and on other senior UN officials, to the extent of learning their credit card numbers. The Gulf monarchies are pressing Washington to start a war against Tehran before Iran becomes a nuclear power and brings them to their knees. Turkey’s moderate Islamist government faces continued resistance from secular army officers, and a secret Islamist plan is feared. Beijing orders a cyber-attack on Google at the end of 2009, while planning to ditch its long-time Stalinist ally in North Korea in return for hegemony over a unified Korean peninsula. Pakistan discreetly supports terrorist groups, while its nuclear arsenal grows. To do business in Morocco you have to pass on a cut to the royal house, which maintains its army in a deplorable state. Saudi Arabia is the main source of financing for Islamist terrorism.
The list extends to every continent. The emotional stability of the president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, is a worry to many; when her husband was alive she passed official business on to him. Cuban-Venezuelan relations are so close that Cuban spies operate freely on Venezuelan soil. The Cubans also treated the Bolivian president for a serious nose tumor. The German coalition government is limping along due to the chancellor’s timid, reserved personality. The French president, the most pro-American since De Gaulle, has a despotic streak. The Spanish prosecutor’s office played a questionable role in the inquiry into torture at Guantánamo…
Further material may yet emerge from the State Department papers, which renowned newspapers (1) have been publishing having had access to the massive leak mounted by the Wikileaks organization. Significantly, its founder is wanted by Interpol, and his website is being boycotted by servers and service providers.
The publication of the diplomatic cables has stirred international opinion and surprised some governments, who often adduce false arguments to downplay or discredit this news bomb. The security of individual sources has been assured by eliminating names and data that might endanger them. The media that have published the revelations have acted within the limits sketched out by the US Supreme Court in the Pentagon Papers case (2), opting for freedom of information and the citizen’s right to know.
There is no historical precedent for this in term of scope, as it affects so many conflicts throughout the world. The revelations show a seamy side of the political world, about which we all had well-grounded suspicions, but no clear certainty. We are, in a sense, freer now than we were before.
China shows its true face
If the Chinese government was hoping to snuff out the international repercussions of yesterday’s presentation in Oslo of the Nobel Peace Prize to the dissident Liu Xiaobo, the results of its attempt turned out quite differently. The Beijing regime sentenced him to 11 years in prison as a deterrent to all other dissidents, as has been revealed by the US State Department cables by WikiLeaks. And once Liu Xiaobo had been designated a Nobel winner, China managed to reduce the numbers of foreign state representatives at the ceremony after a forceful campaign of diplomatic threats, at the risk of exposing the limitations of the country’s political system in full view.
All this, added to the campaign of slander and harassment against the Nobel winner, his family and friends, seriously damages China’s international reputation.
The status of emerging power has turned China into an inescapable force in the world. With this award for Liu, Beijing had the chance to prolong the current situation in which all the leading powers, with the United States at the forefront, choose to minimize their demands in terms of human rights given the necessity of reaching understanding with a country considered so crucial to the shaping of the world’s future. After such a display of bad temper on the part of Beijing, maintaining the delicate balance somewhere between cynicism and realism becomes that much harder.
Among the steps it has taken in reaction to the Norwegian committee’s decision, China decided to create an alternative to the Nobel, the Confucius Peace Prize. The aim of this distinction is to reinforce the singularity of China’s attitude toward internationally accepted principles, such as the need to respect human rights and political and civil liberties.
China to award Confucius peace prize
This is yet another mistake. The reasoning behind the Confucius Prize is identical to that which is employed by other authoritarian regimes when they are denounced for human rights violations. China is therefore aligning itself with such nations.
Dealing with the situation created by China with its reaction to the Nobel for Liu Xiaobo will not be an easy task for the international community. Cynicism and realism cannot be so easily combined from now on. And in the same way that China has been forced to show its true face, so too now must all the governments which maintain an ever-more intense relationship with the emerging power.
So, does traditional diplomacy have any contemporary relevance yet?
Should we be afraid of China?
WikiLeaks reveals essentials of the ‘dirty war’ in Iraq
(1) WikiLeaks turned over all of the classified U.S. State Department cables it obtained to Le Monde in France, El Pais in Spain, The Guardian in Britain and Der Spiegel in Germany. The Guardian shared the material with The New York Times, and the five news organizations have worked together to plan the timing of their reports.
(2) The Pentagon Papers was a top-secret United States Department of Defense history of the United States’ political-military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. The papers were first brought to the attention of the public on the front page of the New York Times in 1971. A 1996 article in the New York Times said that the Pentagon Papers “demonstrated, among other things, that the Johnson Administration had systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress, about a subject of transcendent national interest and significance”. In the summer of 1971, David Ellsberg, a Harvard graduate and former Marine, brought out 7,000 pages of secret notes on the war in Vietnam. The Nixon administration had no mercy with Ellsberg, spied him, harassed him, attacked him. Ellsberg won his trial in 1973. Also did The New York Times — which published excerpts of the Pentagon Papers.
New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971), was a United States Supreme Court per curiam decision. The ruling made it possible for the New York Times and Washington Post newspapers to publish the then-classified Pentagon Papers without risk of government censure.
President Richard Nixon had claimed executive authority to force the Times to suspend publication of classified information in its possession. The question before the court was whether the constitutional freedom of the press, guaranteed by the First Amendment, was subordinate to a claimed need of the executive branch of government to maintain the secrecy of information. The Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment did protect the right of the New York Times’ to print the materials.