Political Pundits across the world, from Washington to London, Kampala to Kigali, Kinshasa to Nairobi, courtesy of Wikileaks, have over the past few months been pre-occupied with what has been revealed about the American conduct of diplomacy.
From the revelations contained in the American Embassy cables published by Julian Assange’s whistle blowing website, it is easy to assume or speculate that the conduct of global diplomacy, or at least US diplomacy through its embassies around the world, is bound to change fundamentally. Forget it if you are tempted to entertain that.
Rwanda has not been spared. But apparently, there is nothing groundbreaking in the cables that originated from the Kigali Embassy. Moreover, the cables so far released and attributed to the Kigali Embassy are fairly recent, somewhat decent and have a short time span. And a bit is talk that can be picked from bars around town.
A different story emerges though. As you read the cables from other countries. Large economies seem to hold the attention of the American diplomats. This can partly explain the world view of those who shape American diplomacy. Apparently, countries traditionally assumed to be rich in natural resources, attract more attention and hence hunger for information from American diplomats.
Another interesting thing that has emerged from the cables, is the importance, or trust, the diplomats attach to people who have connections to the United States: People who studied, worked and lived in the US, are in most cases described in glowing terms and are considered trusted interlocutors. Those who hold US permanent residence or citizenship, but hold key positions in their native countries, are counted on for loyalty to the US and are described in equally positive light.
In effect, though the cables largely describe local events and situations or personalities, and the gossip/rumours around them, more importantly, to the analytical mind, they reveal more about the United States’-internationalism. If the cables are anything to go by, the US diplomacy works on the basis of information from people, who largely have some expectations from the US diplomats/system, and those who in one way or the other, have gained tremendously from past or continuing associations with the United States.
Many who have talked to the diplomats, and subsequently been leaked as having a double language, saying one thing to their masters in their governments and the opposite to the diplomats, under the illusion of confidentiality, have a lot to worry about. This probably serves into the Wikileaks aim of keeping government open. Casualties are likely to be many.
From the cables, it is obvious that diplomats are deeply involved in intelligence gathering. Some of the information may come across as street gossip or unsubstantiated allegations, but that does not discount the fact that embassy officials, several of them, use their posts as a cover!
So, will these revelations, dramatically change the conduct of diplomacy?
One faced with such a question, would be forced to answer yes and no! Probably, some sources, will try as much as possible to avoid communication with the embassy officials. Alternatively, many will be more guarded. But then, being guarded makes them not so useful to the diplomats!
Most likely, the US State Department will devise new methods of extracting information from their contacts. It is clear that as long as states exist or have interests, they will always try to extract information from their contacts, in order to influence events internationally.
The modern state system is traced to the Peace Treaty of Westphalia, where sovereignty was to become the hallmark of a nation state. From the embassy cables, state sovereignty-that is; that states are not to get involved in internal matters of other states is rendered redundant. Instead a realistic world, where power politics, security and self interest (economic and social influence), inform the way powers like America relate to the rest of the world.
Something that in a way shows that nothing substantial will change, is the way the US has handled the whole Wikileaks affair. They are determined to preserve the status quo. The alleged treatment of Sergeant Bradley Manning; suspected of leaking the cables to Wikileaks is telling. There is no compromising. Former State department spokesman P.J Clowley had to resign after publicly criticizing the treatment of Manning.
Nevertheless, the American way is admirable. How they do their thing, is what makes them tick, one has to admit. Elements of their self perception and their connection to them- a hugely positive one- vis-à-vis the rest of the world comes out in the cables.