Wikileaks Around the World
At the end of November 2010, the world did a diplomatic double-take when WikiLeaks, a not-for-profit media organization released confidential U.S. diplomatic cables. Since Cablegate broke into the global media, the USC Center on Public Diplomacy has aggregated both domestic and international coverage of the released cables. The PDiN Monitor spotlight on “WikiLeaks Around the World” serves as a small report on the impact of WikiLeaks on a regional basis. CPD’s Media Monitor, “WikiLeaks: America’s Cablegate” will continue to aggregate the continued coverage and impact of the released cables and provide a second report on the public diplomacy impact of the cables when the coverage comes to a close.
The most salient piece of information obtained from WikiLeaks was the exposure of the collaboration between Zimbabwean opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, and his political party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), and a few Western states. Tsvangirai and the MDC are considered Zimbabwe’s greatest hopes for unseating dictator, Robert Mugabe, and bringing democratic reforms to the country. In 2009 Tsvangirai met with representatives from the United States, United Kingdom, the Netherlands and the European Union to discuss sanctions that had been imposed on Zimbabwe by certain Western nations. Tsvangirai said that Mugabe had been slow to enact political reform and that the sanctions should remain in place to force Mugabe to give up political power. While Tsvangirai publicly condemned the sanctions, he privately agreed with them. He recognized that if his political adversaries learned that he supported the unpopular measures, the information would be a powerful weapon to attack and discredit him. The U.S. embassy in Zimbabwe sent this information in a confidential cable which was subsequently released in WikiLeaks. This led Zimbabwe’s attorney general, appointed by Robert Mugabe, to declare that Tsvangirai would be investigated for treason which presented a major setback for democracy in the African nation.
A series of leaked cables included references to Kenya as a “swamp” of corruption. This characterization, a spokesman from the Kenyan government described as “malicious”, if true. A headline of the country’s Daily Nation stated that “U.S. Envoys see Kenya as a “swamp of graft”, citing the German magazine, Der Spiegel as the source of the information.
While candid and unflattering descriptions of African leaders were common throughout the leaked cables, analysts do not believe that the leaks will cause permanent damage to the U.S.-African diplomatic relationship.
In the immediate aftermath of WikiLeaks’ release of U.S. diplomatic cables, U.S. domestic public opinion was highly critical of the manner in which the confidential documents were exposed. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, many Americans supported the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and an interesting convergence across party lines resulted from the leaks as Democrats, Republican and Independents shared the common perception that the release of the cables is harmful to U.S. interests and jeopardizes the future of U.S. diplomatic efforts around the world for the longterm.
Little attention was paid in WikiLeaks to the “less restive, less threatening locales” in Latin America. However, cables did reveal U.S. attempts to tighten control over Latin American affairs by leading efforts to isolate Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez. Other cables demonstrated the lack of faith the U.S. has in the Mexican army’s ability to fight the country’s drug cartels. An important insight from the cables is that while the U.S. influence in Latin America may be decreasing, several countries still rely heavily on U.S. intelligence and military assistance.
The most significant insight to emerge from WikiLeaks related to the Asia Pacific region was China’s view of North Korea. Some analysts argued that the released documents may serve to open North Korea’s eyes to the harsh reality that it no longer has the backing of China, to which it has become accustomed. The cables reveal that the DPRK may in fact be the most isolated country in the world, now that China has shifted its policies toward it in light of the DPRK’s recent acts of aggression. While China’s view of North Korea reflected positively on it in the West, some damaging cables revealed that Chinese leaders ordered cyber attacks on Google and U.S. government computers.
Other released documents included unflattering remarks from Singaporean diplomats about Myanmar, North Korea, Malaysia, and India. Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister, George Yeo, explained that the leaks have caused Singaporean officials to be more cautious and guarded in their communications with U.S. diplomats, a consequence feared by many U.S. government officials.
The New York Times reported that many Europeans felt that the United States’ reaction to WikiLeaks was excessively fierce and demonstrated arrogance and hypocrisy given the U.S. commitment to secrecy in the post-9/11 era. American officials and politicians were criticized in various European publications for describing the leaks as an act of “terrorism” and “an attack against the international community”. This response and the U.S. demands to shut down WikiLeaks was cast as hypocritical after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s major speech about internet freedom barely one year ago.
A specific European issue that received much attention in diplomatic cables was the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia. The cables, written by the U.S. ambassador to Georgia, played directly into the Georgian account of events as a measure of self-defense from Russian aggression, confirming Tbilisi’s version of the war. This was seen as an example of “going native”, when diplomats serving abroad begin to see problems through the prism of local society.
Following the release of the diplomatic cables, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton embarked on an “apology tour” throughout the Middle East in order to mitigate any damage done and to reassure U.S. allies.
The cables revealed a distrust of Iran and its nuclear ambitions on the part of many Arab states and demonstrated that U.S. partners in the Middle East would support a forceful, perhaps even military, response against Iran’s nuclear aspirations. Nevertheless, a number of regional leaders remain mindful of the permanence of Iranian power and the “costs of antagonizing it”. While there is still no united Arab front against Iran, confirmation of such discussions and points of view is significant.
The silence of Jordanian media in response to the WikiLeaks release was another major story especially since the U.S. embassy in Jordan was one of the top sources of the cables regarding Jordanian officials’ positions on Iran and the Middle East peace process. While Jordanian officials were largely quoted in the international media, the local media initiated a “self-imposed embargo” on the story, simply stating the official government position on the situation without analysis or commentary
India’s foreign secretary, Nirupama Rao, spoke out in defense of the confidentiality principle of democratic communication and criticized WikiLeaks for publishing the diplomatic cables. Released cables revealed the U.S. plan to promote anti-extremism throughout the world, as well as peace in Afghanistan, through the use of Bollywood, India’s top cultural export. Bollywood films with their growing global appeal are recognized as the “fulcrum” of India’s soft power.
As part of broader attempts to downplay the significance of the diplomatic cables, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani discounted the leaks as being “the observation of junior diplomats”. The cables exposed a lack of transparency in Pakistan between what Pakistani officials convey to U.S. representatives in private and what is communicated to the Pakistani public. The country’s anti-Western Urdu-language press saw conspiracy theories behind the leaked cables and described it as propaganda against Muslim countries. Another revelation that emerged from the cables was concern on the part of U.S. officials about a stockpile of highly enriched uranium in an “aging nuclear reactor” in Pakistan, enough to build several “dirty bombs” or even an actual nuclear bomb if placed in skilled hands. The information in the leaked cables and the fact that Pakistani media even published
false cables demonstrate the complexity of the relationship between the United States and Pakistan.
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