The likely impact of the unauthorised release of secret diplomatic cables by the WikiLeaks website has split opinion in the London diplomatic corps.
In a survey conducted by Embassy magazine, just over half the respondents (52 per cent) said the leaks could cause lasting damage to diplomacy, with one diplomat commenting that “future confidential exchange may suffer from mutual lack of trust and confidence”.
Former British Ambassador to Iraq and the UN, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, was critical of WikiLeaks’ decision to publish the leaks. Speaking to Embassy, he said the breeches in confidentiality were “damaging for properly functioning government” but he predicted that the effect would be temporary: “This is not going to change diplomatic life forever.”
A minority, 17 per cent, said the leaks had been useful in getting “selected” views out in the open but a significant proportion, 30 percent, remained undecided over the consequences of the revelations.
More than half of the respondents (54 per cent) said the disclosure of classified material would not affect their diplomatic reporting, while one third said the disclosures had made them more cautious. “I’ll think very carefully about what I include in cables in future,” said one, while another commented: “Already in my discussions with host government officials, they have expressed a nervousness about what I intend to report.”
Sir Jeremy told Embassy that while the leaks would not have affected the content of what he reported to government, had he still been serving, they may have affected his “choice of channels”.
The majority of respondents (65 per cent) said leaking the cables was not in the public interest; however a quarter of diplomats did say that some of the disclosures, while not in the interests of diplomacy, may prove helpful to the national and public interest of affected countries, especially if revelations have the effect of jump-starting stalled diplomatic processes.
Equally, respondents were divided over the impact on diplomatic ties and sensitive talks. A slim majority (56 per cent) said the leaks were mainly embarrassing, while 43 per cent said the leaks may do some damage to diplomatic relations.
On the content of the cables, very few diplomats (15 per cent) found them to be revelatory, with most (62 per cent) saying the exposés served mainly to confirm what was already known and the remaining 20 per cent dismissing it as “gossip”.
Sir Jeremy said some disclosures may increase the public knowledge, but most were “media hype of a gossipy kind over certain insulting or critical remarks.”
What has taken diplomats aback is their sheer volume, as one envoy remarked: “Who’s reading all this stuff apart from a bored soldier who likes Lady Gaga?”
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