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Diplomacy after Wikileaks: A Neo-Wilsonian Perspective

Corneliu Bjola
University of Oxford
Corneliu Bjola
University of Oxford
Open Panel

Abstract

The conduct of diplomacy has been periodically challenged by the question of how to properly balance considerations for transparency vs. effectiveness. Historically, this balance has been generally settled against transparency and in favour of effectiveness on grounds that domestic democratic practices are rather inapplicable to the conduct of external affairs. As Harold Nicholson and Henry Kissinger pointed out, excessive transparency might actually cripple diplomatic decision-making and fuel international tensions. The attempt of President Woodrow Wilson to overhaul the pre-WWI diplomatic practice by insisting that “diplomacy should proceed always frankly and in the public view”, represented a notable yet rather singular attempt to shift the balance towards diplomatic transparency. However, Wilson’s diplomatic vision failed to produce an enduring legacy against rising fears of Fascism, then Communism and more recently of terrorism after the 9/11 attack. The recent release of diplomatic cables by Wikileaks offers though an excellent opportunity to test empirically and revisit theoretically the validity of Wilson’s principles of diplomatic conduct. To this end, the paper will pursue of double line of investigation: first, it will examine empirically the extent to which the release of secret diplomatic files by Wikileaks has affected the State Department’s capacity to achieve its high-priority goals, such as those in Iraq, Afghanistan and in the Korean peninsula; second, it will theoretically challenge Nicholson and Kissinger’s arguments by arguing that under certain conditions, increased public accountability of diplomatic relations could actually streamline diplomatic decision-making and reduce international tensions in the long-term.