Monday, November 29, 2010

WikiLeaks and Issues of ethics in Foreign Policy

The global journalism entered into a new phase 4 years ago with the birth of WikiLeaks. The journalism became ‘participative’, an element it always cries for in the governance. The WikiLeaks was launched like any other wiki site, editable by all, irrespective of his technical knowledge but with a rather catchy slogan – “We open Governments” . Later on it moved to a non-wiki framework. It shot to fame with release of documents about Iraq War and recently with the leaks of about quarter a million US embassy cables. The revealing of dirty diplomacy played by USA has once again raised the issues of ethics in foreign policy.
Let us look into this issue.  Wikipedia defines foreign policy as the strategies chosen by state to safeguard its national  interests and achieve its national goals in international relations. Undoubtedly the paramount goal here is “national interest” and in the modern times state might need to engage with non-state actors to secure the national interests.
We hardly see any example of an ethical foreign policy in the world history except what India pursued during the Nehruvian times. India had to face the severe results in form of two wars and worsening economic situation. Nehru himself confessed his failure in Parliament when he said that we had been living in a hypothetical world, which is cruel and wont let you live peacefully. Soon India moved to a more pragmatic foreign policy under Indira Gandhi and it reached its crescendo under Manmohan government when the decisions are not made based on the morality rather the benefits it promises to achieve for the country.
So the history teaches us that a foreign policy can never be run on ethical lines, neither it can be put to public scrutiny regularly, nor I think its desired. The other name of Foreign Policy – Diplomacy has a fundamental requirement of secrecy. Never let anyone know what are you thinking. The governments need to make tough negotiations to achieve the end goal of national interests. Its a complex matrix and a layman can discuss it over a cup of tea but can hardly appreciate its countless dimensions. Does anyone has an explanation of why India – the largest democracy hosted a visit for a neighbourhood dictator? The only explanation is that we could not have let China eaten the Burmese fruit alone in the South Asian Eden garden, so we also ate it and fell through heaven of democracy to recognise a military government.
So what if USA sends authoritarian messages to other sovereign governments or spies upon political leaders in other nations or negotiate with non-state actors including terrorists, we can’t pretend as if we didn’t know this happens in dark echelons of world politics. How otherwise USA would have had succeeded in getting India NSG and IAEA waivers? Certainly other nations would have demanded some favours in return and certainly India will return some favours.
Kudos to Mr Asange, for ‘opening the governments’ and secure the people’s right to know. But we have to also see its repercussions. Most of the confidential matter is confidential only for 20-30 years, after which public comes to know about it as a fait accompli. Opening up such things while they are still being discussed will definitely obstruct the progress of the dealings. For example, the recently released cables tell about negotiations regarding US-Russia secret peace deal. That was certainly in world’s favour but now things will change as both the governments face some hardliner challenges in their own country. Republicans are never happy about any US-Russia peace deal and certainly will not let Democrats go ahead with it.
The other aspect of a “Secret Foreign Policy” is the intent behind ‘secrecy’. If the government is doing it to preserve the interests of its nation, its well and good. This type of secrecy is followed in most of the countries including USA and India. But if the government is doing it to preserve its own interests irrespective of its people, then its too bad. This type of attitude can be seen in Pakistani foreign policy, where the ruling government is essentially driven by the motive of securing its position and amass huge wealth and for that it can allow a foreign country to conduct drone attacks on its civilians . Sometimes the latter element can be seen in other countries as well but that’s not the deciding factor.
In the coming times, many nations, governments and larger than life politicians will be humiliated for what they think they were doing secretly. But it will hardly change the way the game of global politics is played. For no powerful country or government(USA, China, Iran etc) gives a damn to open revelation of something everybody already knew. This is like watching a movie where you know all turning points in advance but still watch it just to enjoy seeing how characters are playing their part.


  1. it was a good read.the problem arises,especially in our society, when people start stigmatising individuals based on these revelations.. which after all is done on national interest.

  2. n i think u r doing great..i dont think i can ever write like this.gud job dude!

  3. Thanks Anji. It has become so difficult for us to differentiate between right and wrong or good and bad. Bad things have got legitimized and good things are looked with suspicion.