The fallout from the Wikileaks cables: not so shocking after all

Yesterday, I blogged my initial reaction to the Wikileaks publication of the US diplomatic cables:

And the big news from the Wikileaks revelations is…
… that it turns out the world as told through secret US diplomacy is, er…, pretty much the same as the one we always thought.

That’s a view that looks to be holding up even as more details come to light. Many are fascinating, many fill out details of stories, but – so far at least – what they are doing is filling out stories we already knew rather than containing major revelations or over-turning what was previously known.

Or, as Richard Haas from the Council on Foreign Relations puts it,

Much of what we have seen thus far confirms more than it informs. We are not surprised to read U.S. diplomatic cables reporting that corruption in Afghanistan is rampant; that prominent Sunni Arab leaders are more worried about Iran and its nuclear program than they are about Israel; that it has been difficult to get other governments to accept Guantanamo detainees; that Syria’s government maintains close ties to Hezbollah despite assurances to the contrary; or that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is a man of questionable character.

Potentially more significant and controversial is the likely impact on future diplomatic efforts. The widespread availability of the cables within official US circles followed previous criticism that information was not shared properly and this had led to mistakes such as in advance of 9/11. Will the leaks cause those lessons to be unlearned? And what will the leaks do for the future willingness of other foreign states to talk to the US? The views of the Chinese, Saudi and others that have been published are not surprising, but it can still be embarrassing to has confirmation appear in print. As Haass adds,

In some cases, though, the publication of these documents will likely cause immediate problems. Working with Pakistan’s weak government to ensure that its nuclear materials remain under tight control – a process described in the WikiLeaks papers — will prove even more difficult. Counterterrorism efforts in Yemen might also be set back as the leadership there might well feel the need to distance itself from the United States.

In still some other cases, though, we should be reassured. For example, it is good to know that the United States and South Korea are holding serious discussions about how to reduce Chinese unease about the dissolution of North Korea and the unification of the peninsula. This is the only way to end a situation that, as recent events demonstrate, threaten not just regional but world peace.