What a Wikiworld would be
Broadly speaking, the worldview behind Wikileaks is a demand for complete transparency in the actions of government, corporations and, ultimately one presumes, individuals. A planet without secrets. How feasible is that?
The Wikileaks barrage has led to a countervolley of arguments that governments and corporations need to carry out some functions with a limited audience for at least a limited period of time. Julian Assange represents the mentality of the hacker community he was once a member of – broadly, any institution that keeps its internal activities secret is probably up to no good. The principles of open source software should apply to governance.
It might be more useful to ask why institutions try to keep things within closed doors. Corporations do so for fear their competitors, normally other firms, get an edge over them in the marketplace. Foreign ministries do the same to ensure other governments can’t beat them in geopolitical and economic competition.
Companies also try to fool regulators and ministries try to avoid political oversight. But normally that is because of the pursuit of rules-violating practices designed to enhance their competitive ability.
Going by this thesis, transparency would be acceptable at the institutional level if competition was at a minimum. While non-competition would drain the vitality of corporations, cooperative security is exactly the foreign policy basis of so-called “postmodern states.”
And the best exemplar of such a foreign policy, one where security is accomplished by cooperative, shared sovereignty and transparency, is the European Union. It isn’t all there, of course, but its basic principles are Wiki-friendly.
The European Union is driven by what ex-British diplomat Robert Cooper called, in his book The Breaking of Nations, “postmodern” security policy. Countries seek security not through balance but by combining sovereignties. They are wholly transparent about their military capabilities and let these capacities be defined by multilateral agreements. The sovereign ability to legislate is ceded in ever-larger swathes to Brussels as is the sovereign state’s monopoly on force. Security is accomplished, in effect, by transparency.
Wikileaks represents this postmodern ethos. And it makes perfect sense that its core members and supporters come from information technology backgrounds and from places like Scandinavia, Oceania and California – these are postmodern havens.
The problem, of course, is that most countries in the world are modern or pre-modern. Many postmodern societies, like Japan, live in neighbourhoods dominated by traditional modern countries who like aircraft carriers, realpolitik and are intensely secretive about matters of state. In other words, the environment is competitive. And one technique of maintaining the edge is to stamp things “For Your Eyes Only” and hold discussions in lead-lined rooms.
Which is why Wikileaking diplomatic documents is a nice but questionable practice. It doesn’t matter if the papers are about what Belgians think of the Dutch, though that would no doubt have amusing bits. But it does matter what the Sunni leaders in the Persian Gulf think of the Shia leadership of Iran.
Eventually all documents should be released. The issue is more one of process and time, in my view. An Assangian world would be a postmodern state structure. Cooper, in describing what it meant when something like the European Union was attempted, wrote simply, “The fundamental point is that the world’s grown more honest.”Which, I would argue, is what Wikileaks seeks to accomplish in its own theatrical and anarchic fashion.