Dec. 4, 2010
By Winslow Myers
Is Julian Assange a traitor or a hero? Is confidentiality necessary to effective diplomacy? Is the United States a net force for good in the world? These may be important questions for debate, but they do not go deep enough.
The specifics of diplomatic behavior in the Wikileaks revelations are perhaps not surprising, but they confirm how deeply nations are invested in half-truths that cover up deeper, more significant whole truths. These half-truths only delay an inevitable shift that is taking place in the world, a shift demonstrated by two of the greatest challenges we face, nuclear weapons proliferation and climate change.
When a clutch of former secretaries of state and defense (George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger and Sam Nunn, Wall Street Journal, 4 January 2007) affirm that nuclear weapons have zero strategic usefulness and must be completely abolished, they are recognizing a challenge that cannot be solved by continued diplomatic hypocrisy and media manipulation. There is no military “solution” in the potential levels of violence achievable if major powers drift into ultimate catastrophe. War is so destructive that it has become obsolete. Yet nations go on trying to divide themselves into good ones that can be entrusted with nuclear weapons and bad ones who cannot. The sooner all nations admit the futility of this, the sooner they will pass through a great shift into a new level of cooperation. The same exactly is true for solving global climate change. It will not occur on the level of competitive jockeying for power and position revealed by secret diplomatic cables.
The week that saw the release of the first cables also witnessed a new crisis on the Korean peninsula. North Korea is a foreign policy challenge of daunting complexity, an acrid brew of nuclear weaponry, ultra-paranoid leadership, and the near-starvation of millions of its citizens. The North Korean military has the capacity to devastate its infinitely more prosperous neighbor to the South. But dangerous half-truths quickly became the story here, too. It was immediately forgotten that before North Korea fired upon the territories belonging to the South, the South had apparently been firing its own guns northward in a military exercise. North Korea escalated from target practice to killing real people, but the basic paradigm, for North Korea and everyone else, is that strength met with strength is the royal road to security. A retired American general, B.B. Bell, asserted on NPR that moving American ships closer to North Korea and conducting practice scenarios was not a provocation. However, in the same interview, he admitted that the number of such drills rises when tensions are high and falls when they are lower. If it is your side that is doing such drills, it is a “readiness exercise.” If it is their side, it is an act of war.
Or governments pretend that diplomatic and intelligence functions are completely separate, when in fact, as Wikileaks reveals, everyone is using every possible subterfuge to gather information to their own advantage — and rationalizing this on the basis of “my country, right or wrong.”
The first great adaptation to the paradigm shift that is happening around us is to move beyond the half-truth that “we” (whoever “we” is—Israel, Iran, the U.S., the North Koreans, the Chinese) are the white hats and “they” — whoever “they” are — are the black hats. That assumption conditions many of the “frank conversations” in the Wikileaks cables, and it is part of an old, win-lose notion of security that has become dysfunctional. The psychologist Carl Jung, writing over a half century ago about the divide between the capitalist and communist spheres, could have been talking about the tone of the cables:
“We should give a great deal of consideration to what we are doing, for mankind is now threatened by self-created and deadly dangers that are growing beyond our control. Our world is, so to speak, dissociated like a neurotic, with the Iron Curtain marking the symbolic line of division. Western man, becoming aware of the aggressive will to power to the East, sees himself forced to take extraordinary measures of defense, at the same time as he prides himself on his virtue and good intentions. What he fails to see is that it is his own vices, which he has covered up by good international manners, that are thrown back in his face by the communist world, shamelessly and methodically. What the West has tolerated, but secretly and with a slight sense of shame (the diplomatic lie, systematic deception, veiled threats), comes back into the open and in full measure from the East and ties us up in neurotic knots. . . But all attempts [to resolve the problem] have proved singularly ineffective, and will do so as long as we try to convince ourselves and the world that it is only they (i.e. our opponents) who are wrong. It would be much more to the point for us to make a serious attempt to recognize our own shadow and its nefarious doings. If we could . . . we should be immune to any moral and mental infection and insinuation.”
Beyond the great shift which is under way, the half-truth of differences between Arab and Jew, Shia and Sunni, Iran and Israel, The United States and the Taliban, the power of multi-national corporations and the power of ordinary masses of people, will dissolve into the whole truth forced upon us by such realities as nuclear weapons and rising global carbon emissions: I cannot survive without you, nor you without me, and what helps you feel more secure does the same for me. We are not white hats and black hats; we are all fallible human beings.
As Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote, “The line between good and evil runs down the center of every human heart.” One of the meanings of the Muslim concept of jihad, “self-overcoming,” is based on this truth. When we move beyond “us and them,” there is only “us,” the human family, aware of our shadow, but potentially open to solutions that work for all—on the basis of three principles that hold true in our new world: War is obsolete. We are all in it together on one planet. Means determine ends. If diplomats operated from this understanding of self-interest, there would be little need for the secrecy that Wikileaks, reasonably or treasonably, has violated.
Winslow Myers, the author of “Living Beyond War A Citizen’s Guide,” lives in Boston and serves on the Board of Beyond War (www.beyondwar.org)