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December 8 - 14 2010
μWorld News PAGES 14-17
μComment PAGES 18-21
μObituaries PAGES 22-23
μExpat Life PAGES 30-32
Cable v Clegg The two Lib Dem big beasts clash over tuition fee tactics
Vote for your commissioner Home Office announces biggest police shake-up for 50 years
Blair v Hitch Philip Sherwell reports on a masterful debate in Toronto
Bonds move lifts markets ECB plan to step up sovereign debt purchases calms volatility
21 20 22 24 27 34 4 15 19 44 45 49
Bonus Ball 29
Bonus Ball 11
There was one winner of Saturday’s £4.6m jackpot and two winners of Wednesday’s £11.3m prize
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FOR all America’s understandable fury at the Wiki-Niagara (so much more than a “leak”) which has drowned out pretty much all other world news for the past week, it might well end up being, on balance, good for the United States.
True, US envoys will in future think twice before typing some pungent aperçu into their “secure” messaging system; important insights will be lost or blunted. True, and very seriously, some of the people who talked so frankly to those diplomats will now clam up – or even, in repressive countries, face physical risk and reprisal.
Also true, several of the cables’ blunt assessments of foreign leaders have the power to cause real offence, damaging important relationships. It is never pleasant to discover somebody’s unflattering real thoughts about you — still worse to have them broadcast to your political opponents, and the world.
But ultimately, everyone has to deal with America, the most powerful state on earth. The US can affect the rest of us so much more than we can affect it. Memories will fade; leaders will change; allies will still want to stay on terms.
In a world where every secret was WikiLeaked, diplomacy would no longer be possible. But at least so far, the leaks haven’t betrayed many real secrets. Most of the “revelations” – Gordon Brown’s uselessness, Silvio Berlusconi’s vanity, British politicians’ desire to maintain close transatlantic ties – are on a par with the religion of the Pope and the sanitary habits of bears in woods.
Many of the diplomats’ insights, moreover, are little better than those already available to assiduous newspaper readers. Indeed, on the subject I know best – British politics – it is clear that the cables’ reporting is quite substantially copied from the British press, following the twists and turns of conventional media wisdom and just as often wrong.
But the cables’ importance is none the less substantial in three ways, all of them arguably beneficial to the United States. First, there are some genuinely striking and potentially game-changing disclosures. It was no secret that Arab leaders detested Iran. But it most certainly is new to learn, from the leaked cables, of their fervent and widespread private support, even their campaigning, for a US-led military attack on the country to halt its nuclear programme.
The US has long been desperate to stop the Iranian bomb. If Iran gets nukes, the neighbours will get them too – in the world’s least stable neighbourhood. Iran itself is shaky, and has threatened Israel. The danger is huge. But until last week, it was far from clear what anyone could do about it.
This leak has, quite simply, cleared away some of the obstacles to the US achieving one of its top foreign policy goals. It greatly increases political cover for any US military strike — previously seen as very difficult, but which can now be said to be supported by Muslim leaders. It thereby also increases pressure on Tehran to enter serious negotiations.
Last week, the Iranians confirmed what a blow this leak is to them — by claiming that the cables must have been released by Washington itself as part of an information war.
The second way the leaks benefit America is that they emphasise and dramatise familiar US problems in a way that might help deal with them. We have long known, for instance, about Hamid Karzai’s atrocious leadership of Afghanistan, a significant barrier to that country’s stability.
Until now, however, it has been largely the stuff of media investigation and unattributable briefing. The leaks’ devastating official assessments of Karzai, sure to be endlessly quoted, will make the issue much harder to avoid.
The third way the leaks help America is that they show its secret face to be reasonably attractive. There are some exceptions: snooping on the UN and filching its officials’ credit card details, though hardly unexpected, is discreditable. But on the whole, the envoys in these cables come across as bright, engaged and sincere. The leaks deal a blow to the Dave Spart view of American diplomats as cynical, unscrupulous manipulators with no real interest in their host countries.
Britain, meanwhile, may also benefit. Our costly selfdelusions as a military power and America’s Number One Friend have been further shaken by the contents of the documents, which can only be good. Sources of information may now opt to approach British diplomats, who have not suffered a security breach on the same scale as their American cousins.
With characteristic pomposity, Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, said his work meant that “history will win” and “the world will be elevated to a better place”. He might be right at that, but not necessarily in the way he hoped. How ironic it would be if Mr Assange’s biggest contribution to world history was to do Washington a favour.
WikiLeaks reports, pages 4 & 5
THE climate conference taking place in this Mexican seaside resort was expected to be an unspectacular, workmanlike occasion, intended to repair some of the damage wrought by last year’s dramatic, though disappointing, meeting of world leaders in Copenhagen and pave the way for a formal agreement on combating global warming in South Africa in a year’s time.
Instead there is a good chance that it will go careering over the edge at full tilt, not merely failing to make progress towards a new treaty, but actually sabotaging the only one that the world already has – and doing grave damage to the United Nations, and confidence in multilateral negotiations as a whole, in the process.
Not that you would guess anything of the sort if you dropped in on the Moon Palace, the vast campus-style hotel where the talks are taking place. It looks more like a particularly laid-back academic conference, with bureaucrats who normally seem to be surgically attached to their suits ambling around in the sun in slacks and shirt sleeves: unusually, the organisers of the UN conference specified a casual dress code to help lighten the atmosphere.
In the closed negotiating sessions in the boxily functional meeting rooms, the mood is equally relaxed and sunny. None of the many flashpoints that caused the Copenhagen conflagration have so far ignited, and the repeated procedural points deliberately raised in the Danish capital to bog things down have, as yet, been mercifully absent.
The Mexicans are proving to be far better hosts than the disastrous Danes, winning the confidence of both industrialised and developing countries. And peace is also breaking out between the United States and China – the two carbon superpowers, together responsible for about half of the world’s emissions.
Both delegations are going public with warm words for each other; Su Wei, China’s chief negotiator, even says that the differences between them on the most contentious issue of all – the American insistence on international monitoring of the domestic measures China takes to control emissions – are “not that huge”.
And yet, despite this rare outbreak of sweetness and light, everyone is aware that a grenade has been rolled under the door that could destroy everything.
It comes from the unlikely hands of the Japanese, who normally go out of their way to avoid being contentious in international environmental negotiations (those involving whaling excepted). They pulled out the pin on the very first day of the meeting, announcing that they would not “on any conditions or under any circumstances” tolerate the renewal of the emission controls set by the existing Kyoto Protocol when they run out at the end of next year. Since no new treaty is conceivable by then, this would leave the world without any internationally agreed targets to combat global warming and probably destroy much of the emerging world carbon market.
Hideki Minamikawa, the country’s vice-minister for global environmental affairs, says that it does not make sense to rely on the protocol,
which covers only 27 per cent of the world’s emissions, since the US has refused to sign up and China and other developing countries are exempted.
Technically, he is right. But politically, Japan’s actions are explosive. Developing countries see extending controls under the protocol as the crucial litmus test of whether the industrialised nations are serious about tackling climate change – suspecting, with justice, that many would like to avoid any internationally agreed, legally binding targets at all. This suspicion was a main cause of the breakdown in Copenhagen and if not allayed, will doom the talks here, too.
Britain and the rest of Europe also wanted to do away with the protocol in the past, but now accept that if there is to be any hope of international measures to combat climate change, Kyoto will have to continue, at least for the time being, alongside a separate agreement covering the US and developing countries.
It is on their shoulders that the chances of averting disaster now rest – especially those of the Coalition, which has recently taken the lead in the EU.