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Ambassador Foley's Op-Ed for "Jutarnji list"

“Jutarnji list” – December 1, 2010

WikiLeaks Seriously Endangers Diplomacy

The United States under President Obama is deeply committed to the practice of diplomacy, which is the preeminent means used by states to solve problems peacefully. The magnitude of those problems today is formidable – extremist terrorism, nuclear weapons proliferation, climate change, poverty and disease – but we are seeking peaceful solutions through dialogue with our partners. That is what diplomacy is all about – nations talking to each other. As Winston Churchill once famously put it, "it is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war." In this spirit President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have worked relentlessly to forge and to strengthen partnerships around the world. I can personally attest to that here in Croatia, where we are doing our utmost to help our NATO ally improve its economy, consolidate the rule of law and qualify for EU membership. We place the highest value on our partnership and count on Croatia's success to help lead the region of southeastern Europe to a secure and prosperous future.

Of course, even the best of partnerships can be tested, and that is what we are currently facing in Croatia and elsewhere. Over the past few days documents purportedly downloaded from U.S. Department of Defense computers have become the subject of reports in the media. They appear to contain our diplomats' assessments of policies, negotiations, and leaders throughout the world as well as reports on private conversations with people inside and outside other governments.

I cannot vouch for the authenticity of any one of these documents. But I can say that the United States deeply regrets the disclosure of any information that was intended to be confidential. And we condemn it in the strongest terms. The fact is that such disclosures can damage the trust among nations that is the very foundation of diplomacy. Diplomats simply cannot do their jobs without frank and open dialogue. Governments cannot maintain international peace and security without candid exchanges of information.  This is true for all nations. I am certain, for example, that Croatia's ambassador to the United States would agree that she cannot serve her country without the ability to exchange honest opinions with her counterparts in Washington and to send home candid assessments of America's leaders, policies and actions.

It is indeed important to clarify what diplomats' reports mean and do not mean. They do not represent a government's official foreign policy. In the United States, such reports are only one among many elements that can shape our policies, which are ultimately determined in Washington by the President and Secretary of State. What diplomatic reporting does represent are both the subjective views and the professional assessments of diplomats and their interlocutors. As such, they can run the gamut from rumor and opinion to studied assessments and recommendations. They are the raw material of diplomacy, not the end product.

Secretary Clinton has spoken to numerous counterparts around the world to express not only our dismay but above all our determination to continue the work of diplomacy in the interests of peace. She reported that all expressed a willingness to put this matter behind us and to redouble our cooperation. In Croatia, Prime Minister Kosor has stated publicly that our outstanding bilateral relationship will not be affected, an assessment I fully share.

However, relations between governments are not our only concern. The owners of the WikiLeaks website claim to possess some 250,000 classified documents whose release could pose serious risks to many people. In some parts of the world U.S. diplomats meet with individuals and groups whose work is not appreciated by their governments, such as religious leaders, human rights workers and journalists who offer candid perspectives. These conversations depend on trust and confidence as well. Depending on the circumstances, revealing the identity of an anti-corruption advocate or a human rights activist could have truly dire consequences.

The longer term impact of WikiLeaks actions is harder to assess, but it could be deeply pernicious if trust among nations is eroded. Candor is the oxygen of diplomacy. Diplomacy cannot function if nations cannot talk to each other. And without diplomacy, what tool would nations have to adjust their differences and solve the world's problems by peaceful means? As Churchill said, diplomacy is far preferable to the alternative. Its destruction would be a terrible pity.

James B. Foley

U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Croatia