WikiLeaks has provided unprecedented insights into the way America conducts its diplomacy behind closed doors through its disclosure of secret and confidential U.S. diplomatic cables. But, in doing so, it also pulled back the curtain on the inner workings of the world’s premier diplomatic organization, the United Nations. Over the coming weeks, Foreign Policy‘s Turtle Bay blog, in partnership with the Washington Post, will sift through WikiLeaks’ collected cables, many of which have never been made public before, to shed light on how business gets done in this vital, though often opaque, global institution.
Last November, WikiLeaks released the first installment of more than 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables to the New York Times, the Guardian and Germany’s Der Spiegel. Among the most explosive revelations was one U.S. cable, carrying U.S. Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton‘s name, disclosed that the U.S. had instructed U.N. based American diplomats to collect personal information — including credit card numbers, frequent flyer account information and other “biometric” information – on high level U.N. officials and foreign diplomats and officials, activities traditionally associated with espionage.
But only a fraction of the WikiLeaks archive — fewer than 7,000 cables — have been published so far. Some of the previously undisclosed cables obtained by the Washington Post describe in vivid detail how President Obama’s top U.N. envoy, Susan E. Rice, wields power in an organization that is frequently viewed, often wrongly, as captive to a cabal of smaller countries hostile to U.S. interests. They recount U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki moon‘s dealings with key envoys, civic and world leaders, including big power envoys like Russia’s U.N. ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin and Chinese ambassador Li Baodong, autocrats from Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe to Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, and even New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg. His Honor has wrangled with Ban over everything from fire-safety violations to security costs of protecting the world temple to international diplomacy.
The cables offer rare insights into how the members of U.N. veto’s-wielding board of directors — the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia — respond to international crises, from the threat of nuclear weapons in Iran and North Korea, to the management of the world’s second largest expeditionary force after the United States military. They also document how rising powers like Brazil, India and South Africa, through an increasingly assertive diplomatic role or in their role in peacekeeping, struggle to become the world’s next big powers.
Buried in the high level diplomatic missives is a dizzying array of information on mundane U.N. affairs, from U.S. diplomatic assessments of who the Americans like and don’t like in the U.N. secretariat, to a running account of which countries pay their rent and which don’t. They detail the practice of vote trading for key appointments at the United Nations, and help explain why, for instance, the United Nations and France support the use of force to bring about democratic change in Ivory Coast and Libya, but prefer incremental evolution of the political status quo in Western Sahara.
Stay tuned to Turtle Bay for the inside scoop on all of the above, and more.
Follow me on Twitter @columlynch