Confidential material from US embassy in Prague included in WikiLeaks release

29-11-2010

Czech-US relations have been caught up in the massive release of secret US diplomatic cables by the WikiLeaks server. One of more than a thousand cables from the US embassy in Prague already put up on the whistle blower’s server provides a snapshot of how Czech and US diplomats began to recast their relations after the US dumped its plans for an anti-missile base in the Czech Republic.

The WikiLeaks’ release of around 250,000 secret cables between US embassies and the State Department which started late on Sunday night is the biggest diplomatic leak in history.

The descriptions of French President Nicolas Sarkozy as an emperor without clothes, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as an alpha male and the Teflon epithet attached to German chancellor Angela Merkel are certainly not in the mainstream of diplomatic language.

Other more serious revelations about the underside of diplomatic dealings include US spying on the United Nations and Arab demands for Washington to act against the threat of a nuclear armed Iran.

Czech-US relations are also included in the leaked material, though it must be said that nothing too undiplomatic or explosive has come out so far. The whistle blowing website has so far uploaded just one cable from the US embassy in Prague to the State Department.

That confidential cable from October 2009 gives an enlightening snapshot of a usually hidden diplomatic world. It shows Washington and Prague struggling to agree a new strategic anchor for their relationship a month after President Barack Obama dumped the anti-missile defence shield plans of his predecessor founded on a Czech base and Polish interceptor missiles.

Moves to reset the relationship seem to be hampered by an overwhelming Czech focus on military issues while the US side is encouraging broader cooperation. Indeed, the then Czech foreign minister Jan Kohout is shown to have stalled one foreign ministry paper about the strategic concept because it was too narrowly focussed. The ministry was still, however, seeking Czech involvement in “a new security architecture” however it evolves.

US embassy in PragueUS embassy in Prague No major surprises there. But there are apparently another 1,270 documents from the US embassy in Prague ready to be released according to the British newspaper, the Guardian, one of five publications worldwide to have been given advance access to the WikiLeaks material. This compares with around 1,700 documents coming out of Vienna and Berlin and just under 8,000 out of the Turkish capital Ankara.

The US embassy in Prague has refused to comment or even say if it warned the Czech Foreign Ministry of the impending leaks.

Petr Drulák is head of the Prague-based Institute of International Relations. He says the leaks are a catastrophe for diplomats.

“I think it is actually quite devastating. There is some information that needs to be kept confidential not just in diplomacy but everywhere, even in personal relations. When you talk with someone, sometimes you want to give him information and sometimes you do not want others to be informed. In diplomacy this is usual because the sensitivities are much higher than in any other kind of environment. I do not believe that diplomacy can be done totally in public. Of course, the results need to be in public but the process needs to enjoy some kind of confidentiality.”

Petr DrulákPetr Drulák In the long term, Mr. Drulák says diplomacy will be forced farther into its shell with even tougher precautions against the secretive world being exposed to the public.

“The diplomats or policy makers will have to find some other ways of doing things. They will probably be much more secretive than they used to be and have much more elaborate schemes for cover ups and probably the sanctions for the leaks will be much higher. That is what I expect. The question now is how they will react, but I think these are three or four options which I think can be used.”

29-11-2010