I’m pretty agnostic about whether Julian Assange did commit an unspecified sexual offence against a couple of Swedish girls; all I can really say at this distance is that in interviews he comes across as something of a twat. This is all anyone not directly involved in the case can say at this point, but that hasn’t stopped reams of paper and years of coffee-break time being spent discussing it. As a consequence, it’s an uninteresting topic to blog on. What is interesting, however, is how the advent of Wikileaks – and, more broadly, the somewhat avaricious attitude towards information that a global information-sharing network has spawned – has reinforced the very clear strategic need for nations to advance towards a given vision of the Good Society.

I am here using ‘Good Society’ as shorthand for a society in which everyone taking part therein is aware of the benefit of doing so. Why is this important? What does social reform have to do with information-sharing? The answer is complex, but is partly to do with the most ironic blow for freedom ever struck, 9/11.

Let me explain. You give your consent to the society in which you inhabit by not rebelling against it. Your freedom to give or withhold that consent is partly determined by your capability of successfully rebelling against it. 9/11, in this sense, represented the enhancement of the power of the individual to rebel against society, by demonstrating the increased capability of the motivated individual to damage it as a consequence of modern technology.

In itself, 9/11 represented the inevitable defeat of the Islamist ideal of a global caliphate; such hegemonic power is impossible in the face of this new strength of the individual. Al Qaeda negated itself by its own actions, and demonstrated the ultimate failure of its aims.

Because the current Wikileaks fandango is the result of a single motivated Lady Gaga fan, it can be seen in the same light as 9/11. It has demonstrated the enhanced the power of the individual to damage the State. It is therefore absolutely right to call it a ‘diplomatic 9/11‘, although possibly not for the reasons that the phrase’s originator intended.

There is no reason to suggest that this fetish for information will not eventually lead to secret military plans being published online, allowing opposing forces to take advantage. Transparency is here to stay. I’d like to be slightly poncey and reference Sun Tzu:

‘Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent’s fate.’

It’s pretty difficult to be mysterious when any pop fan can display all your secrets to the world, and it’s impossible to guard against such breaches entirely. What you can do is limit their scope, by working to ensure that it’s as unlikely as possible that any given individual would want to damage the society they inhabit.

Herein comes the reason why the structure of a society is becoming increasingly important to national security. The more beneficial for its members that a society is, the less likely it is that they’ll work to betray it – even in the cause of information freedom. The option to disseminate secrets will remain, but a sufficiently beneficial society will not be overtly damaged by the level of dissemination it will encounter.

This is why the appropriate response to Wikileaks is not to execute Assange, but to work to ensure that useful secrets are kept by people who are free to not do so. This means building a society that minimises disaffection and maximises the benefits of being part of it. Of course, there are multiple conceptions of such a Good Society, but it’s always important to be clear that its construction is strategically important, as well as all the other reasons why we may seek it.

Advertisements

Referring to The Art of War may seem rather pretentious, but there’s some ancient wisdom in there that has bearing on the TUC’s position today:

“All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.”

What is the most advantageous grounds on which the Tories could position political debate? Assuming that, as their opponents would claim, their real aim is always to maintain the privileged position of the rich ruling classes, on what grounds would you want contemporary political debate to be held?

You certainly wouldn’t want to talk about how the proceeds of economic growth have been increasingly distributed entirely unfairly, with the overwhelming majority going to the better off. That might give people crazy ideas about a fairer distribution of wealth within society, or that perhaps economic growth per se only seems to work out well for a minority of the population. You certainly wouldn’t want to talk about Labour’s greatest failure, which was simulating rising living standards for the less well off by making it easier for them to access credit, rather than actually raising their wages.

Instead, you’d want to create a battle about something most of the public agree with you about. You’d want your greatest ideological adversaries to waste their strength and their support in opposing your gamble on cutting public spending, ensuring that in the event private demand doesn’t pick up, you’ll have someone to blame. You’d want, in fact, to use your opponent’s strength and inclinations against them.

I’ll leave you with another quote from the ancient master:

“Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.”