Cablegate and D Notices (or how to make the burdz brain hurt)

There are many things the burd knows a little about.  Foreign and defence policy ain’t it,  but thanks to Wikileaks, we are all starting to learn a little bit more.  And I will confess that this weekend’s steep learning curve has made my brain hurt.

This D Notice (or rather DA – defence advisory) thingy is fascinating, no?  Well, its membership is at least.  The committee is made up of representatives from the fourth estate who help determine the content of notices and Scotland is represented by one John McLelland Esq, Editor of the Scotsman and the Scotland on Sunday.  The purpose of membership of the committee is to: “respond to proposals from the government departments concerned and advise the Committee on those areas of information in which it may be reasonable to invite guidance reflecting the interests of national security. Official proposals may not be issued in DA-Notice form without the consent of the Press and Broadcasting members.”  Importantly, DA Notices are not binding but a voluntary code.

This weekend the UK Government issued a friendly reminder to editors about the DA Notices in place and invited them to “seek advice before publishing or broadcasting any information from these latest Wikileaks disclosures…” while asking them to “bear in mind the potential consequential effects of disclosing information”.  It is fair to assume that oor Mr McLelland at least knew that this rejoinder would be issued, if not the exact content.  And it begs a most pertinent question:  once we get to the stuff of interest about the UK which is likely to be dumped on the internet at some point today (Monday), what will the Scotsman Editor do? 

If, as suspected, the cables and articles released from US Embassies contain information about the Lockerbie bombing or other matters pertaining to the public interest in Scotland and the UK, will Mr McLelland act commensurately with his membership of the DA notice committee or with his responsibility as the Editor of one of Scotland’s two quality newspapers?  This week, I’d rather be the burd than him.

I’ll leave it to much better informed commentators than me to trawl through the serious stuff on Iran, Iraq and find the smoking guns.  But an observation and a couple of wee gems.

First, if we ever needed it confirmed, Turkey plays a pivotal role in East meets West and has done for years.  (The burd could bore you with a history lesson on why it’s actually been for centuries).  Which is why there are so many cables on the country’s internal politics, why many see it as vital to keep the government secular and why huge efforts are being made to accommodate Turkish membership of the EC sooner rather than later.

The gems.  Ever been to a Caucasus wedding?  Well, you have noo.   A bit like a Scottish one, though with more money and possibly slightly less drink.  Oh and more jet skis.  I’d call it even on the dodgy characters though.  What this highly entertaining and illuminating cable demonstrates is that you can find out and understand more about who you are dealing with by observing their customs and culture than any number of formal diplomatic meetings. 

And from the opposite end of the spectrum, a quite heart breaking cable from Zimbabwe, entitled Harare:  the end is nigh.  Sent in 2007 by the US Ambassador to Zimbabwe it encapsulates perfectly the difficulties resolving a problem called Zimbabwe.  A weak opposition, a wily Mugabe but also an arrogant and somewhat ignorant diplomatic corps.  With intelligence like this is it little wonder that more than three years after the end was predicted, it is far from nigh.  Read it and weep.

If all that Cablegate achieves is to expose the weakness of much of the US’s diplomatic efforts – and the implications that has had over the years for sensitive issues and situations, and even for the wellbeing of other nation states and their populations – then this week’s disclosures will still have been a very good thing.