Diplomatic Discourses

“The success or failure of a country’s foreign policy and its ability to preserve peace will depend upon the reliability of the diplomat’s reports.” – Hans Morgenthau

 How do diplomats learn about the world?  How do their discursive, bureaucratic, and social practices shape what they think, say, and write?  These are important questions at the heart of the IR sub-field of Diplomatic Studies.

I approach these questions by employing an unusual set of primary documents: the U.S. State Department diplomatic cables released by the whistle-blowing organization WikiLeaks in 2010.  While the leaking of the 250,000+ cables, sometimes known as CableGate, remains controversial, in a working paper I focus not on the politics of the release but rather on the content of the documents themselves, since they offer scholars a large, unvarnished, publicly accessible, and searchable set of diplomatic documents.  I hand-coded a sample of 624 cables along several dimensions to study how contemporary U.S. diplomats both learn and write about the countries they are posted to.

“Can Cables Speak?  Reading Between the Lines of the WikiLeaks Cables”

Abstract: There have been very few academic analyses of the over 250,000 U.S. State Department cables released by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks in 2010.  This is unfortunate, since the document dump constitutes an unexpected windfall for academics in terms of both its comprehensiveness and ease-of-access.  For both International Relations professors and their students, the cables represent a trove of information about how diplomacy, bureaucracy, and politics all operate.  Using the 624 cables sent by the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam as a sample, I draw on the documents to tell two related stories: the first about diplomatic culture, where the cables serve as evidence of the powerful socialization processes that diplomats are subject to, and the second about how the cables create a “view from nowhere” by erasing certain voices and types of knowledge from the diplomatic record.  I conclude by exploring what a close reading of the WikiLeaks cables can tell us about the practice of contemporary American diplomacy.

Shorter takes using the same source material can be found here and here.