I believe if there is a lesson to be learnt from the latest WikiLeaks scandal it will be this: freeing up information provokes a lot of discussion, but no real harm. It is the storm that kills you, not the weather report. For all the data suddenly released, they will act as little more than a large collection of Rorschach tests where the reader sees what they want to see (for example, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad not surprisingly sees it as propaganda, or at least claims to).
No doubt diplomatic skills around the world are being put to the test right now. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear that some arrangements are tweaked or that a commercial contract or two is agreed (or cancelled) that otherwise wouldn’t have been. But in the grand sweep of geo-politics in action, I very much doubt the public revelation of things already widely known will make any significant difference.
As an example, that is the official conclusion of the previous Afghanistan leak. Seeing as this latest batch isn’t in relation to an ongoing war, is there any reason to think terrible consequences will ensue? Look at the various intractactable situations around the globe, and you won’t find a single one where the parties would suddenly change their tact simply due to public suspicions being confirmed. People dig in to their positions when facts appear to contradict them. The sheer volume of information won’t change this.
Julian Assange of WikiLeaks will eventually be seen as someone doing these things not so much for the public good as for his own personal reasons (on the subject of Rorschach tests, look at his Wikipedia page and decide for yourself whether his motives are purely altruistic). But I don’t think that is a bad thing. He reveals government and corporate actions, not private lives – we benefit people doing that as much as we benefit from businesses run by people with a profit motive. Perhaps more.
There will always be a necessity for private discussions – human nature is unlikely to change any time soon. Therefore there will always be ways to conduct negotiations in private – at best, WikiLeaks will simply push them to come up with new ways. Governments will consequently always have information they seek to protect, and have others know they are capable of keeping a secret. And yet, one lesson of the rich, developed nations is that things work best when the people believe their actions will come to light at some point. We can therefore be confident that the additional pressure of a potential WikiLeaks-like event is unlikely to have a detrimental effect in the long term.
In the short term, there is a definite benefit. With this level of information being released to the world without the sky falling in afterwards, what excuse does any national or local government have for keeping truths of lesser consequence hidden from their own citizens?