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How Do You Define “Vital”?

Over the weekend, Wikileaks leaked a communcation from the U. S. Secretary of State’s office containing a list of infrastructure and key resources located abroad deemed vital to U. S. security (hat tip: BBC). The communication is interesting with respect to the window that it presents of U. S. vital security interests which is simultaneously very expansive and, in some respects, oddly narrow.

Only a half dozen sites in Africa made the list, mostly sources of vital raw materials, e.g. chromium, manganese. That should tell you something about the role of Africa in American strategic thinking.

A significant number of sites in Asia are listed including some in China. They include sources of raw materials, communications resources, and energy infrastructure.

In addition to resources of the sorts listed above, the sites in Europe deemed to be of vital security interest include a number of pharmaceutical production facilities.

Canada’s Globe and Mail is all over this story and has reproduced the list of vital sites in Canada, which include a number of border crossings between Canada and the United States.

I note in passing that to my eye no sites in either Iraq or Afghanistan appear on the list, which was promulgated in February, 2009.

UPDATE

The more I reflect on the leaking of this document, the more troubling I find it. How does the leaking of this document “keep government accountable” (Wikileaks’s stated objective)? While to my eye there aren’t any enormous surprises in the list, leaking it certainly seems to constitute evidence that the Wikileaks people have animus towards the United States.

The picture above is of Seven Mile Dam, one of the sites on the list of vital infrastructure resource in Canada.

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About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging.

Comments

  1. ponce says:

    Given the number of documents WikiLeaks leaks I doubt they have time to assess individual documents.

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  2. Franklin says:

    I read elsewhere that a number of the original WikiLeaks “employees” are forming a competitor because they believe Assange is focused on the United States too much.

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  3. george says:

    It does seem odd that there haven’t been similar leaks on the other major powers, China and Russia for instance. Of course, that might just mean that other countries have better security.

    It might also mean that this was in the end a planned leak – it’s kind of odd that so far only minor embarrassments have come out against the US gov’t, together with some leaks they’re probably happy about (Saudi opinion on Iran, Chinese opinion on NKorea).

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  4. James Joyner says:

    Studying national security policy in graduate school, I always took amusement that the term “vital interests” was thrown around so much. It’s essentially tautological: If it means enough to you that you’d go to war over it rather than compromise, it’s vital. So, if you’re at war, you’re definitionally fighting for a vital interest.

    Aside from maritime security issues related to the coasts, Africa certainly can’t be said to have vital interests for the US. But that doesn’t stop people who advocate taking various actions there from arguing otherwise. Or creating bogus terms like “vital humanitarian interests.”

    And, like you, I see no benign rationale for leaking these lists.

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  5. Franklin says:

    This is what I’m talking about above:

    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503543_162-20024650-503543.html

    I think we all agree that WikiLeaks is concentrating on exposing the United States.

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  6. Peter says:

    Aside from maritime security issues related to the coasts, Africa certainly can’t be said to have vital interests for the US.

    The essential difference between Africa* and the Middle East: while both regions have more than their share of problems, Africa’s problems remain Africa’s problems while the Middle East’s problems become our problems.

    * = by which I mean sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa being an extension of the Middle East

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  7. ponce says:

    “frica’s problems remain Africa’s problems while the Middle East’s problems become our problems.”

    Didn’t AIDS come from sub-Saharan Africa?

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  8. Peter says:

    I’m referring to political and social problems, not natural diseases.

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  9. michael reynolds says:

    And yet somehow the truffle fields (fields?) of Perigord are not listed.

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  10. ponce says:

    “I’m referring to political and social problems, not natural diseases.”

    AIDS caused considerable political and social problems.

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  11. mattt says:

    Of course Wikileaks is focusing on the USA. We’re the only superpower. No other nation approaches our ability to affect the lives of people all over the world. We’ve spent, by ourselves, about 60% of all $$ spent worldwide on “defense” in recent years. We deserve the scrutiny. And we can handle it. And, we need it.

    If you’ve done nothing wrong, what do you have to hide?

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  12. george says:

    “Of course Wikileaks is focusing on the USA. We’re the only superpower. No other nation approaches our ability to affect the lives of people all over the world. ”

    Actually China is pretty close, especially if you consider the number of lives affected and not just numbers of countries.

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  13. André Kenji says:

    Well, these are American Diplomatic cables, not French or Chinese diplomatic cables. The point is that most of the cables talks about relatively obscure local affairs(The French X Swedish X American dispute on Fighters for the Brazilian Air Force is an example) that most Americans, even on the academia, does not know.

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  14. TG Chicago says:

    Schuler says Wikileaks has animus towards the US… but doesn’t bother to elaborate.

    Joyner says there is “no benign rationale”… but doesn’t bother to elaborate.

    Complaints come that they are focusing too much on the US… but does the evidence really support that?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikileaks

    Their first leak was about internal Somali politics. Then came Kenyan corruption and information about a Swiss bank. They’ve also released stuff about Scientology, Climategate emails, stuff from the British National Party… there’s plenty of stuff they’ve released which neither comes from the US Gov’t nor harms its interests. But you didn’t hear about most of those since the American media didn’t cover them. And they didn’t cover them because they don’t relate to American interests. Kinda makes sense once you think about it.

    At some point they (allegedly) got a ridiculous amount of info from Bradley Manning. They are now releasing that. The reason it seems US-focused is that they got a *lot* of US info not too long ago.

    They’re already planning their next release, which is not going to be about the US government. (it’s said to be about Bank of America)

    Poor little USA is being bullied by that big, mean, incredibly powerful Wikileaks! Yeesh. I like to go to this site to get a perspective from the right, since you guys usually don’t wallow in the sadly typical right-wing victimhood. You’re dipping a toe in the water here. Please try to stay out.

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  15. michael reynolds says:

    TG Chicago:

    Poor little USA is being bullied by that big, mean, incredibly powerful Wikileaks! Yeesh. I like to go to this site to get a perspective from the right, since you guys usually don’t wallow in the sadly typical right-wing victimhood.

    This leak is essentially a list of targets for terrorists. You want to hurt the US? Then blow this up.

    The most immediate victims will be the taxpayers of the various countries that now have to increase security on these facilities. The next most likely victims will be local security forces and innocent civilians if any of these facilities are in fact attacked.

    If there’s a benign rationale for this leak perhaps you could enlighten us?

    As for this being right-wing whining, I’m hardly right-wing. But I do love my country, and I do worry about innocent people who’ve now been painted with a bulls-eye by this smug, noxious little douche.

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  16. TG Chicago says:

    “This leak is essentially a list of targets for terrorists. You want to hurt the US? Then blow this up.”

    So you believe Wikileaks has violent aims? At least you’re coming closer to saying it explicitly than Joyner and Schuler.

    “If there’s a benign rationale for this leak perhaps you could enlighten us?”

    I tend to think that those making accusations of violent criminal behavior are the ones who shoulder the burden of proof. But if Wikileaks has violent, anti-US aims, then please explain the reason they would release all these other documents which have nothing to do with the US Government.

    “…by this smug, noxious little douche”

    It’s regrettable that you’re unable to discuss this without getting into personal insults to the head of Wikileaks. Talk about their actions, not the perceived character flaws of their personnel.

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  17. michael reynolds says:

    TG Chicago:

    You’re being evasive, answering direct questions with more questions. I conclude that no, you don’t have a way to explain or justify these latest leaks as benign.

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  18. TG Chicago says:

    As I said in the previous post, I believe that if one wants to make the case that the leak is malignant, one should make that case rather than insist that others make the opposing case. If I said “Obama is a secret Muslim; prove me wrong,” would you really feel that it’s your duty to rebut that baseless claim?

    Speaking of being evasive and not answering direct questions, I didn’t see your answer to this one: “So you believe Wikileaks has violent aims?”

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  19. TG Chicago says:

    Also worth noting: Wikileaks appealed to the U.S. Government to determine what needed to be redacted from the cables before they were publicly released. And Wikileaks also has shared the cables with various news organizations prior to release and asks for suggestions on what to redact. If the organizations recommended that this information be withheld, I have not seen evidence of that.

    http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5i0Vruimmvy8loGklsz34QyGDKMDA?docId=120c7bf5d3a34dbaadf1280dace2e456

    Is it really appropriate to ignore the efforts Wikileaks has undergone to request redaction assistance and simply call the founder a “douche”? If you truly think such insults constitute a strong case that Wikileaks is inciting violent acts, so be it. I disagree.

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  20. His point had nothing to do with per se Wikileaks aims but rather others exploiting. Your responses are disingenuous.

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  21. michael reynolds says:

    TG Chicago:

    Actually, if you asked me to prove Obama was not a Muslim I’d have no difficulty doing so — we could start with the open consumption of non-Halal foods.

    I’m not asking you to prove a negative, I said quite clearly that I see no benign rationale for these latest leaks and I asked whether you have some insight that I lacked and could supply me with that rationale.

    You repeatedly avoid doing so which inclines me to believe that like me you are unable to imagine what such a rationale might be.

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  22. TG Chicago says:

    They’ve released plenty of info that is simply that: info. Why would you assume that this is malignant? If it was so dangerous, then why didn’t the US Gov’t and media outlets take the opportunity to recommend that it not be released?

    Again, the burden of proof is on you. “Innocent until proven guilty”. You have proven nothing.

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  23. michael reynolds says:

    TG Chicago:

    Your whole game appears to be evasion. So I’m done playing.

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  24. TG Chicago says:

    There’s no game. There’s showing evidence before you make a reckless claim that Wikileaks are tantamount to terrorists. You have no interest in that, though. You’d rather just say “that douche wants to kill everybody!” even though a great deal of evidence points in a different direction.

    I mean, look above. Who has brought in more info? I have. You’ve ignored my questions, and you’ve ignored my evidence that WL has given ample opportunities to have things reviewed before release (which a violent organization would have no motive for doing). You have just said “Prove that Wikileaks doesn’t want terrorists to attack these places”, which you know I can’t do and which you should know is a completely unfair standard of evidence.

    That’s why Schuler and Joyner were unwilling to make the explicit claim that you were — they know that there’s insufficient evidence for it. I ask you to back up your claim, and you insist that I prove that you’re wrong. That’s not how it works.

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  25. Herb says:

    “While to my eye there aren’t any enormous surprises in the list, leaking it certainly seems to constitute evidence that the Wikileaks people have animus towards the United States.”

    Ahh, but you’re assuming the Wikileaks people are doing going through some kind of editing process. Is it possible that they’re instead just doing a “document dump” regardless of the content….or the consequences?

    If so, then the case for animus towards the United States is a bit weak, don’t you think?

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  26. TG Chicago says:

    Wikileaks’ rationale for releasing this information is at the end of this article:

    http://www.thelocal.de/national/20101206-31623.html

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