The rise of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks represents the rise of the non-state actor as a significant force on the world state. While historically such actors were terrorist groups, Assange and his website represent a new entry: that of the information broker.
It seems to me that, given his albeit rather tepid success so far, it is almost inevitable that he will eventually stumble upon the kind of information he is looking for: information capable of toppling powerful people or governments.
The question that remains is “then what?”
I know there are people who think that what Assange and WikiLeaks is doing is good because it somehow holds governments accountable for their actions. I find that most people who think that way rarely consider the consequences of their actions.
The consequences of Assange’s actions have the potential to be world changing, but not in a good way. What will the consequences of power vacuums be? What will the consequences of more strained international relations be? What will the consequences of reducing the most powerful nation on the planet’s ability to act be?
More than likely, Assange and his supporters will be responsible for more hardship, violence, war, and death than the people, nations, and governments they seek to discredit. They will achieve this dubious distinction by creating an international climate of distrust, suspicion, and aggression through the selective release of information designed to have those effects. And, when they succeed, far too few people will make the connection.
We have entered a dangerous time, and non-state actors represent part of that danger. The question remains as to whether the United States and the world are capable of meeting the threat and dealing with it.