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16 March 2017: Transparency and Secrecy in Foreign Policy

Access to information is vital to the exercise of democratic scrutiny. At the same time, some democratic policies require secrecy. Particularly in the realm of security policy, to ensure that democratic principles are heeded, parliaments are informed behind closed doors. In the area of foreign policy, some parliaments choose to refuse access to secret information to retain their freedom to debate matters openly, whilst others have established ‘gangs’ of various sizes that get privileged access to information, but with heavy strings attached. What characterises such procedures, what causes variation, and how do closed procedures impact on the ability and willingness of actors to exercise scrutiny and control?

On 16 March 2017 the conference ‘Transparency and Secrecy in Foreign Policy’ will take place at Hotell Scandic Bystranda in Kristiansand, Norway. This conference is co-organised by CERiM coordinator Dr. Vigjilenca Abazi, Dr. Guri Rósen (ARENA and the University of Gothenburg) and Dr. Anne Elisabeth Stie (University of Agder). It brings together leading scholars from Europe and the US to address the topical issues of secrecy, parliamentary oversight and leaks in foreign policy.

The Keynote lecture will be delivered by Professor David Pozen. David Pozen is Professor of Law at Columbia University and has published several books and articles on national security and freedom of information, aiming to develop new ways of thinking about government secrecy. From 2010 to 2012, Pozen also served as special advisor to the U.S. Department of State’s Legal Adviser, Harold Hongju Koh. The key note speech, entitles ‘Transparency’s Ideological Drift”, addresses the following issue:

“In the early-to-mid twentieth century, the idea of transparency was linked with progressive politics.  Advocates of transparency understood themselves to be promoting values such as bureaucratic rationality, civic virtue, and social improvement through collective action.  Transparency was meant to make government stronger and more effective. In the twenty-first century, transparency is doing different work.  Although a wide variety of actors appeal to transparency in a wide variety of contexts, the dominant strain in the policy discourse emphasizes its capacity to curb self-dealing, enhance private choice, and satisfy the people’s “right to know.”  Transparency is meant to make government smaller and less egregious.  As it has been used over and over again in novel settings, transparency has experienced what legal theorist Jack Balkin calls ideological drift.

This essay traces transparency’s drift in Western democracies from a progressive toward a more libertarian (or neoliberal) valence and offers some preliminary reflections on its causes and consequences.  Many factors likely played a role in facilitating this drift, including corporate capture of freedom of information laws, the decline of traditional news media, the exponential growth in national security secrecy, the emergence of the digital age and associated technologies of disclosure, the desire to protect foreign investors and open up new capital markets, and the ascendance of “nudging” as a mode of regulation.  Perhaps the most fundamental driver of this ideological drift, however, is the most easily overlooked: the diminishing marginal returns to government transparency.  As public institutions became subject to more and more policies of formal openness and accountability, calls for greater transparency became more and more threatening to the capacity and legitimacy of those institutions and, consequently, to progressive political agendas”. 

For more information about the event, please visit the following website. Registrations can be done via the following link and for more practical information about the conference, please contact Nadja Sophia Bekkelund Kuhn, PhD Research Fellow, (, telephone: + 47 38 14 13 09).

Full Programme of the Event

09.00 – 09.30 Registration

09.30 – 09.45 Opening

Dr Vigjilenca Abazi & Dr Guri Rosén

09.45 – 10.00 Welcome

Dr Anne Elizabeth Stie, Head of Department Political Science and Management, University of Agder

10.00 – 11.00 Keynote Lecture Transparency’s Ideological Drift

Professor David Pozen, Columbia Law School

11.00 – 11.30 Break

11.30 – 13.00 Searching for a Balance Between Secrecy and Transparency

Professor Christina Eckes, University of Amsterdam
Professor Aurélien Colson, ESSEC Business School, France
Dr Dorota Mokrosinska, Leiden University, the Netherlands

13.00 – 14.00 Lunch

14.00 – 15.30 Secrecy Dilemma: Parliamentary Oversight and Public Access to Information

Professor Marieke de Goede, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Dr Guri Rosén and Dr Anne Elizabeth Stie – University of Oslo/ University of Agder, Norway
Mr Bård Vegar Solhjell, Member of Parliament, Norway (former Minister of the Environment)

15.30 – 16.00 Break

16.00 – 17.30 How Much is Enough and Who Decides? A Debate Between FOIA and Leaks

Professor Mark Fenster, Levin College of Law Florida, USA
Dr Vigjilenca Abazi, Maastricht University, the Netherlands
Dr Rahul Sagar, NYU Abu Dhabi Campus

17.30 – 18.00 Closing remarks


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