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F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 2 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L
My November 2010 column
centered on the question of
professional ethics and codes of
conduct for diplomats. In it, I
suggested that it was past time
for diplomacy and develop-
ment professionals to do what
other professions, including the
military, have already done: namely, to
develop standards of professional con-
duct and codes of conduct specific to
our profession and organizational cul-
Last month’s column touched on
the strong esprit de corps that charac-
terizes the Marine Corps and con-
tributes to its ability to “bat well above
its weight” in terms of a significant
voice in national security affairs. I sug-
gested there might be lessons there for
our diplomatic and development serv-
It seems clear that codes of profes-
sional conduct and esprit de corps are
related issues, in that they are both es-
sential ingredients for the promotion of
professionalism in public service, in
general, and diplomatic service, in par-
ticular. There seems to be growing
awareness that ethics is not as well un-
derstood as many assume, and that it is
therefore incumbent on professions
and organizations to make clear how
the ethical practitioner is expected to
While exploring this issue for my ini-
tial column on the subject, I cited a
1958 congressional resolution
outlining a “Code of Ethics for
U.S. Government Service” and
summarized its main points.
Recently, I came across the
United Kingdom Civil Service
Code, last updated in 2006.
The points in the 1958 doc-
ument are succinctly articulated in the
U.K. code. They define the four core
values of the Civil Service as integrity
(putting the obligations of public serv-
ice above personal interests), honesty
(being truthful and open), objectivity
(basing your advice and decisions on
rigorous analysis of the evidence) and
impartiality (acting solely according to
the merits of the case and serving
equally well governments of different
political persuasions). The U.K. code
explains clearly how these four core val-
ues are to guide the conduct of British
civil servants, specifying in plain Eng-
lish how they must and must not be-
have, with relevant examples.
The question is whether the U.S.
Foreign Service can apply these values
to formulate clear “do’s and don’ts” for
professional diplomats and develop-
ment experts, or whether we need dif-
ferent or more elaborate criteria. Our
foreign affairs agencies seem to have
notional values that we espouse from
time to time, but these have not been
set down in specific codes of ethical and
professional conduct.
Ethics is more than simple compli-
ance with rules. Taken seriously, it en-
genders values-based thought and be-
havior, as the Institute for Global Ethics
explains in its promotional and training
materials. First and foremost, a code
of professional ethics defines the be-
havior expected of each person work-
ing in that profession. It guides
individuals in doing their jobs, protects
them from undue outside pressure,
helps explain the function of the work,
enables the employee to interact with
others, establishes the expectations for
members of the career, and enhances
the professionalism of the institution.
With this inmind, corporations, fed-
eral, state and local governments, the
military, professional associations and
nonprofits, both here and abroad, are
all developing programs and tools to
guide their employees in making val-
ues-based choices.
Moreover, global changes are bring-
ing new ethical issues into play, affect-
ing diplomacy and development like all
other professions. Today, numerous
professional organizations offer advi-
sory services to address ethical ques-
tions and expertise on developing
effective codes of ethics and training to
apply values-based decision-making.
I would like to see AFSA begin a
process of developing a code of ethics
for the Foreign Service, taking advan-
tage of such outside expertise. Please
let me know what you think by writing
me at
Essential Ingredients for a Professional
Career Foreign Service
R. J