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Edward Marks spent 40 years in the U.S. Foreign Service, including
an assignment as ambassador to Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde.
Ambassador Marks is the director of the Simons Center for the Study
of Interagency Coordination, a Distinguished Senior Fellow at
George Mason University, and a director on the board of
magazine, as well as a retiree representative on the AFSA
Governing Board and a member of the AFSA Awards and Plaques
Tis article was originally developed for and presented at the 2012
Fort Leavenworth Ethics Symposium co-sponsored by the Command
and General Staf College Foundation, Inc., and the U.S. Army Com-
mand and General Staf College.
macy”), a seminal text in the development of modern diplomacy
and accompanying professional ethics.
In the 19th century, European governments began to take on
the form of the modern nation-state. For these states, diplomacy
increasingly became a regularized bureaucratic function, mov-
ing from personal art to organized profession. Ethical standards
began to emerge, as well, drawing both on traditional personal
standards of conduct and the rules and regulations essential to
modern bureaucracies.
Ethics for Professionals
Te belief that civil servants need ethical guidelines arises
naturally from their role as professionals who exercise special-
ized knowledge and skill. As such, they are capable of mak-
ing judgments, applying their skills and reaching informed
decisions in situations that the general public is not qualifed
to review. How the use of this knowledge should be governed
when providing a service to the public can be considered a
moral issue, to be managed or regulated by a set of standards,
or code of ethics.
Such a code gives ofcials and practitioners boundaries
to stay within in their professional capacities. But no set of
guidelines can cover all ethical or moral considerations. As
Francis Fukuyama observes in
Te Origins of Political Order:
From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution
(Farrar, Straus
& Giroux, 2011): “In most political hierarchies, principals hold
authority and delegate the implementation of their policies
to agents, whom they appoint. Many governance dysfunc-
tions arise because the agents have diferent agendas from the
For all these reasons, a code of ethics is essential to give
practitioners guidance with respect to personal, as well as
ofcial, boundaries.
Diplomacy Does Not Equal Foreign Policy
It is important to diferentiate ethics in diplomacy from eth-
ics in foreign policy, as the word diplomacy has two general
meanings. In the policy sense, it refers to “a government’s
diplomacy;” in the operational sense, it describes the conduct
of business between and among governments, carried out
through bureaucratic institutions and processes. Te former is
also more generically called “foreign policy,” while the latter is
the domain of the foreign policy bureaucracy.
In his 1957 study,
Te Foreign Ofce
, Lord Strange remarks:
“Te word diplomacy has always been a liability of the thing
it represents. Nevertheless, it is important to bear in mind
that by mere chance the dog was given a bad name, which has
made it peculiarly liable to be blamed, if not actually hanged,
for the sins of its masters. Te master is called correctly ‘for-
eign policy.’”
Although morality is often a matter of judgment, most com-
mentators would classify governments as essentially amoral in
their external behavior. As Strange observes, “Diplomacy as an
institution can never have morals markedly superior to those
of the governments whose tool it is; though, owing to the force
of its corporate traditions, they are likely nowadays to be never
worse, and usually rather better.”
Despite the distinction between foreign policy and diplo-
macy, the inevitable, intimate relationship between power
politics and the functions of diplomacy means that the two
can never be completely separated, at least in the mind of the
general public. Tis has contributed to a popular image of
diplomats as untrustworthy double-dealers.
Quotations along those lines are numerous. Here are just a
few from Ambassador Charles W. Freeman’s
Diplomat’s Dic-
(U.S. Institute of Peace Press, 2010):
Diplomacy is to do and say the nastiest things in the
nicest way.
Diplomacy: the patriotic art of lying for one’s country.
(Ambrose Bierce)
Diplomacy is to speak French, to speak nothing, and to
speak falsehood.
(Ludwig Boerne)
This traditional view of diplomacy has been reinforced
by a modern popular attitude that focuses on one particular
aspect : its secrecy. Americans, in particular, remain influ-
enced by Woodrow Wilson’s famous call for “open diplo-
In some respects, the depreciation of diplomacy in the
modern world refects a lack of faith that it can really make a
diference. As Hans Morgenthau notes: “Tere is nothing spec-