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The Eternal Dilemma
Diplomacy in modern terms focuses on the political and
bureaucratic process and institutions by which political enti-
ties—traditionally nation-
states, but also non-state
actors and international
organizations—establish and
manage their ofcial rela-
tions. Writing in the May 1961
Foreign Service Journal
“Diplomacy as a Profession,”
George Kennan declared:
“Tis is the classic function
of diplomacy: to efect the
communication between one’s own government and other gov-
ernments or individuals abroad, and to do this with maximum
accuracy, imagination, tact and good sense.”
Te diplomat is thus charged with a double task: studying
and comprehending the nature of the outside world, and com-
municating with other governments concerning his or her own
government’s interests and aspirations. As Kennan puts it, the
diplomat’s job is to be “the bearer of a view of the outside world.”
Tese sometimes con-
ficting obligations between
the amorality of the state—
especially when consciously
practicing realpolitik—and
the professional morality of
the diplomatic agent create a
murky, ethically ambiguous
situation. In a fundamen-
tal sense, the professional
diplomat cannot efectively
perform the agent’s task without acting with at least a modicum
of professional ethics.
Ironically, even an immoral government is badly served by
an immoral agent. Herein lies the ethical dilemma which often
faces the individual diplomat.
Because political leaders tend
to value personal loyalty, career
ofcials who introduce opinions
and information at variance
with the ofcial policy line risk
adverse consequences.