The Foreign Service Journal - October 2017

16 OCTOBER 2017 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Decision-Making in Times of Uncertainty BY CHARL ES RAY Ambassador (ret.) Charles Ray retired from the Foreign Service after a 30-year career, and before that, served for 20 years in the U.S. Army, retiring with the rank of major. In the Foreign Service, he was posted to China, Thailand, Sierra Leone, Vietnam, Cambodia and Zimbabwe. He was the first U.S. consul general in Ho Chi Minh City, and served as ambassador to Cambodia and Zimbabwe. From 2006 to 2009 he served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for POW/Missing Personnel Affairs and director of the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office. Since retirement from public service in 2012, he has been a full-time freelance writer, lecturer and consultant, and has done research on leadership and ethics. He is the author of more than 60 books of fiction and nonfiction. His most recent work, Ethical Dilemmas and the Practice of Diplomacy (Uhuru Press, 2017), addresses the gray area of conflicting values in the diplomatic service. Each sum- mer he conducts a workshop on professional writing for Rangel Scholars at Howard University. He is a member of AFSA, a member of the board of directors of the American Academy of Diplomacy and director of communications for the Association of Black American Ambassadors. T hough written 240 years ago, Thomas Paine’s words of resolve to American patri- ots attempting to throw off the yoke of English colonialism apply equally in our current uncertain times. With the State Department budget under threat, and the continued independence of the U.S. Agency for International Development under a cloud, those who are engaged in diplomacy and develop- ment have to be wondering what the future holds for their profession. More importantly, in my opinion, they must be approaching their day- to-day jobs with a sense of trepidation; wondering how even the most routine action or decision will be interpreted by those who seem to view the profession with disdain, if not outright hostility, and who hold the fate of those professionals in their hands. In the face of this, I’mmoved to consider an issue that has so far not been a topic of public discussion: How are diplomatic professionals to conduct themselves as we inch slowly forward? There is, of course, always the option of resignation. David Rank, chargé d’affaires at our embassy in Beijing, resigned in response to the president’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, stating that “as a parent, a patriot and a Christian” he could not in good conscience deliver a demarche to the Chinese government announcing our withdrawal from the agreement. The problem with this approach— and I am not criticizing Mr. Rank for his action—is that it’s a road down which, once you travel, there is no turning back. You are no longer in a position to affect the actions and decisions of the organi- zation from which you’re resigning. If the action you’re protesting so violates your personal moral code, it is, perhaps, the only choice; but most professional diplomats rarely come up against that line in the sand. Grappling with Ethical Dilemmas What, then, to do when the actions of a boss, the organization or even the head of state, impinge on personal ethical and moral beliefs? I often wrestled with this issue during my time in active service, and since retir- ing in 2012, I have devoted many hours to researching it. Not often as stark as the Rank incident, these situations are ethi- cal dilemmas. I first encountered that term when I was providing pre-deploy- ment training to army units about to be stationed overseas in situations where they would have to coordinate with civil- ian agencies and American diplomatic establishments. Included in the soldiers’ field exer- cise was a scenario called “the ethical dilemma,” in which they were presented with a situation that was not combat- related and asked to assess it and decide on the appropriate response. Such ethi- cal decision-making is also a key com- SPEAKING OUT These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country. But he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. —Thomas Paine, The Crisis , Dec. 23, 1776