International Diplomacy and Ethics: Relevance for Commerce

By O'Connor, Bernard J. | Journal of International Business Research, July 2004 | Go to article overview

International Diplomacy and Ethics: Relevance for Commerce

O'Connor, Bernard J., Journal of International Business Research


Diplomats are not guided by any specifically designed code of ethics ratified by the international political community. While individual countries such as the United States include Foreign Service personnel within the scope of their generic rules of professional conduct for government employees, diplomats per se are not identified according to the uniqueness of the ethical challenges confronting them. Nor are diplomats distinguished by their categories; whether they are assigned to embassies or as ad hoc mediators in crisis situations, as delegates to conferences or as representatives in the negotiation of treaties and Conventions. It is the position of this author that residential diplomats, those serving in their countries' embassies abroad, constitute a population whose duties and role suggest ethical principles which could well become foundational for any future international code of ethics. Six such principles are proposed. The significance of each is applied to aspects of international commerce, for example, how ethical commitment might influence the nature of assistance provided by embassy staff to a business seeking to establish itself in the embassy's receiving State. Scholarly expertise from the disciplines of diplomacy and international business demonstrates that the inherent affinities between these disciplines are made most apparent when ethical issues are the subject of analysis. Contrary to the image often generated by the media and even by the White House, residential diplomacy should be recognized as a positive contributor to the betterment of order and stability throughout the contemporary world.


Rhetoric surrounding the recent U.S. invasion of Iraq regularly cited the apparent failure of prolonged diplomatic processes. President George W. Bush informed the nation during his televised speech of March 17, 2003, that the plan to send military force against Iraq was justified because of reasons which included Iraq's bad-faith negotiations with American and UN diplomatic representatives. According to the President, since the 1991 end of the Persian Gulf War, "the world has engaged in 12 years of diplomacy," and that, "The Iraqi regime has used diplomacy as a ploy to gain time and advantage."

The obvious conclusion is that Iraq's interaction with members of the world community was motivated solely by a national interest skewed at the hands of a tyrannical leadership, and by a deliberate preponderance of fraudulent efforts to thwart accountability. Iraq has been portrayed as maliciously irresponsible and unethical in the sum of its diplomatic ventures. But two points invite further consideration.

First, the general public has been sent a distinct message via the White House and the media that what transpired throughout successive meetings involving Iraq depicts the entirety of diplomatic practice. Given the purported failure of this kind of diplomacy, diplomacy itself was portrayed as having failed. Indeed, the popular press often suggested that the worth of conventional diplomacy was now radically reduced in significance and in credibility. Kevin Whitelaw, writing for U.S. News & World Report on March 24, 2003 (18-20), referred to a pre-invasion diplomatic session at the UN as resembling "a junior high school dance--painfully awkward, with every one self-consciously trying to score points with the same newly popular countries. The great powers spent the week cajoling and pressuring the six developing countries that just happened to be undecided nonpermanent members of the Security Council." The scene was described as chaotic, with the United States resorting to "devious strategies" to solicit the support of the "worried six" for its invasion design. Similarly, Fareed Zakaria, journalist for Newsweek, stated on March 31, 2003 (47), that the invasion scenario meant not only a threat to the continued viability of the UN, but signaled a serious obstacle in terms of "rebuild(ing) international trust between Washington and some of its key allies. …

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