Ethics of Diplomats

Table of Content

Merriam Webster’s online dictionary defines diplomacy as “the art and practice of conducting negotiations between nations,” or the “skill in handling affairs without arousing hostility. ” From the onset, one can understand that diplomacy takes communication, skill, tact, and practice. According to the dictionary for diplomats, “Communication among diplomats is a two-way street: one cannot expect to obtain much information unless one is able and willing to convey information” (Karl Gruber, 1997, p. 49). Obviously, communication is the glue that holds it all together.

Given the fact that nations are interdependent on one another, diplomacy is needed today now more than ever, because it serves as an effective means of getting nations to form alliances against their adversaries. The ability to practice effective diplomacy is one of the defining fundamentals of any state. History of Diplomacy Not a lot of evidence exists on information regarding diplomacy of earlier times. Traces of Egyptian diplomacy date back to 1400 B. C. Yet, the greatest knowledge of early diplomacy is said to come from the Middle East, the Mediterranean, China and India.

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Modern diplomacy trends are said to date back to the formation of the first city-states where in those times, diplomats were sent for specific negotiations after which they returned to their home states. They were also among the privileged few, and usually came from ruling families or families of high ranking national figures and heads. This was usually for the purposes of exerting influence over the negotiating state. According to the University of South Carolina Center on Public Diplomacy, the origins of modern diplomacy can be traced back to the states of Northern Italy with the first embassies being established in the thirteenth century.

Milan, at the time, played a central role in the establishment of permanent embassies to the other cities states of Northern Italy. Most of the modern day traditions of diplomacy – such as the presentation of an ambassador’s credentials to the head of state – were said to have originated in Italy. By 1945, the practice had spread to other parts of Europe with Milan being the first to send a diplomatic representative to the court of France in 1455. The elements of modern diplomacy slowly spread to Eastern Europe and arrived in Russia by the early eighteenth century.

The entire diplomatic system was disrupted by the French Revolution and the years of warfare that followed. During the revolution, commoners took over diplomacy of the French state, ranks of precedence were abolished, and Napoleon refused to acknowledge diplomatic immunity, imprisoning several British diplomats accused of scheming against France. He had no patience for the often slow moving process of formal diplomacy. After the fall of Napoleon, the Congress of Vienna of 1815 established an international system of diplomatic ranking.

Disputes on precedence among nations persisted for over a century until after World War II, when the rank of ambassador became the norm. Definition of Ethics Ethics in relation to professions can be defined as the rules or standards governing the conduct of a person or the members of a profession. The word is derived from the Latin word ethice, and is also generally used to describe a set of moral principles under which behavior is judged. Just like any other profession, diplomats are guided in their dealings, negotiations, and daily interactions with others by a standard code of ethics based on the laws and regulations of the host country.

Diplomatic Code of Ethics There is no specifically designed code of ethics ratified by the international political community. And, 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 are not identified according to the uniqueness of the ethical challenges they confront. Neither are they distinguished by their categories as delegates to conferences or as representatives in the negotiation of treaties and Conventions.

Diplomats are individuals whose duties and roles suggest ethical principles which could well become foundational for any future international code of ethics. Scholarly expertise from the disciplines of diplomacy and international business demonstrates that the inherent similarities between the two – diplomacy and international business – are made most apparent when ethical issues are the subject of analysis. In his book Ethics and Society, Peter Facione argues that the goal of ethics is knowledge.

He stated that: “Ethics does not aim at saying what a corporation or community does consider important, or what it proclaims to be important, but at what a corporation or a community ought to consider important” (Facione et al. , 1991, p. 9), Standards of Behavior The question of standards of behavior arises because nations vary in traditions and cultures and many areas of the law. For understanding to prevail, and for effective communication to take place, it is essential that certain standards of behavior are enforced and adhered to.

The concept of rogue states and the associated idea of outlaw diplomacy raise both practical and theoretically interesting questions about the international system in which we live. On the one hand, name-calling has always been regarded as poor diplomacy. On the other hand, designating states as rogues and outlaws implies an international society by suggesting both standards of behavior and an audience which cares about the maintenance of such standards” (Sharp, P. ) So, what standards of behavior are generally required of diplomacy, and how is it measured across the international spectrum?

The receiving government of a diplomatic mission is required to act in certain ways to accommodate and facilitate the free and efficient functioning of the diplomatic mission. In the same way, it is expected that the diplomatic mission will act according to certain set ethical standards, because it cannot be expected that the receiving government will be able to act with restraint if there threatens to be some sort of disruption of the public order and peace of its state.

In accord, the receiving government is justified in requesting that certain standards of behavior be adhered to by the members of any entering diplomatic mission. Certain principles of responsibility need to apply for the mission to be successful, such as non-interference in the internal affairs of the receiving state and observance of local laws and regulations.

An example of three acts that can be deemed as an interference in the internal affairs of a receiving government are any advice given in the course of diplomatic communication with the officials of the receiving government, communication with persons with whom diplomatic agents are unauthorized to communicate with, and threats to overthrow the government of the host country, or other strongly held political views and opinions expressed against the receiving government. Diplomatic immunity has always been a pool of murky water. In order to clear this confusion and to set the record straight, the U.

S. Department of State issued the following statement in 1962 after a series of instances where members of specific missions had to be recalled for violating U. S. law: “Diplomatic immunity means that a diplomat’s obligation of compliance with our laws cannot be enforced through the normal legal means. Where there is serious or repeated disregard of law by a diplomat accredited and received in this country, it may be necessary for the Department of State to require the individual’s departure from the United States. ” (Whiteman, 7 Dig. , at 156)

In all reality, diplomats are representatives of nations with a custom of professional civil service to their individual countries. As such, they are expected to obey all regulations and laws governing their behavior. In some countries, a diplomat’s career may be compromised should they be found to be in disregard of local authorities. The Vienna Convention makes it perfectly clear that “without prejudice to their privileges and immunities, it is the duty of all persons enjoying such privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State.

A diplomat found to be in violation of this, or any other, ethical standard of behavior violates the Vienna Convention and will be held liable to its terms. In instances where a host nation expels a diplomat and informs the nation from which the diplomat hails that the diplomat is no longer welcome in the host country, the diplomat risks the chance of becoming known what is termed persona non grata. In cases of serious criminal offenses, a diplomat may risk the possibility of prosecution and other administrative procedures.

Rights and Responsibilities Diplomats notwithstanding the need to adhere to certain ethical and behavioral standards, also enjoy certain rights and privileges. Along with these rights also come responsibilities. A diplomatic passport, however, is the simplest way to protect the rights and interests of a diplomat, stationed outside the country. Under the Vienna Convention of Diplomatic Relations signed in 1961, diplomats were designated to be issued separate passports meant to distinguish them in the host country as such.

The convention also passed a ruling which that offered “diplomatic immunity,” to diplomats. In an attempt to provide the best working environment possible, without any pressure and force, countries shield their diplomats as much as possible from the possibility of violating any laws in their host country. Diplomats are protected from arrest or police remand, custodial protection, forced access or seizure of buildings, search and seizure of goods and property.

Diplomats are representatives of their home countries, and as such, their main responsibility is to hold themselves up to the utmost esteem possible that reflects their country in a positive light. When exercising the responsibilities of a diplomat, it is also to represent the view of the home government, as well as the home nation. In the modern world, diplomats have much wider responsibilities than merely being the faces and voices of their countries. They owe a responsibility to themselves and to their countries to do the best job possible to secure peace and unity among the two nations.

Aside that, a diplomat is responsible for protecting the interest of the home country and its citizens in the host country, negotiate with the government of the host country in a way that is meaningful and effective, monitor, report, and develope conditions and developments in the cultural, economic, commercial and scientific life of the host country, promote friendly relations between the host country and the home country, and to issue valid travel documents, passports and visas.

Conclusion As mentioned earlier, it is essential that diplomats have some sort of professional guidance in the form of ethics codes and behavioral conducts, seeing the many legal liberties and rights they enjoy, being that they are exempt from the criminal, civil and administrative jurisdiction of the host country. It is worth noting, however, that this exemption may be waived by their home country.

Moreover, the immunity of a diplomat from the jurisdiction of the host country does not necessarily mean they are exempt from the jurisdiction of their home country. As humans, we function on laws and guidance. A good diplomat knows what is expected of him/her and will do everything possible to adhere to the ethical standards that have been set.

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Ethics of Diplomats. (2016, Sep 18). Retrieved from

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