Diplomat as Defense Attorney: The Ethics of Disagreement

Occasionally students balk at defending a particular policy in a simulation.  Sometimes it amazes me how long it takes them to internalize the issues involved and the role they are asked to play.  It shouldn’t come as a surprise, as ethical issues frequently take time to internalize, process, and think through.

Diplomats face similar challenges, with documented examples involving the John Rabe‘s heroic efforts during Japanese incursion into China, various of the “righteous” during the European Holocaust, and even the more recent U.S. decision by President George W. Bush to go back into Iraq as well as consternation over President Obama’s ongoing war in Afghanistan.

In reviewing some key work on ethics and diplomacy, I stumbled upon this student research list which includes some of the greatest hits of the genre, including Kiesling’s “The Duty of Diplomatic Dissent,” “The Professional Diplomat and his Problems, 1919-1939” by Gordon A. Craig, and “Democracy, Loyalty, Disobedience, by Howard E. Dean”–all pointing to the ethical dilemmas facing on-duty diplomats in both implementing and responding to policies they didn’t create. (See Professional Ethics of Diplomats « Ren’s Micro Diplomacy.)

In explaining the way the diplomat’s role works, my preferred metaphor is the defense attorney who represents someone viewed widely as despicable or inherently guilty.  Even so, the U.S. Constitution specifically enumerates this person’s right to a vigorous and effective defense.


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