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Danish ambassador highlights ethics in foreign policy

As the European Union considers the addition of 10 new countries into its ranks, its chief representative--Ulrik Federspiel, the ambassador of Denmark to the United States--addressed the issue of ethics in foreign policy before a collection of about 50 students Monday.

His speech was the keynote event in the Honor Council Ethics and Integrity series. Denmark currently holds the biannually-rotating presidency of the European Union, making Federspiel its official representative in Washington, D.C., until the end of this year. In his opening comments, he quoted a poem by the Danish poet and scientist Piet Hein to describe the diplomat's role: "I see and I hear and I speak no evil."

Federspiel compared the first line of Duke's honor code, "I will not lie, cheat, or steal in my academic endeavors," to the ethical conduct of foreign policy. He cited the Marshall Plan for rebuilding Europe after World War II as one case study in international ethics. He said it was not merely an altruistic act, but it also "stabilized growth and stimulated trade, which benefited every country involved, including the American donor."

Federspiel emphasized the fluid nature of international ethics. "Ethics in foreign policy must be viewed as situational ethics," he said. "It must be the combination of the procedural norms of international law with the circumstances of each situation." He stressed, however, that these circumstances are not "the excuse that merit the means."

Federspiel used examples from the foreign policy of his own country to illustrate some other ethical issues. "The philosophy that the stronger should always help the weaker is a fundamental part of Danish foreign policy," he said.

When, in the summer of 1991, three Baltic states--Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania--wished to assert their independence from the Soviet Union, Denmark became the first country to formally recognize foreign relations with them. In the short period before any other country followed Denmark's lead, it was uncertain how the Soviet Union would respond.

"It was a scary forty-eight hours," he said.

Federspiel devoted the end of his speech to the decisions surrounding Iraq. "Iraq is a perfect case to study for ethics in foreign policy," he said.

Most of the question-and-answer period was dominated by questions about Iraq. Although some audience members criticized the E.U. for its lack of support of the United States' position, many felt that Europe was unethically focusing on Iraq precisely because of U.S. pressure.

Other members of the audience were disappointed with Federspiel's responses. Doug Wade, a retiree from Durham, said, "I thought he was very diplomatic, meaning that he side-stepped a lot of issues."

Federspiel concluded his remarks with a charge to the University community in particular to continue debating the question of ethics. "It is imperative that we do not lose track of ethics in foreign policy," he said. "Academia bears the responsibility for promoting the debate that will become part of the decision."


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