The Foreign Service Journal, March 2020

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MARCH 2020 19 SPEAKING OUT Integrity First BY ALAN LARSON Alan Larson retired from the Foreign Service in 2005 with the rank of Career Ambassador. He served as under secretary of State for economic, business and agricultural affairs; assistant secretary of State for economic and busi- ness affairs; and ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Since 2005, he has been senior international policy adviser at Covington and Burling, an international law firm, where he co-leads the Global Problem Solving practice. He is chair of the Board of Directors of the Coalition for Integrity, an anti- corruption NGO, and a director of Helping Children Worldwide, which provides health and education services for vulnerable people in Sierra Leone. E ndemic in many countries, corruption is a deadly virus that can infect any nation. Fighting corruption abroad and banishing it from U.S. foreign policy must be core responsibilities of U.S. diplomats. Revelations of questionable execu- tive branch conduct in U.S. foreign policy toward Ukraine led to riveting hearings at which several members of the Foreign Service were called to testify as fact wit- nesses, under subpoena. They did so with honor and integrity. Corruption in foreign policy occurs when policymakers betray the trust the American people place in them to for- mulate and conduct foreign policy in the public interest, not their personal or pri- vate interest. The stakes are high, because foreign policy involves the security and prosperity of every citizen. As professionals entrusted with con- ducting U.S. foreign policy at a time of deep political polarization in the United States, we can expect that the issue of corruption in foreign policy will remain a central theme. The question for career diplomats is how to navigate this period in a way that demonstrates and pre- serves our integrity and allows the U.S. Foreign Service to most effectively serve the American people. We need to address corruption in a focused way as a mainstream issue and an area of special skill, like foreign languages and area studies. Today, when democratic institutions are distrusted and under assault around the world, the Foreign Service should double down on nonpartisanship, professionalism, exper- tise and honesty. “Integrity First” should be a central tenet of U.S. foreign policy initiatives and fundamental to the way foreign policy professionals help formulate and conduct foreign policy. The Most Unfair Trade Practice of All Take bribery. In 1988, when I was the principal deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, Congress passed an omnibus trade act that instructed the State Department to negoti- ate an arrangement in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Under the arrangement, governments would enact and enforce laws modeled on the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act to dissuade their companies frombribing for- eign government officials to gain business. The U.S. delegation to the OECD took ownership of the task. Not long thereafter, in 1990, I became ambassador to that organization, and the task became my responsibility. It was slow going, but we made progress. On returning to Washington, I led a dedicated team from the State, Justice and Commerce depart- ments that persuaded other countries to conclude the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in 1997. One of our most compelling argu- ments was that when countries offered tax deductions for overseas business bribes (as several OECD countries did!), their finance ministers were in the room, figuratively, when bribes were being paid. The OECD Anti-Bribery Convention gradually came to be enforced more effectively; more countries became signa- tories, and it is now an important part of the international economic architecture. It not only levels the playing field for U.S. workers and companies; it also elevates standards of conduct in international trade and investment. Our alliances cannot be strong unless other countries can trust what we say and are confident we will honor our commitments.