I will talk from my own experience as diplomat and politician. Very different worlds – and the difference may also illuminate the elusiveness of the word “integrity”.
In normal peaceful times and in democratic societies you face no specific integrity problems related to the diplomatic service. There are very rarely issues, which may raise conflicts of conscience versus directions from above, not more than in other parts of civil service. The question of transparency and openness may be an integrity problem. Related to that is also the question how much a diplomat can or should participate in the public debate in her or his home country.
The integrity problem may be much more important and difficult if you serve in a country with a repressive regime or in time of violent conflicts or even war. I will give a few examples from the Swedish diplomatic history, also recent cases. The main question: Should you as ambassador in a critical moment act according to your values and good judgement even if you have reason to suspect that your government dislike or even oppose your actions?
A less dramatic but important integrity question relates to reporting. Should your adjust reporting to what your government would like to hear?
In politics the integrity question is – in contrast – a more or less eternal companion, if you interpret integrity as a strong commitment to you personal values. Should you stick to your own strong beliefs and at the end reject the party line? Adjustment or opposition? Is that integrity or just a kind of egocentricity?
In societies where market values and market operations are penetrating every corner politicians are more and more exposed to the power of wealth and money. Here are severe integrity problems not only for individual politicians but also for the whole public life.
Carl Tham studied literature and history at the University of Stockholm. From 1976 to 1982, he was a member of the Swedish parliament. During his parliamentary career, he was also Secretary of State in the Ministry of Works (1976 – 1978), Energy Minister (1978 – 1979), Special Council for Development Aid to the Foreign Minister (1979 – 1981) and Secretary of State for Development Aid (1981 – 1982). From 1982 to 1994 he was the General Director of SIDA, the Swedish Office for International Development Cooperation and from 1994 to 1998 he was the Minister for Education and Science. From 2002 to 2006, Carl Tham served as the Swedish Ambassador to Germany. He has also served on special committees of the UN and the World Bank as well as having been Co-Chairman of the Independent International Committee on Kosovo. He has written a number of books on such diverse topics as the new/old left in Swedish politics, on the reform of the University system and on sustainable economic development. Carl Tham is a regular contributor to Swedens leading journals and newspapers.