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Fortress America: diplomacy and security

THE Department of State is requesting of Congress a supplemental appropriation of $236,163,000 to enhance the security of American diplomatic establishments around the world and the Department of State in Washington. The urgency of the request emphasizes the vulnerability of our representation abroad and of the building that symbolizes our foreign policy in the nation's capital. Some of the details add to the dramatic character of the submission and its implication: purchase of 60 fully armored vehicles; the addition of armor to 200 motor pool vehicles at high-threat posts; and the computerization of Marine control booths in London, Paris, Bonn, Moscow, Jerusalem, Tokyo, and Peking.

This further attention to the security of our people and missions abroad is an immediate reflection of the perceived global terrorist threat, dramatized by the bombings of our embassies in Beirut and Kuwait. The measures to enhance the safety of our people are a manifestation of the concern over the protection of our citizens, which has been fundamental to our foreign policy since the beginning of the republic. The impetus to action has been further stimulated by the desire to prevent new humiliating terrorist acts. The pressure comes primarily from the Congress and the executive branch; it is symbolic of the courage of our diplomats that no crisis has been created by their refusal to serve under the current dangerous conditions in some areas.

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There is, in fact, another kind of concern among many of our diplomats: that this heavy emphasis on security will change the outward face of our diplomacy abroad.

Diplomats have always served while aware of the need for security for both persons and premises. Marine guards, primarily assigned to protect documents and cryptography, have long been a feature of US embassies and major consular offices. Access to certain areas of sensitivity has been limited. In regions of particular unrest, US ambassadors have been provided with bodyguards, usually from the host country's security services. But generally, an effort has been made to maintain an open door, subject to practical limitations on entry. Visitors have been welcomed at our commercial sections, our libraries; efforts have been made to balance the pressure of visa applicants with the welcome to others at our consulates.

External barriers, searches, restrictions on entry, and the sight of the US ambassador riding with a bodyguard in an armored limousine are changing that earlier, friendlier image.

The United States is consciously taking on more of the responsibility for the security of its establishments because, in many cases, local governments would not or could not meet their obligations; a subtle change in the local relationship undoubtedly results. Like our Soviet superpower counterparts, we are creating isolated enclaves abroad.

American diplomats are not foolhardy. They are only too well aware of their vulnerability. They accept the fact that in some unsettled areas of the world, such as the Middle East, fanatic terrorists, reacting to local perceptions of United States policies, have declared war on the US presence; the diplomats are among the targets. They realize that a great country cannot alter policies under the pressure of violent acts; there must be adequate, prudent protection for those in such circumstances.

The US diplomat recognizes another factor, as well. The diplomatic mission cannot be performed inside a fortress. The very same Congress and public that support the strong emphasis on counter-terrorist security also want US embassies abroad to be aware of trends in areas of conflict where our interests are at stake and to play a role in influencing governments and peoples. To accomplish these tasks, there must be a balance between diplomacy and security.

Whatever measures may be taken to enhance embassy security, an element of risk to our diplomats will remain. To do their job, they must venture out from behind the barriers, get out of their limousines, and attend events on other premises. Every prudent precaution can be taken, in planning schedules, in seeking information on possible threats, and in accepting protection, but it is unwise to expect that we can avoid further sacrifice if we are to remain diplomatically effective.

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There is a tendency in our nation, when extraordinary measures are taken to meet a threat, to regard any further disasters as failures. In the world of today's diplomacy, we should do all we can, but we cannot totally encase our representatives in a plate of armor and effectively conduct the diplomacy required of a great nation.

David D. Newsom is associate dean and director of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University.

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