Page 17 - Foreign Service Journal - February 2013

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he December
Foreign Service
focused on a timely
subject: embassy security and
the ongoing eforts to modify the
New Embassy Compound concept.
Often labeled “fortress embassies” by
detractors, NECs are seen as projecting an
image of America as heavy-handed and
imperialistic. Observers bemoan their
tall walls and say the demeanor of NEC
guards limits openness and interaction.
Yet U.S. diplomacy continues to func-
tion in these settings. Foreign Service
personnel host visitors, interact with locals
outside the walls, and provide citizen
services, all despite the allegedly inacces-
sible nature of these facilities. Tat record
suggests that the actual appearance of
these buildings is at most a minor prob-
lem for residents of these countries, and
one adequately addressed by existing and
planned Department of State policies.
It also indicates that identifying the
true sources of hostility against our diplo-
matic missions is more complex than the
current debate suggests.
The Importance of Image
For many U.S. diplomats, the greatest
fear while working overseas is not anti-
American violence, but the possibility that
their embassy or consulate might project
The Value of Fortress Embassies
Nick Pietrowicz, a State Department Diplomatic Security Special Agent since 2002, is the
Regional Security Ofcer in N’Djamena, Chad. He served previously as RSO in Chisinau
(2008-2011), and as assistant RSO in Kabul (2006-2007) and Port-au-Prince (2003-2005). He
was a State Department representative on the AFSA Governing Board from 2007 to 2008. Te
views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily refect those of the
Department of State or the U.S. government.
the wrong image to local residents.
It is true that our diplomatic missions
can appear daunting. Te requirements
of the Secure Embassy Construction and
CounterterrorismAct of 1999 establish a
clear perimeter between the embassy and
the world outside. In addition, many posts
have worked with host governments to put
in place protocols restricting photography
near embassies.
As a result, some claim that NECs look
more like sterile military outposts than
inviting diplomatic facilities. I believe
most of this anxiety comes from the
idea that, despite our best diplomatic
eforts, a fortress embassy will indicate
to host-country nationals that America is
Some of this concern may also stem
from the comments of third-country
diplomats, a population well-versed in the
subject of embassy design. But for a nation
as large and important as our own, the
appearance of an embassy is hardly the
only factor to consider when interacting
with other diplomats.
When local ofcials raise complaints
about fortress embassies, we do have an
obligation to listen. After all, host gov-
ernments are the ultimate protectors of
diplomatic facilities. But in my experience,
most local ofcials would prefer to work
with a secure embassy over one which
is open and unintimidating, but vulner-
able. Having a U.S. embassy or consulate
attacked is a disaster for the host country.
Leaving aside the ramifcations for bilat-
eral relations, local residents are statisti-
cally far more likely to be killed or injured
in such an attack than diplomats.
For all these reasons, an intimidating
but safe building might generate gossip in
local diplomatic circles, but little discus-
sion among the host-country population.
Indeed, I haven’t encountered many
people outside Foreign Service ranks who
actually worry about the way our embas-
sies and consulates look.
Tat may be because most impressions
of the United States and its citizens still
Exterior view of Rocca Scaligera, a
fortress in Sirmione, Italy.