Page 20 - Foreign Service Journal - February 2013

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Blaming the Messenger
Arguing that secure embassies sig-
nifcantly harm the image of the United
States implies that security needs originate
in security measures, not the other way
around. According to this line of reason-
ing, if we lessen countermeasures, local
perceptions of the United States would
improve and make our diplomatic mis-
sions safer.
If only it were that easy!
After all, what traditionally has engen-
dered more anger toward U.S. diplomats:
the way our buildings look, or the ideas
promoted from within? Anti-American
sentiment is grounded in complaints far
broader and more complex than how
many cameras hang from the roof of a
chancery. Te audiences most disturbed
by secure embassies—foreign diplomats
and host-government ofcials—are at the
bottom of the list of potential attackers.
Simply put, the individuals seeking
to do us harm are not violent because of
the appearance of our buildings. Tey are
displeased with the activities, or the mere
presence, of the United States in their
respective countries or the world.
Tis is not to suggest our diplomats
overseas should cease their vocal defense
of our foreign policy. But we should recog-
nize that such work can encourage hostil-
ity and that such threats must be met with
commensurate security countermeasures.
Speaking Loudly Requires
Big Embassies
Te U.S. presence overseas has been
steadily growing since the 9/11 attacks, as
have the consequences. Much of this spend-
ing has gone to programs operated by the
Pentagon or the intelligence community,
but diplomatic and development eforts
have expanded in the past decade, as well.
If we are going to be more engaged
around the world, we must appreciate that
not everyone will welcome our presence,
and respond by protecting our personnel,
facilities and information appropriately.
In that regard, it will not sufce to increase
security only in confict zones and hot
spots. I believe that far too many of our
embassies and consulates all over the
world lack efective protection.
Transnational terrorists, perpetrators
of the most serious attacks against embas-
sies in recent years, are unconcerned
about which Department of State bureau
received more funding in the past year.
Since they view our personnel as sym-
bols of our foreign policy as a whole, our
embassies everywhere are at risk.
Returning to a more conventional style
of diplomacy and decreasing our activities
around the world would lessen that risk.
Absent that change, we must assume all of
our facilities are targets.
EPIC Progress
We must keep our embassies safe—but
we can try to do so in style. Responding
to criticism that secure embassies appear
intimidating, the Bureau of Overseas
Buildings Operations is working with the
Bureau of Diplomatic Security to soften
the appearance of New Embassy Com-
pounds. In keeping with the Department
of State’s Design Excellence goals, OBO
and DS are researching ways to improve
the costs, aesthetics and sustainability of
embassies, without compromising secu-
rity. Tese changes will be most notice-
able not to U.S. diplomats, but to observ-
ers on the street.
Specifcally, the two bureaus have
collaborated to develop the Embassy
Perimeter Improvement Concept to
keep the outside of our facilities secure
while projecting a neutral, even pleas-
ing appearance. Solid masonry walls are
being replaced with secure fences, while
the harsh metal and concrete of bollard
systems are being balanced with colorful
art and cleverly landscaped trenches.
In many locations, water is substituting
for the blank openness of asphalt, which
used to make up the setback require-
ment between public areas and the
chancery. And where possible, security
countermeasures are incorporating green
elements, making our missions more
As long as our nation’s overseas
involvement goes beyond traditional
diplomacy, we can expect our embassies
around the world to remain tempting
targets. In my view, the Design Excellence
initiative appropriately addresses what
are often exaggerated complaints about
the appearance and accessibility of U.S.
diplomatic facilities.
Such improvements should assuage
most critics of so-called fortress embas-
sies. Tose who are not mollifed can
take comfort that most people I meet are
unconcerned about the appearance of
U.S. embassies, and that potential attack-
ers who might be provoked, whatever the
reason, will be deterred by appropriate
security measures.
Those seeking to do us harm are not
violent because of the appearance
of our facilities, however intimidating.