The Foreign Service Journal - March 2017
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MARCH 2017



Terrorism: One Aspect of

Wider Security Challenges

For much of the past two decades, global security has been

defined in the context of terrorism. We in DS know terrorism.

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security was created in 1985 to more

comprehensively address terrorism in the wake of the Beirut

bombings in the early 1980s.

In our country’s history, there have been numerous acts of

terrorismdirected against State Department personnel, including

the murder of Ambassador John GordonMein in Guatemala City

in 1968; the bombing of U.S. Embassy Beirut in 1983; the bombing

of the U.S. embassies in Kenya

and Tanzania in 1998; and,

more recently, the attacks that

led to the deaths of Ambassador

Chris Stevens and three brave

colleagues in Benghazi in 2012

and Anne Smedinghoff in Kabul

in 2013. In September 2015, DS

dedicated a memorial wall that

publicly honors 144 individuals

who lost their lives in the line of

duty while protecting U.S. dip-

lomats—the majority of them

international partners killed in

terrorist attacks.

But we cannot attribute

the security threats we will continue to face simply to terrorism.

Instead, terrorism and militant groups are better understood as

extreme responses to a collision of long-term social and eco-

nomic trends. Yes, terrorism is and will remain an issue. It will

focus our diplomatic and military attention at the tactical level,

as we work with international partners to fight groups like the

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. They will be defeated. Their

fighters almost certainly will be driven from battlefields in Iraq

and, ultimately, from Syria. But they won’t be defeated by a mas-

sive, unilateral U.S. military invasion. They’ll be defeated through

diplomacy, through painstaking bilateral and multinational

commitments and counter-commitments. It will be incremental,

complex and, in the end, successful.

Historically, every time collective powers smash armies

fielded by non-state actors—e.g., the Taliban, Hamas, ISIL—that

apparent battlefield victory doesn’t end the problem. It also cer-

tainly doesn’t end the grievances that ignited the confrontation in

the first place. By definition, non-state actors cannot sign cease-

fire agreements and postwar treaties. They do not control a state

or society, so they cannot turn the government and security of a

state’s population over to a victorious power. Instead, their fight-

ers disperse. Well-trained, well-organized fighters who were once

more or less consolidated in one place now scatter into commu-

nities and safe havens where they cannot be tracked. Their griev-

ances fester and become more hardened in defeat. They turn to

asymmetric warfare, a battlefield on which traditional militaries

have a mixed track record.

So terrorism is one aspect of a wider set of challenges that we

as a nation face. And in all likelihood we will still be facing these

challenges five, 10, 15, 20 years from today, even as the chal-

lenges continue to evolve and

new, unforeseen risks present


At the same time, our nation

traditionally favors diplomatic

engagement ahead of military

intervention. That means send-

ing more diplomats directly

into high-risk situations, asking

new officers and seasoned vet-

erans alike to live and work on

the front lines of diplomacy, in

situations where institutional

structures have collapsed, and

societies and communities are

in turmoil.

This makes our embassies and missions more essential than

ever. At the same time, diplomacy has evolved into much more

than formal office calls. We are sharing intelligence where appro-

priate, training police, conducting humanitarian work and foster-

ing good governance to chip away at corruption. But we are doing

all of this in countries with higher levels of instability where, a

decade or two ago, we might not have engaged at all. Today, too,

diplomacy and international engagement involve much more

than the Department of State. There are the capacity-building ele-

ments of the Department of Defense. There is the FBI, the Centers

for Disease Control and Prevention, the intelligence community,

the Commerce Department, the Federal Aviation Administration,

the development community and numerous others.

A good example is the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

In the distant past, U.S. embassies in hot spots may have hun-

kered down or sent home nonessential personnel. Instead, we

reinforced our embassies in West Africa and provided a secure

base of operations for an interagency, international response. In

Monrovia in the summer of 2014, an influx of personnel meant

If we want to continue

protecting our citizens by

having a positive influence

in a dangerous world, we

need to find ways to

maintain a meaningful

presence in increasingly

unstable situations.