THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
a major impediment to relocation, and this reduced mobility
affects the ability of populations to respond effectively to climate
change, natural disasters and manmade disasters.
Poor governance redux:
Corrupt leaders and corrosive gover-
nance have been with us since the beginning of recorded history.
To the extent we see new trends in this age-old human drama, a
new breed of authoritarian has emerged who creatively abuses
national laws to give the appearance of democratic victory or
popular mandate and then, once in power, rewrites laws and dis-
mantles opposition groups to give the impression they are being
constitutionally installed—as rulers for life.
Historically, migration has been a safety valve for
regions affected by violence, social upheaval or natural disas-
ters. At the same time, movements of people can cause cultural
conflict; for example, the recent influx of Syrians and others has
been linked to attacks in Western Europe and other countries
previously thought to be “safe.” Now, many countries that have
traditionally welcomed refugees are hesitant to admit more, add-
ing to the economic and social turmoil in high-risk regions.
Nations and international organizations find
themselves increasingly unable to keep up with historically high
levels of instability. The United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR,
reports that at the end of 2015 there were 65.3 million displaced
people around the world, more than ever before and well exceed-
ing the numbers of refugees following World War II. What that
number means is that today one out of every 113 people on the
planet is seeking asylum.
All of this adds up to a youthful, impatient world, increasingly
aware of and active in global and regional social media, but with
uncertain economic opportunities and decreasing options for
relocation in search of better opportunities. People
in countries that are politically and economically
unstable or moribund are much less willing to
participate in social structures. They can’t get jobs.
Even if there are elections, they won’t vote because
they don’t have faith in the outcome.
Tough, cynical extremists know how and where
to recruit potential terrorists. They have a message
that sells well to people who think they’ve run
out of options. When you’re on the social brink,
terrorism can sound exciting, even romantic. You
no longer feel powerless. You can take action to
change the world.
Over the past six-plus decades, our nation and
our allies have invested heavily in global democ-
racy. But what we are finding is that, without an
underpinning of economic stability, democracy can be “a mile
wide and an inch deep.”
All these factors suggest that we are likely to see terrorism
and extremism directed increasingly against both “hard” and
“soft” targets in more and more locations, affecting countries and
regions with high levels of instability.
Managing Risk for an Indispensable Nation
The United States, as former Secretary of State John Kerry has
repeatedly said, has been “the indispensable nation.” But that
indispensability means we also are perhaps the world’s most
scrutinized nation. The rest of the world is watching us. They
watch for a combination of reasons—they watch for our leader-
ship, watch to see if we live up to our values and promises, watch
for our mistakes and missteps, watch for clues about our true
intentions and future actions, and they watch because the United
States is, in so many spheres, too important to ignore. Unfortu-
nately, some are watching to study our weaknesses and vulner-
An indispensable nation is one that is crucial and vital. That
is why we are working across the globe today. And this includes
being proactive—establishing and keeping a visible diplomatic
presence—in some of the world’s most dangerous places. Con-
trary to the stereotype of past generations, today’s diplomats are
anything but risk-averse.
Think about what it means to be a diplomat today. As of the
summer of 2016, our diplomats were conducting the nation’s
business at 24 posts where not all family members were autho-
rized to be. Nineteen of these posts had authorized departure
for family members and nonessential staff, and three have
Gregory B. Starr, Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security from 2013
to January 2017, speaks with Diplomatic Security personnel in 2016.