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MARCH 2017



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.

Donor fatigue:

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.