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MARCH 2017


write as we are awaiting the arrival of a

new Secretary of State and looking for-

ward to offering the traditional welcome

by the AFSA president and Foreign Ser-

vice members in the C Street lobby. That

lobby, fittingly, also houses the memorial

plaques bearing the names of 248 Foreign

Service colleagues who died serving our

country abroad.

I hope to get a chance to point out those

plaques to our new Secretary by way of

explaining what we in the Foreign Service

do—namely, we typically spend two-thirds

of our careers deployed worldwide, includ-

ing to difficult and dangerous posts. We

know that not everyone makes it home.

We accept that reality, recognizing that

we must take reasonable risks if we are to

maintain an enduring American presence

in almost every country in the world.

Our enduring presence is the founda-

tion of strong American global leader-

ship, something nine in 10 Americans

support. Widespread withdrawal is

simply incompatible with strong global

leadership. As former NATO Secretary

General Anders Fogh Rasmussen put it,

“When America retrenches and retreats,

it leaves behind a vacuum, and that

vacuum is filled by bad guys.”

This must-read edition of the



which looks

at Diplomatic

Security on its

100th anniver-

sary, is anchored

by former DS

Assistant Secre-

tary Greg Starr’s

article “Securing Diplomacy for the Next Quarter Century.” I am pleased to see the


pay tribute to the vital role our DS

colleagues play in securing diplomacy.

To lead, we must be present; and to

be present, we must manage the risks of

our overseas deployment as effectively

as possible so that the American Foreign

Service team never has to walk off the

field and forfeit the game.

How do we make sure the U.S. Foreign

Service continues to show up where we

are needed? One of the most important

steps, in my view, is to act and think like

a team, to recognize that we are all in this

together. That means avoiding the trap

of framing decisions in “us versus them”

terms—of political officers (like me, for

example) complaining that “the RSO

won’t let me do my job.”

Of course I need to get out of the

embassy compound and engage face-to-

face with host-nation counterparts. How

else will I assess accurately and forge

the partnerships needed to make com-

mon cause? But that still leaves plenty

of room for input from the RSO team on

how to mitigate risk and engage safely.

Improvised explosive devices a real

problem? Perhaps I can postpone my

trip until later in the day, when others

will have already traveled my proposed

route. Too hard for DS to secure the

route to my proposed meeting? Maybe a

new meeting site can be arranged.

This kind of dialogue underpins the

State Department’s relatively new Vital

Presence Validation Process (known as

VP2), which requires an annual review of

the risks and benefits of maintaining an

American presence in the 33 most high-

risk, high-threat posts. VP2 produces a

clear-eyed written assessment of how

the compelling policy reasons for being

present stack up against the risks that

cannot be reasonably and cost-effectively


Although VP2 is a Washington-based

process to determine the strategic deci-

sion of where to maintain an American

presence, the framework can also be

highly useful for embassy emergency

action committees (EACs) weighing

operational and tactical decisions.

Should a specific trip take place? Ask

EAC members to both articulate the

policy benefits of going ahead and lay out

the risks, including reasonable steps that

can be taken to mitigate the risks. Report

the results of the EAC’s deliberations and

decision in a cable. If the risk is high, or

the judgment call very difficult, consider

seeking Washington guidance.

But, above all, have a dialogue, work

as a team. Assume everyone is committed

tomaintaining the robust Foreign Service

presence on which strong American global

leadership depends.


Ambassador Barbara Stephenson is the president of the American Foreign Service Association.

Working Together to Manage Risk




To lead, we must be present; and to be present,

we must manage the risks of our overseas