THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
A veteran FSO takes a critical look at risk tolerance—or the lack thereof.
BY JAMES L . BUL LOCK
James L. Bullock’s Foreign Service career with the U.S. In-
formation Agency and the Department of State spanned
almost 30 years, largely in the Bureau of Near Eastern
Affairs, including several unaccompanied and danger-
pay assignments. After retiring from State in 2009, he
moved to Egypt to serve as vice president for institutional
advancement at the American University in Cairo. He is now back at
State working part-time as a rehired annuitant, and also teaches, writes
never met the late U.S.
ambassador to Libya, J.
Christopher Stevens, but
along with many friends and
colleagues I deeply mourn
his untimely death. By all
accounts, he was a gifted
diplomat and a steadfast
colleague, whose active
engagement, language skills and
cultural sensitivity demonstrated the
very best of the Foreign Service and
are traits we should both honor and
transmit systematically to our new
FS colleagues. Instead, in their zeal to minimize the risks inher-
ent in representing our country overseas, some are drawing
precisely the wrong lessons from Chris Stevens' sacrifice.
To put it bluntly, Amb. Stevens died because violent extrem-
ists attacked our consulate facility in Benghazi three years ago
and killed him. Let’s not blame him for doing his job. As Foreign
Service personnel, together with other government civilians and
Security in Perspective
ON MANAGING RISK
employees of nongovernmental
organizations who work alongside us
in the field, we sometimes find our-
selves “in harm’s way” because that
is the only way we can do our jobs.
Our objectives do not become less
compelling just because some danger
I watched this over-emphasis on
minimizing risk grow steadily during
my three-decade Foreign Service
career, and the phenomenon contin-
ues today. One way it manifests itself
is in the “creeping militarization” of
our diplomacy. For a variety of reasons, soldiers are increasingly
being asked to take over civilian functions overseas, and not just
in countries with a significant U.S. military presence. Even func-
tions that remain under State’s control, like embassy security, are
now heavily influenced by military priorities and requirements.
Embassies now have “force protection.”
But not all problems have military solutions. I say this as some-
one who hasn’t always been a civilian. In both high school and
college I was in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, and I later
spent several years as a naval officer before joining the Foreign
Service. During all my years in the Foreign Service, I often worked
with the military, as I do now in my work as a rehired annuitant.
A Trend Gains Momentum
When the U.S. embassy in Beirut was bombed in April 1983,
killing 63, I went there on temporary duty to replace the wounded
public affairs officer. Despite a fluid and dangerous situation,
COURTESY OF JIM BULLOCK
A pre-departure reception for Tunisian YES
exchange students in 2013. Jim Bullock is at right.