Page 28 - Foreign Service Journal - December 2012

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vations in technology also afect diplomatic practice.
If the Internet has made the world more interconnected and
given us new ways to communicate, for example, it is also likely
to have an impact on embassy design. Some federal agencies
may no longer need to operate out of embassies abroad if what
they do can be handled from Washington via the Internet. So
there are many ways in which planning for the future of these
facilities hinges on planning that spans the State Department.
Tere is also a need to strengthen ties between users and
builders. A small step toward bridging that gap would be to add
a representative of the Foreign Service to the OBO advisory
panel, as in its original 1954 incarnation.
The Limits of Physical Security
Recent attacks on U.S. facilities in Cairo, Sanaa and Benghazi
prompt questions about overall security and diplomatic discre-
tion. But instead of leading to calls for more physical security,
they suggest a need for more intelligence and other sorts of
security that cannot be built of brick or stone. Tose attacks
should not impede the new program. Rather they underscore the
importance of “being there,” and the value of design fexibility to
match changing circumstances.
Tey also argue for more focus on rehabilitation of older
structures at all locations. Existing buildings rarely meet new
standards, yet it is impossible to replace them all. And these
latest incidents remind us that blast-resistant construction and
setback requirements are designed to minimize damage from
bombs, not mob attacks. It is certainly possible
to add to local guard forces, provide them with
better equipment and training, augment military
coverage for diplomatic posts, and increase secu-
rity upgrades. But Congress is not really inter-
ested in paying for such measures, judging by
how it has cut the State Department budget over
the past two years, and calls from key leaders for
further reductions.
Twenty-fve years ago, it made good sense
to introduce some standardization because
embassies share so many features and complex
systems, but the one-size-fts-all fortress approach was not
appropriate for symbolically signifcant facilities that needed to
be right-sized to locale and purpose. Moreover, suggestions that
workplaces could be made “secure” by the application of robust
construction standards fail to acknowledge the reality that diplo-
mats, like Ambassador Chris Stevens, killed in the Sept. 11 attack
in Benghazi, have to travel about to do their jobs well, embassy
personnel have to shop and eat and sleep outside of most
embassy confnes—and host governments vary widely in their
willingness and ability to protect foreign missions from attack.
To what extent will our foreign policy maintain its com-
mitment to diplomacy as a way of furthering America’s global
interests? To what extent are we willing to acknowledge that
diplomacy is not risk-free? Answers to these questions will shape
our embassy architecture.
As Nicholas Burns, former U.S. ambassador and under sec-
retary of State for political afairs, points out: “While security is
critical, we cannot let it rule everything we do or else we might
as well just close up shop in many parts of the world.” Pulling out
of danger zones may be a real option to many, but it is unaccept-
able to most. Instead, seeking a “rational balance” should be our
goal, Burns says.
For the Design Excellence program to realize its potential,
there will have to be a shared commitment to enhancing Amer-
ica’s foreign presence, maintaining engagement—and fnding
that balance.
To what extent are we
willing to acknowledge
that diplomacy is not
Recent attacks on U.S. facilities in Sanaa (shown above), Cairo and Benghazi raise
questions about overall security and diplomatic discretion.