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CRS: Securing U.S. Diplomatic Facilities and Personnel Abroad: Background and Policy Issues

Authors: Alex Tiersky, and Susan B. Epstein
May 7, 2013

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Under reciprocal treaty obligations, host nations are obligated to provide security for the diplomatic facilities of sending states. However, instances in which host nations have been unable or not fully committed to fulfilling this responsibility have sometimes left U.S. facilities vulnerable, especially in extraordinary circumstances. U.S. facilities therefore employ a layered approach to security including not only the measures taken by a host country, but also additional, U.S.-coordinated measures, to include armed Diplomatic Security agents, hardened facilities, U.S.-trained and/or contracted local security guards, and sometimes U.S. Marine Security Guard detachments (whose principal role is securing classified information).

The United States maintains about 285 diplomatic facilities worldwide. Attacks on such facilities, and on U.S. diplomatic personnel, are not infrequent. The deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. personnel in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012, along with attacks on U.S. embassies in Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, and Yemen, drew renewed attention to the challenges facing U.S. diplomats abroad, as well as to the difficulty in balancing concerns for their security against the outreach required of their mission. Congress plays a key role in shaping the response to these challenges, such as by providing resources for diplomatic security and examining security breaches overseas.

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