Embassies are Safer Than Ever Before
IR Review Online
By: Krystle Lischwe
Comments or opinions expressed on the IR Review Online are those of their respective contributors only, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the BU International Affairs Association
Diplomacy is a fragile yet persistent instrument. If used properly, it is capable of spreading ideologies and uniting the world. With origins dating as early as 496 BC in ancient China, the art of diplomacy is a long-standing tool of international relations. The main outlets of diplomacy are embassies abroad, which have currently been a popular topic in the news.
After the terrorist attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, several analysts argue that embassy security needs to be reassessed. Republican Representative Jason Chaffetz, from Utah has been vocal about criticizing the handling of Libyan consulate security. Surprisingly, his solution is to cut federal funding for security at U.S. embassies and consulates. His argument is that “we have to make priorities and choices in [these]…tough economic times.”
Contrary to the recent criticisms, safety is a primary goal of embassies, as outlined in Article 3 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. However, budget cuts are a current reality for U.S. embassies since House Republicans cut the funding for embassy security by $128 million in fiscal 2011 and $331 million in fiscal 2012. It is clear that these cuts are straining our diplomatic officials, but is there an alternative?
One potential alternative would be better use of improved methods of communication. From email to Skype, computers and the internet have revolutionized the world, and the world of diplomacy is no exception. In the golden age of social technology, embassies are able to use these new media outlets to communicate messages and access global information quicker than ever before. However, can enhanced communication solve the security funds dilemma facing American embassies today?
It could, but at a cost. There’s no denying the vast benefits from new technological innovations in communication, but they do not fulfill the primary goal of effective diplomatic discourse.
This was conveyed in December 2011 when U.S Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, launched a virtual embassy in Tehran in hopes of spreading public diplomacy in a region where an American embassy is not welcomed. If successful, it would be the start of a new, positive conversation with Iran while keeping diplomats safe from anti-Western attacks. Although it had good intentions, the Iranian government shut down the website within 12 minutes of its inauguration, stating that the virtual embassy went against Iranian national law.
Technology, in this aspect, is limited and can be easily manipulated, a major hinderance to diplomacy, which is a continuous conversation between countries. Diplomats must take great care when fostering and maintaining relationships with other countries, a delicate process that involves both talking and listening. Although virtual embassies can be outlets for transmitting messages safely, they do not contribute to the two-way conversation of diplomacy by listening to the host country.
Although tragic, the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi marks a success in diplomatic communication. On the day of the violent attacks, tens of thousands Libyans protested against the terrorist attacks and asserted that Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, “was a friend to all Libyans.”
This act of friendship proves that embassies are more than just posts to advance a foreign nation’s interests, they are also our connections to the rest of the world. Through embassies, the world has become interconnected and the lines of sovereign states have blurred. We must shut out the blaring noise from externalities, such as money and technology. Instead, we must focus on listening, much like Chris Stevens did for Libya and Libya for the U.S. It may not solve security issues, but it can save American aspirations and diplomacy.