Friday, January 13, 2012

A Novel Idea For Funding Diplomatic Security In Iraq

U.S. Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska believes that the Iraqi government, and not the U.S. taxpayer, should pay the cost for securing our diplomatic mission in Iraq. And he thinks he knows of a legal loophole that makes the Iraqi government responsible for that cost.

He wrote a letter to the Secretaries of State and Defense today urging them to look into that angle:

Dear Mr. Secretary and Madam Secretary:
As you know, the United States concluded its military mission in Iraq in 2011. With that end, the U.S. Department of State now assumes responsibility for the civilian mission, which I understand will be heavily reliant on private contractors for security. I support ensuring the success of our efforts in Iraq, but am concerned about continuing to provide assistance to Iraq’s government, with the total cost being borne by the United States.
As a nation, our government continues to look for ways to reduce spending and find efficiencies within the U.S. Department of Defense. Therefore, I believe it is completely reasonable and in line with our agreements with other nations for the Government of Iraq to pay for the security of our remaining State Department personnel. During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in November 2011, General Martin E. Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke about the costs of retaining an American presence in Iraq. He noted that “in any nation in which [the United States is] present diplomatically, the first responsibility for security is the host nation.” Thus, if Iraq is unable to provide security for U.S. personnel, then the Iraqi government should pay for the cost of doing so – rather than our nation’s taxpayers. Therefore, I encourage your departments to enter into an agreement with the Iraqi government to underwrite the costs associated with our continued diplomatic presence there.
-- snip --
While I understand there are many challenges facing the Government of Iraq, it is important for the United States to make it clear that we expect the new government to be responsible for shouldering the cost of security in their nation. I would, therefore, greatly appreciate learning from the Administration what agreements are being made with the Government of Iraq for further missions and how the cost of those missions will be covered. Thank you both for your consideration in this matter. I look forward to your response.
Sincerely, E. Benjamin Nelson, United States Senator

The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations doesn't say anything about the obligation of a host government to hire guards and protection contractors for diplomatic missions, does it?

Yeah, I didn't think so.


Anonymous said...

Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations Article 22 (2)
“The receiving State is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity.”

I won't say I agree with Senator Nelson, considering the fortress that is the US Embassy in Baghdad, but it seems to me that guards are a pretty basic "appropriate step" to protecting an embassy in a hostile environment.

I'd be interested to know where you would draw the line.

TSB said...


Thanks for your comment. I think the host state's practical ability to protect a foreign mission is limited to posting police or military forces outside diplomatic premises - if requested - and responding to intrusions, demonstrations, and similar physical threats. Plus security cooperation and intelligence sharing, where our bilateral relationship permits it.

Providing guards, vice police, is another matter. Guards are there to control access into the diplomatic premises, inspect visitors, patrol internal mission property, and enforce the diplomatic mission's own procedures. I think those functions inherently belong to the foreign mission itself.

The same applies to providing bodyguards for movement security of mission members. There are many places where the host government *does* provide bodyguards to Chiefs of Mission and maybe a few other key staff, but not to diplomats in general, and often only because of restrictions they themselves place on the use of deadly force.

Of course, "security costs" of the kind Senator Nelson has in mind go way beyond any of the above, to include armored vehicles, aircraft, overhead surveillance, bomb disposal, emergency medical response, some embassy building elements (such as chem/bio protection) and a lot more. Most of our host governments can't provide all of that stuff even for themselves.