Friday, May 14, 2010

Fortress Embassies Under Seige

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Way back in July, I posted about an initiative by the architectural community, in and out of the U.S. State Department, to roll back some of the security requirements and management strictures that apply to new embassy design:

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has released a report on the distressingly low state of contemporary U.S. diplomatic design, a report done for the State Department's Office of Overseas Building Operations (OBO). It calls upon the Guardians of High Culture to fight back against the Troglodytes of Government Security, those lowbrow types who supposedly gained the upper hand over Art and Beauty after the 1983 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Beirut and Kuwait and haven't given it up since.

Although a lowbrow type myself, I look forward to a clash over this stuff since I think the AIA makes many good recommendations ... So let the clash begin! Bring it on, you architects!

Well, it took them ten whole months to bring it, but at long last the clash has begun.

The opening shot was fired today by Senator John Kerry, whose office sent out a press release with this mouthful of a title: To Improve Security And Enhance Environmental Sustainability, Chairman Kerry Introduces Legislation To Advance U.S. Embassy And Consulate Design. It's about a bill he has introduced, the Embassy Design and Security Act (S.2971), which would create a 'design excellence program' at the State Department and take other steps to free the Guardians of High Culture from the handcuffs that were clapped on them years ago by the Troglodytes of Government Security.

Kerry, joined by former Senator William Cohen, also wrote a brief article for CNN about his bill. These quotes from Concrete bunker U.S. embassies send wrong message will give you the idea:

The design of America's embassies overseas might seem at best a mere question of bricks and mortar or a relatively arcane issue in a time of big challenges.

But as we wage a global battle for hearts and minds, embassies can send a powerful message to people everywhere about what America stands for. As the first impression many foreign people have of the United States, embassies can be another force in our arsenal to convey who we really are, to bring allies closer to us, and, yes, even to make us safer.

Unfortunately, many of our embassies are not sending the right message. Our diplomats are engaged in heroic and difficult work every day. But too often, their buildings -- cold concrete at a forbidding distance, hidden away from city life, with little regard for the local surroundings -- undermine our diplomats' message and even their mission.

-- snip --

Let us be clear: Our diplomats risk their lives daily. Their security will always come first.

TSB Note: Whenever I see the words "security will always come first" they are invariably followed by the word "but".

But because diplomats are already taking such risks, we want to empower them to achieve their mission. If the job of diplomats is to reach out to people, promote U.S. values, obtain and share information, and help advance our diplomatic agenda, then we have to build embassies that neither compromise our diplomats' safety nor their work.

Kerry's bill, and in fact the whole 'Excellence in Design' business, is not supported by everyone in the Office of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO), and neither is is opposed by everyone in OBO's counterpart organization within Diplomatic Security. I'll have more comments on this topic in the next few days.

1 comment:

hannah said...

It's Friday, time for the weekly State Department Blog RoundUp - and you're on it!

Here is the link:

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