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Practices and Cooperation in Protecting Overseas Interests

Host: China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR)

Sponsor: The Ford Foundation

9-10 March 2017

Beijing, China

Protecting U.S. Nationals and Interests in Africa

David H. Shinn

Elliott School of International Affairs

George Washington University

Terrorist Attacks against Americans

Historically, the United States has headed the list of countries whose nationals and
property are most frequently attacked by terrorists. Between 1969 and 2009, there were more
than 38,000 terrorist incidents around the world. Almost 8 percent of them were directed against
the United States. The three most frequent American targets by international terrorists were
businesses (32 percent), diplomatic offices (27 percent), and military installations (13 percent).
Most of the attacks took place in Latin America, Europe and the Middle East; only 5 percent
occurred in Africa, where the American presence is relatively small.

Since 1977, 66 American diplomatic personnel around the world have been killed by
terrorists including those at U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and the liaison office
in Benghazi, Libya in 2012. Terrorists are attracted to American interests and citizens abroad
because of the large number of available targets, the symbolic value of attacking what they
perceive as a hegemonic power, and the guaranteed publicity that terrorists receive by attacking
Americans. In more recent years, there has actually been a decline in the percentage of attacks
targeting American interests as the United States has taken more effective measures to prevent
attacks, the U.S. military has significantly reduced its personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan, and
other countries, including China, have expanded their international presence, thus putting their
citizens and interests at greater likelihood of attack.

The Expansion of Terrorism and Other Threats

Increasingly, terrorist attacks are aimed at the nationals of countries that have indigenous
terrorist organizations where they can operate with relative impunity. In 2015, for example, the
ten countries with the most terrorist attacks were in order of significance Iraq, Afghanistan,
Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, India, Somalia, Egypt, and Libya. All of these countries have
local terrorist organizations and four of them are in Africa; most of the attacks affected local

Terrorism is, of course, not the only threat to American and Chinese citizens and interests
in Africa. Civil war, breakdown in government authority, the transmission of contagious diseases
such as Ebola and HIV/AIDS, attacks by criminal gangs, and financial scams can have an
equally damaging impact on our respective citizens and interests in Africa.

Protection of American Interests

Within the US government, there are two bureaus in the State Department that have
primary responsibility for protecting the interests overseas of both U.S. government employees
and private American citizens. They are the Bureau of Consular Affairs (Office of American
Citizens Services) and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (Overseas Security Advisory Council).
Representatives of these bureaus are assigned to U.S. embassies throughout Africa.

Overseas Security Advisory Council

Turning first to the role of diplomatic security personnel, the Overseas Security Advisory
Council (OSAC) was established in 1985 to develop an effective security communication
network with U.S. businesses, academia, faith-based groups, and non-governmental
organizations. Today, more than 3,500 U.S. companies, educational institutions, faith-based
groups, and non-governmental organizations participate in OSAC where they share best practices
and tools for coping with security challenges.

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security produces annually a Crime and Safety Report for
each country that describes and rates crime conditions, land and air transportation concerns, the
terrorism situation, and political, economic, religious and economic violence. For example, the
January 2017 report for Tunisia rates the overall crime and safety situation as a low threat, the
terrorism threat as critical, and political, economic, religious, and ethnic violence as a medium
threat. A similar report for Somalia rates all three categories as critical. The crime and safety
reports are available to the public at
Additional security and safety information on individual countries is available at Most American embassies have
established an OSAC Country Council, which includes representatives from the private sector
and usually meets several times a year.

Bureau of Consular Affairs

The State Departments Bureau of Consular Affairs and its consular representatives at
American embassies tend to engage even more directly with U.S. citizens overseas. The bureau
is available 24/7 to assist U.S. citizens. See The Bureau of Consular Affairs
also has a Smart Traveler Enrollment Program that encourages American citizens travelling
abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. See This program transmits information about safety conditions in the
countries being visited and makes it easier for the nearest American embassy or consulate to
make contact in case of an emergency.

The overseas consular staff has direct responsibility for protection of American citizens
and plays a key role in registering Americans who reside in a foreign country. They help to
establish and maintain the embassy warden system, which is a communication network usually
based on the local telephone system. It comes into play during crises and when there are general
threats to the American community. Of course, the warden communication system can break
down if the electricity is cut off or a host government interrupts cell phone service as happened
last year in Ethiopia. Another way to disseminate information during crises is an American
community meeting at a central location, usually the embassy, hosted by the ambassador or
deputy chief of mission.

The State Department, occasionally with the assistance of the U.S. military, has become
experienced in the evacuation of American nationals from African countries during a crisis.
During my own career, I was involved in two partial and one complete evacuation from
Khartoum in Sudan and one partial evacuation from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.

The United States has experienced a problem in protecting dual nationals as many
African governments do not accept the concept and dual nationals are not covered by the Vienna
Convention. Financial scams have been a serious problem, emanating especially from Nigeria,
for Americans in Africa. Some 20 cases are reported in Africa each week and it is believed that
most cases are never reported.

The Bureau of Consular Affairs is responsible for issuing travel warnings, which are
widely publicized and available to the public at: Since January 2016, there have been
travel warnings for 15 African countries, the most recent one being Eritrea on 22 February.
Some travel warnings also contain separate information regarding the Federal Aviation
Administrations Notice to Airmen as in the case of the Kenya travel warning. They are also
available to the public. See, for example,

In the past, there has been criticism of the State Department for being too quick to issue
travel warnings and, thereby, diminishing their significance in the eyes of the American public.
As a result, their frequency has been reduced and an effort is made to identify more specific
threat information or locations in a country rather than issue a general warning. Individual
American embassies regularly issue more frequent safety and security messages on their
websites. These are available to the public; see for example those from the U.S. embassy in
South Africa at

I would encourage officials in the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other
appropriate departments to exchange security and protection ideas with counterparts in the
Bureau of Diplomatic Security and Bureau of Consular Affairs. I believe the State Department
would welcome such an exchange.

Weighing Political Risk

There is also the issue of political risk whenever the United States and China engage
outside their borders. My impression in the case of Africa is that Chinese companies have been
willing to take more risk than is the case with American companies. After the toppling of
Libyas leader in 2011, China evacuated almost 36,000 nationals from the country. Significant
numbers of Chinese returned within a year or two and China had to evacuate almost 1,000 more
workers in 2014. In 2007, a rebel organization killed nine Chinese oil prospection workers in
Ethiopias Ogaden region. The Chinese company shut down operations but another Chinese
company recently returned to work in the Ogaden. American companies have avoided both
Libya and the Ogaden region.

Many private companies provide risk analysis for a fee. This may be money well spent.
Some of the information is even available free of charge on the Internet. See, for example,
REGIONS_AFRICA.jpg. American investors, contractors, and exporters can obtain insurance
through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation for losses of tangible assets, investment
value, and earnings that result from political perils. The insurance covers war, civil strife,
terrorism, expropriation, and restrictions on the conversion and transfer of local currency

Finally, there is the issue of using private security companies in high risk regions. Both
China and the United States have struggled with this option, which has pluses and minuses.
Western security companies have more experience in this area than Chinese companies, although
Chinese companies such as DeWe are now employed in South Sudan and the Ogaden region of
Ethiopia. This might be another topic for an exchange of views by China, the United States, and
certain European countries.


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