Senator Nelson’s Reasonableness Test: US Should Bill Iraq for US Embassy Security

Last year, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher,
the 12th term Republican congressman from California’s scenic 46th District
and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the
House Foreign Affairs Committee made the news when he called for Iraq to repay a portion of the “mega-dollars” that Washington has spent since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.  Mr. Rohrabacher for the record did not actually say we should ask for a repayment now but once “Iraq becomes a very rich and prosperous country…”

This past week, it was Nebraska’s retiring Democratic Senator Ben Nelson turn at bill collection (TSB has a post on this here) Below is a letter sent by Senator Nelson to Secretaries Panetta and Clinton telling them that the Iraqi government should be responsible for shouldering the cost of US Embassy security in Iraq:

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.

During that same hearing, I also asked General Dempsey whether it was possible to enter into an agreement with the Iraqi government for cost-sharing in order to continue providing for the security training of Iraqi troops and every other mission we might accept to help the country secure, stabilize and self-govern. General Dempsey responded that such agreements are possible and that there is always a negotiation on the cost and who will bear it.

I want to ensure that the burden of such operations is placed primarily on Iraq, in line with those agreements we share with other nations when we conduct multilateral or bilateral exercises around the world. The Iraqi government is more than capable of sharing or underwriting costs associated with a U.S. advise-and-assist presence, as the Iraqi economy continues to grow and government revenues are beginning to increase to that of pre-war levels.

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.


E. Benjamin Nelson
United States Senator

It is true that the host country is responsible for providing protection to diplomatic personnel and missions, as established by the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. Article 22(2) says that “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.”

One could argue that Syria did not lived up to its responsibility to prevent “impairment of its dignity” when it allowed a mob to attack our embassy in Syria in July last year. But other times, the local police protecting diplomatic and consular premises can pay dearly with their lives. During the February 2003 attack of the US Consulate in Karachi, for instance, the gunmen killed two police officers and wounded five
other policemen in front of the consulate.  The 2008 American Embassy attack in Yemen resulted in 19 deaths and 16 injuries including six Yemeni policemen. 

Iraq is responsible for the protection of the US Mission in Iraq, just
as the United States is responsible for the protection of all diplomatic
premises within the United States. But while the host country is expected to provide the outermost security of diplomatic missions, it cannot be expected to provide guard services for the embassy compound. 

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, of course, is like no other diplomatic mission in the world.  According to Stratfor’s assessment of diplomatic security after the troops withdrawal,  there are some 16,000 personnel, 5,000 of whom are security contractors working inside our heavily fortified embassy and consulates in Iraq.  The remaining 11,000 include diplomats, intelligence officers and analysts, defense attaches, military liaison personnel and aid and development personnel.

If the Government of Iraq decides that it should have a corresponding number of personnel – 16,000 Iraqis –  attached to its embassy in Washington, D.C., how would that work?  Congress would be up in arms!

But perhaps the more tricky part is Article 11 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations which says that “1) In the absence of specific agreement as to the size of the mission, the receiving State may require that the size of a mission be kept within limits considered by it to be reasonable and normal, having regard to circumstances and conditions in the receiving State and to the needs of the particular mission; 2) The receiving State may equally, within similar bounds and on a nondiscriminatory basis, refuse to accept officials of a particular category.”

With that number of personnel, there probably is a specific agreement in place. But let’s just say that there is none and Senator Nelson gets his way and bill Iraq for the cost of diplomatic security in Iraq.  The Iraqi Government may just decide that 16,000 diplomatic, security and support personnel at U.S. Mission Iraq is a tad too much. Due to ongoing security challenges in the country, it may just decide that a, say 150-member US staff is all it could support. Which would actually save the US Government money, and would allow the State Department to reallocate its tight resources to other areas not considered the center of the bureaucratic universe.