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Old 12-03-2019, 12:39 PM
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What are the practical effects of expelling diplomats?


Was listening to a podcast recently that discussed some of the world-wide reactions to the Skripal poisoning in the UK, and one of the responses was that many countries (including the US) expelled Russian diplomats. I can sort of understand the PR/diplomatic effects of this. It is also my understanding that expelled diplomats are often known intelligence operatives, and so presumably their expulsion disrupts, at least temporarily, intelligence-gathering on the part of the offending government.

Aside from these, what are the practical impacts on the government whose diplomats have to go home? What functions are hampered or interrupted by this process? If I am Vladimir Putin, aside from the potential slow-down of intelligence operations mentioned above, why do I care if some bureaucrats have to come back to Russia?

Trying to understand why this is seen as such a significant response to an offense. Thanks in advance.
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Old 12-03-2019, 12:46 PM
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They lose diplomatic immunity and can be arrested, charged with crimes and imprisoned if they stick around.
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Old 12-03-2019, 01:24 PM
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To answer the question about the effects of expelling diplomats, it might be useful to ask a related question: What do the resident diplomats actually do anyway?

I remember reading an interview with Henry Kissinger, way back in the 1970's.
Kissinger said that the whole concept of having embassies is basically an unnecessary holdover from the previous century. In this age of modern communications (1970's!), there is no need for diplomats to be physically present in foreign countries.

So he was saying that embassies exist for symbolic reasons only.
In which case, expelling one of the embassy residents is also nothing more than a symbolic move.

(sorry about a weak answer for GQ--I tried googling for a cite to Kissinger's comments, but failed.)





*(And also I presume,as a useful base for espionage )
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Old 12-03-2019, 03:01 PM
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Do people in the US, either Russian nationals or US citizens who need to do something in Russia, and can't go through regular channels, need the diplomat to help them? I'm asking because that seems to happen in fiction all the time, but I'm not really sure. If so, then when the diplomat is expelled, and before a new one comes in, those tasks, just don't happen. Need to bring a relative over, a fiance, help a family member with a legal problem? Sucks to be you, says the US, and you can thank Putin for that. Maybe if that happens a lot, people begin to ask, just what, is my government doing for ME?

I guess the US and North Korea, and the US and Iran don't have diplomatic ties, so helpful things can never happen between the US and those countries. But ... so what? Was anyone expecting it to? Does anyone really need it? Do people walk around thinking, if only our leaders were more level headed, we'd be able to ... do what with North Korea and Iran, exactly? Is this an issue that really alienates the population of any of those nations?
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Old 12-03-2019, 03:27 PM
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Originally Posted by Arkcon View Post
I guess the US and North Korea, and the US and Iran don't have diplomatic ties, so helpful things can never happen between the US and those countries. But ... so what? Was anyone expecting it to? Does anyone really need it? Do people walk around thinking, if only our leaders were more level headed, we'd be able to ... do what with North Korea and Iran, exactly? Is this an issue that really alienates the population of any of those nations?
While the US may not have an embassy in North Korea or Iran that doesn't mean they can't talk to each other. There are plenty of back-channel communications between these countries because it's in both of their interests to talk to each other once in a while. Let's say an American gets arrested in North Korea. You can bet there are communications happening either directly or indirectly. As an example, the US is currently having direct discussions with the Taliban, and they aren't even a rouge country.

As far are quasi-official communications go the US often uses a neutral intermediary country, such as Sweden or Switzerland, to act as a go-between when it needs to directly communicate with the leadership of a country it doesn't have official ties to.

As far as embassies go, they do serve the purpose of providing a safe haven for someone if they need help in a foreign country. If I ever got arrested in a foreign country one of my first calls would be to the American Embassy. So films may exaggerate their importance, but they still serve a purpose besides spying.
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Last edited by dolphinboy; 12-03-2019 at 03:28 PM.
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Old 12-03-2019, 03:28 PM
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Originally Posted by chappachula View Post
To answer the question about the effects of expelling diplomats, it might be useful to ask a related question: What do the resident diplomats actually do anyway?

I remember reading an interview with Henry Kissinger, way back in the 1970's.
Kissinger said that the whole concept of having embassies is basically an unnecessary holdover from the previous century. In this age of modern communications (1970's!), there is no need for diplomats to be physically present in foreign countries.

So he was saying that embassies exist for symbolic reasons only.
In which case, expelling one of the embassy residents is also nothing more than a symbolic move.

(sorry about a weak answer for GQ--I tried googling for a cite to Kissinger's comments, but failed.)





*(And also I presume,as a useful base for espionage )
Embassies consist of more than just the Ambassador, of course. There are political officers and economic officers who deal with their respective areas. There is often a CIA station, which is self-explanatory and overt, and often there are operatives in places like the political or economic sections who are actually covert agents. Along with CIA, there may be DIA military attaches who interact with a country's military. Then you have the consular staff, which issues visas and helps Americans who may be stranded.

In some countries there is a large USAID contingent and/or a Peace Corps group, both of which are independent of the Department of State, but who may rely heavily on the embassy for administration or travel issues.

At the bottom of the pecking order is that nameless rabble who are support personnel (like my wife and I were). This includes people who manage money, property, assets, housing, maintenance, security, etc.

The notion that diplomatic presence in some countries is somewhat superfluous may be valid (Toronto? Really?), but most of these folks in the non-support areas provide critical interaction with other governments.

Last edited by Chefguy; 12-03-2019 at 03:30 PM.
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Old 12-03-2019, 04:16 PM
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Diplomats assess current developments in the country's politics and build contacts who are willing to talk to them, officially or off the record, about what is going on and what is likely to happen. Little of this can be done sitting in Washington, and reading the country's newspapers will only tell you what the paper's publisher wants you to hear.
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Old 12-03-2019, 04:22 PM
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Resident ambassadors were much more important in the old days when it took months to even send a message via ship to a foreign government. Expelling one meant truly cutting yourself off from another country and was often a prelude to war. With modern communications being what they are, however, expelling a diplomat is little more than a grandiose political gesture.
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Old 12-03-2019, 05:08 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Arkcon View Post
Do people in the US, either Russian nationals or US citizens who need to do something in Russia, and can't go through regular channels, need the diplomat to help them? I'm asking because that seems to happen in fiction all the time, but I'm not really sure. If so, then when the diplomat is expelled, and before a new one comes in, those tasks, just don't happen. Need to bring a relative over, a fiance, help a family member with a legal problem? Sucks to be you, says the US, and you can thank Putin for that. Maybe if that happens a lot, people begin to ask, just what, is my government doing for ME?

I guess the US and North Korea, and the US and Iran don't have diplomatic ties, so helpful things can never happen between the US and those countries. But ... so what? Was anyone expecting it to? Does anyone really need it? Do people walk around thinking, if only our leaders were more level headed, we'd be able to ... do what with North Korea and Iran, exactly? Is this an issue that really alienates the population of any of those nations?
Immigration issues very often do require the assistance of embassy personnel, yes (although it is rare that ALL of the embassy staff are expelled, so routine consular work continues even if the ambassador is out). For example, most people who needs a visa to travel to the United States must be interviewed at a US embassy/consulate. Meanwhile, Americans who get arrested abroad are entitled to a certain level of consular assistance (mostly, help finding a local attorney and notifying friends/family back home), and there's always the "my passport got lost/stolen" problem to deal with, or providing passports and citizenship paperwork for US citizens born overseas.

In cases where the US does not have diplomatic representation, some other country will provide limited services. For example, the Swedish Embassy in North Korea (itself housed inside the German Embassy) is the "protecting power" for US, Australian, and Canadian citizens in Pyongyang; Poland operated the US Interests Section in Baghdad in the lead-up to the first Gulf War. Citizens of an EU country can request consular assistance from any other EU country if their own country does not maintain local diplomatic facilities.
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Old 12-03-2019, 05:22 PM
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A lot of the low level people at an embassy are actually intelligence agents. Kicking out diplomats is a means of weakening another country's spy network in your country.

But it can have mixed results. These diplomatic officials are known. So your country's counter-intelligence agencies can monitor them. Kick them out and they may be replaced by unofficial agents you don't know about.
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Old 12-03-2019, 06:41 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Arkcon View Post
Do people in the US, either Russian nationals or US citizens who need to do something in Russia, and can't go through regular channels, need the diplomat to help them.
They're part of the regular channels. Consular officers for example are usually diplomats, at least those in full consulates (honorary consulates have lesser powers and lesser protections). And they provide services such as renewing passports, registering abroad births or providing legal assistance to citizens of their country who are detained.
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Old 12-03-2019, 09:29 PM
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The immediate practical effect is that the expelled diplomat's country will expel one of yours. They don't even try to come up with a justification. And yes, we do it, too (for whatever value of "we" applies to you).
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Old 12-03-2019, 10:04 PM
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Originally Posted by Mk VII View Post
Diplomats assess current developments in the country's politics and build contacts who are willing to talk to them, officially or off the record, about what is going on and what is likely to happen. Little of this can be done sitting in Washington, and reading the country's newspapers will only tell you what the paper's publisher wants you to hear.
Western, and especially US diplomats are often holed up in big fortified compounds due to perceived security reasons, so being physically “in country”.
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Old 12-03-2019, 10:46 PM
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Western, and especially US diplomats are often holed up in big fortified compounds due to perceived security reasons, so being physically “in country”.
The embassy building may be a bit fortress-like (or, in some cases, very fortress-like) but you can be reasonably sure that unless it's a near war-zone the embassy staff are still out and about, meeting people, attending events, networking, etc.
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Old 12-03-2019, 11:12 PM
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Western, and especially US diplomats are often holed up in big fortified compounds due to perceived security reasons, so being physically “in country”.
Not true at all.
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Old 12-03-2019, 11:26 PM
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Thé US Embassy in Ottawa is just that: a fortress. It stands there in the Market, gloomy and foreboding. It’s entire architecture sends out the message: «There will likely be a bomb blast here someday.»
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Old 12-04-2019, 12:18 AM
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Originally Posted by chappachula View Post
To answer the question about the effects of expelling diplomats, it might be useful to ask a related question: What do the resident diplomats actually do anyway?

I remember reading an interview with Henry Kissinger, way back in the 1970's.
Kissinger said that the whole concept of having embassies is basically an unnecessary holdover from the previous century. In this age of modern communications (1970's!), there is no need for diplomats to be physically present in foreign countries.

So he was saying that embassies exist for symbolic reasons only.
In which case, expelling one of the embassy residents is also nothing more than a symbolic move.

(sorry about a weak answer for GQ--I tried googling for a cite to Kissinger's comments, but failed.)
Given Kissinger's experience, I would say that he legitimately qualifies as his own cite.
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Old 12-04-2019, 01:16 AM
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Expelling an ambassador is a symbolic move. It was a way of saying "you really crossed the line this time..." in a very public way. Notice that all these "People's Republics" and other dictatorships spend a lot of time constructing pretexts to justify actions, instead of acting like thugs publicly. Calling them out in public, pointing out the hypocrisy of their actions vs. words, is embarrassing to them.

Should also point out that typically, if a country does not have an embassy in another country, very often some middle country will be the go-between. IIRC it was Sweden or Switzerland that was the informal conduit for diplomatic conversations from Washington to Havana when the cold war was in full swing. Ditto, I think, for the USA and Iran. And of course, no matter what the USA thinks of them, any other country can have diplomats to the UN in New York.

Last edited by md2000; 12-04-2019 at 01:17 AM.
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Old 12-04-2019, 01:50 AM
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Originally Posted by Northern Piper View Post
Thé US Embassy in Ottawa is just that: a fortress. It stands there in the Market, gloomy and foreboding. It’s entire architecture sends out the message: «There will likely be a bomb blast here someday.»
Same for the Barcelona consulate. It's in a relatively-isolated area (Reina Elisenda); a white house sitting in a garden, surrounded by a thick wall, barbed wire, more cameras than a TV studio and some very-grim-looking Marines. I'd never thought a whitewashed wall could look threatening before seeing that one. All the other consulates in town are in the same, easily-accessible area (Eixample, the checkerboard part of the map) and look like a lawer's office except for the large seal on the balcony.
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Last edited by Nava; 12-04-2019 at 01:55 AM.
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Old 12-04-2019, 02:31 AM
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Not true at all.
You are pre 1998 embassy bombing from what I have read.
Quote:
Originally Posted by UDS View Post
The embassy building may be a bit fortress-like (or, in some cases, very fortress-like) but you can be reasonably sure that unless it's a near war-zone the embassy staff are still out and about, meeting people, attending events, networking, etc.
Not at all
https://www.pacificcouncil.org/newsr...rtress-embassy

Quote:
When you are posted to a fortress embassy,” one officer told me, “it is as if you are not really in that country.” For both the diplomat requesting access and the visitor who must brave multiple layers of security, the barriers to arranging in-person engagements are formidable. For local visitors, there is the humiliation of being subjected to multiple searches and waiting outdoors in the sun, rain, or cold. Furthermore, there are built-in risks for local visitors, who may be surveilled and reported on by exterior perimeter guards with links to groups hostile to the United States.

As for the American staff, they must seek advance approval for external movements, justifying each of them as “mission critical.” Spontaneous engagements are usually off the table. A range of security considerations and at times limited security staff resources also result in restrictions on staff movements. In an environment with little to no appetite for risk, justifying any movement as “mission critical” becomes an impossible exercise, especially for public diplomacy practitioners. The public diplomacy mission is seen as vague and unnecessary in the eyes of many Diplomatic Security managers empowered to approve or deny external movements. This means that, at times, PD officers face greater obstacles in justifying their external movements as “mission critical.”

What could so many staff members who are so limited in their movements possibly do on a daily basis at a fortress embassy? First, it is important to remember that the vast majority of staff members at fortress embassies are support and security staff, and not diplomats charged with any kind of engagement with the host country. This is because one of the primary functions of a fortress is force protection and management of what amounts to a self-contained small city. Accordingly, the jobs of most staff are devoted to running and protecting a complex operation composed of multiple agencies and organizations. In such an environment, much of the focus inevitably becomes inward looking.
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Old 12-04-2019, 09:04 AM
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You are pre 1998 embassy bombing from what I have read.

Not at all
https://www.pacificcouncil.org/newsr...rtress-embassy
We left Uganda on the day of the bombing of the Kenyan embassy. My wife knew a number of the people who died in that tragedy. Your post implied to me that it is common for embassy personnel to be confined to their compounds. While it may be true in countries were terrorist activity is high, the majority of embassies are not "fortress" type compounds, despite an unfunded mandate in the 80s to make it so. Security measures are strict for entry at all embassies, for obvious reasons, and some are much harder targets than others. We traveled freely in both Mali and Uganda, despite dangers in some parts of those countries. During the Soviet era, I routinely went out on my own in Moscow, Warsaw, etc. I was followed, of course, but never felt threatened.

There are truly dangerous places in the world, of course, and travel by diplomats is generally in armored vehicles with a security escort. Even so, every effort is made to have personal contact with host government officials.
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