Clearly the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens has been a sober topic of conversation considering many of us are studying to enter that profession. And the question of security of U.S. embassies (and consulates) was sticking point in class the other day. The consensus seemed to be that, however sensitive we are to criticism to the contrary, the U.S. is providing adequate security at our diplomatic outposts. But the reality is that all of our diplomatic missions are beholden to the security apparatus of the host country, however deficient they may be.
It would be impossible to staff each embassy with a division of Marines or guarantee U.S.-provided security. The host countries are presumed to fulfill that responsibility. That's part of the diplomacy compact. A reliable source explained it this way: We have 23 Marines at the embassy in Cairo--7 on staff at any given time--to protect a building employing 1000 people. The Marines are there to slow down angry mobs (or better yet, to diffuse their anger). When really angry people are scaling really tall embassy walls, shooting one of them would only exacerbate the problem.
The United States recently sent two Navy ships to the coast of Libya in the wake of last week's attacks, ostensibly to provide added security. But more Marines and the threat of Tomahawk missiles will not prevent attacks; it might even provoke more.
Diplomats are selected for their ability to dodge dangerous situations without resorting to the use of force. To the extent that force is needed it must come from host governments. Otherwise the utility of diplomacy or state collaboration, mutual trust, and the diplomatic agenda would be undermined.
In the wake of the tragedy in Libya, Sudan turned away 50 U.S. Marines en route to provide added security saying, "Sudan is able to protect the diplomatic missions in Khartoum and the state is committed to protecting its guests in the diplomatic corps." Diplomats live in inherently dangerous situations. Like it or not, diplomats have to trust their own instincts and rely on the security provided by host countries to prevent similar tragedies.