It’s expensive being (and hosting) America

I found myself cycling past the American embassy the other day. At first I didn’t know what it was. There were a bunch of police standing around and what looked like a building site in front of a grand old Viennese house. Lots of dust. Then I saw Old Glory and the big concrete barriers that keep away would-be truck bombers. It looked like some kind of extra fortifications were being built.

Perspective: around the corner is the Swedish embassy. No police. No barriers. I don’t think even the Israeli embassy has this level of security. I know that Grosvenor Square in London is like the Green Zone and I imagine US embassies around the world are being similarly fortified, no expense spared.*

Do you ever envy Sweden?

*I wonder who pays for this stuff, the State Department, the host country, or both?



  1. Interesting question, Ronan. I took a look in the U.S. state department budgets. In FY 2000, we spent (in millions of dollars) 739 on embassy security, construction, and mainenance; 426 of it on ongoing operations and 313 on upgrades. For 2002, it was 443 on ongoing operations and 1,059 on upgrades. In 2006, 591 for ongoing operations and 899 for upgrades. So, on the order of a billion dollars a year to buy bigger, scarier fences. I don’t know what the hosts spend on U.S. embassy security, either, but at the least there must be some police manpower expended.


  2. “Do you ever envy Sweden?”

    Actually, Austria is the neutral country to envy. A comparison of defense budgets makes Sweden and Switzerland look like paranoid superpowers.

    Plus no one outside Europe is quite sure where the country is (Sydney, anyone?), what language they speak or even what a citizen would look like. Kind of hard to attack when you’ve got that kind of intelligence to go on.

    The extra fortification being built is a fence. They neighbors don’t like it, but Austrian citizen initiatives don’t get the kind of attention from the US government that they do from local politicians.


  3. Good point. The Eurofighter will ratchet up the pressure a notch against Austria’s neighbors–Switzerland can have their crummy F-5s back!


  4. It’s interesting to ponder whether an American embassy or an Israeli embassy would have more security in place.

    Both need it. That is for sure.


  5. Ah, gee, a lousy billion dollars is nothing! You are all too young to remember the grand old senior Republican senator from Illinois, Everett Dirkson.

    His comment: “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.”

    Those of course are American billions (10e9–is that the right notation for the superscript challenged?).


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