The House of Representatives will soon be voting on an extremely important piece of legislation: the Omnibus Anti-Terrorism Act of 1986. At stake are:
The security of 254 American embassies and missions abroad, and foreign diplomatic posts in this country;
The lives and safety of thousands of Americans and their families who are serving their country in diplomatic posts throughout the world.
And, ultimately, the security of our nation, and how it does business with other nations.
Historically, most societies have recognized the importance of communicating with each other, and the safety of ambassadors was held inviolate -- that is, right up to our times, which might well be dubbed the Age of Terrorism. The tragic fact is that ambassdors and diplomats throughout the Free World are prime targets for terrorist kidnapping, assault and murder, regardless of nationality.
Americans, because of the leading role their country plays in world events, are prime targets. Over the past decade, our facilities and our people have been assaulted by terrorists on the average of once every 17 days, and unless something is done, the situation is expected to get much worse in the years ahead.
A major step toward stemming the tide is the anti-terrorism act now before the House. This sweeping legislation incorporates many of the recommendations of the Vice President's Task Force on Combatting Terrorism and the major recommendations of the Secretary of State's Advisory Panel on Overseas Security, which I had the privilege of chairing.
The problem of international terrorism is a complex one, and it will not be solved overnight with a single piece of legislation. However, this bill is a major step in the right direction; it deserves the wholehearipartisan support of Congress, the administration and all Americans.
It will very significantly improve the security of Americans serving overseas, and of foreign diplomats in this country. Key provisions include reorganizing the security functions at the Department of State to make them more effective, establishing accountability following terrorist attacks, and strengthening our physical facilities overseas to make them more secure from assault.
In the days of Gramm-Rudman and federal spending cuts, this latter recommendation has raised some eyebrows, because the package authorizes spending $4 billion over five years to relocate, upgrade or otherwise strengthen our overseas facilities to deter terrorist attacks and to protect them from increasingly sophisticated electronic spying.
Realistically, the question is not whether we can afford to do this but whether we can afford not to. Financially, we already have a multi-million-dollar investment in facilities abroad, and simple business sense dictates this investment must be protected.
In human terms, we have a moral obligation to protect those of our citizens who are serving us, often at great personal expense, in overseas posts.
The omnibus bill creates a new Bureau of Diplomatic Security in the State Department, headed by an assistant secretary of state, and a Diplomatic Security Service, to strengthen and streamline the security function, and establishes accountability by setting up boards of inquiry following a terrorist attack to determine where and why security might have failed, who might be held accountable and what lessons might be learned to help thwart future attacks.
Other portions of the legislation would substantially improve maritime security at both U.S. and foreign ports (the need made dramatically evident by the Achille Lauro incident), and would go far toward preventing weapons-grade nuclear material from falling into terrorist hands.
In a world with many estructive forces, common sense dictates that America must continue to meet, discuss, negotiate and communicate with a broad spectrum of diverse societies and peoples. That world also watches how we act and react in providing security for our citizens serving their country abroad. Protecting our own diplomats is in a very real sense a basic requirement of our national security.
The terrorist seeks to force us to pull back, to withdraw, to become isolated and alone. If we are to remain a world power we cannot allow him to succeed. And that is why this anti-terrorist legislation is so important to all of us.