Diplomats on the Front Line

by Brian Michael Jenkins

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Abstract

A review of trends, tactics, and targets of terrorist attacks against diplomats since 1968, and some suggestions for areas in which international cooperation could help solve the problem. Chronologies of terrorist incidents maintained by the U.S. government and RAND show a dramatic increase in attacks on diplomatic targets, particularly in the last two years. There are more attacks, they involve more nations, and they cover a greater geographic area. Assassinations are increasing; kidnappings have declined. Embassy takeovers, which became common in the late 1970s, primarily due to political turmoil in Iran and El Salvador, declined in 1981. American diplomats have been the favorite targets, and 10 nations of the 66 targeted have accounted for more than half of the incidents. International agreements appear to be of little use against most types of terrorist activity, but agreements calling for collective sanctions appear necessary to arrest the growing trend toward government-backed terrorism as a form of surrogate warfare.

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