This article analyses the state’s duty of care (DoC) for citizens who fall victim to unforeseen catastrophic or violent events abroad. The DoC highlights the challenges, dynamics and relations involved in diplomatic practice that is aimed at protecting citizens outside of state borders and where traditional security concepts have little relevance. How has a globalized, more insecure world — with shifting relations and responsibilities among states, their subordinates and other carers — affected the provision of DoC? How do governments and private actors act on the DoC during and after crises? To illustrate, the article draws on the terrorist attack at a gas facility in Algeria in 2013 and the nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011, focusing particularly on the Norwegian framework and approach to protecting citizens abroad. In both crises, implementing the DoC required practical skills and measures beyond traditional diplomacy and institutionalized crisis mechanisms.
Current global work, travel and residence patterns,1 combined with a more insecure international environment, have expanded the spectre of insecurities to which citizens abroad may be exposed, whether political upheaval, violent conflicts, terror, natural disasters, or crimes conducted by individuals (including rape and abduction) or states (such as unlawful detention). Citizens may, of course, also inflict upon themselves situations where they seek assistance from their governments, for example by drug smuggling or involvement in other crimes. Furthermore, states’ heightened international visibility, especially when engaged in peace-building and military operations, have made citizens abroad the targets of individuals or groups that see them as symbols of their home states’ foreign policies. Even citizens of well-functioning democracies have increasingly suffered from perils, as illustrated by the terrorist attacks in European cities in recent years. Under these circumstances, there is an explicit or implicit expectation about the state’s duty to care for its citizens.2
Protecting citizens beyond state borders is a matter of security. Yet existing security concepts have little relevance when analysing how citizens abroad can be protected, as well as which services they can expect states or employers to provide in crisis situations. Conceptualizations of traditional or ‘hard’ security focus on the survival and sovereignty of the state from external threats, including the protection of borders. Although they emphasize the security of individuals, non-traditional security concepts — such as political, societal, environmental, human and ontological security — do not specifically address security in terms of the duty held by the state towards its citizens either.3 For this purpose, this article argues that the growing insecurity and responsibilities that come with increased global interaction could be studied as part of the state’s ‘duty of care’ (hereafter DoC). Using the DoC enables us:
[…] to capture the [above-mentioned] responsibilities and challenges in an innovative way, providing a cohesive and comprehensive framework for analysis. […] The concept allows us to ask what kind of duty states hold toward their citizens abroad, as well as what care might imply beyond the boundary.4
The DoC covers juridical, moral and political ground. Although no generally accepted definition of the DoC exists, an element of foresight of harm, reasonable legal proximity between the parties, and a fair and reasonable interpretation of a situation should be in place to invoke the DoC.5 While the DoC is an integral part of everyday practice within medical care and health services, and increasingly also in national and international private companies, the state’s duty towards the security of its citizens abroad has achieved little scholarly attention.6 In taking issue with this situation, this article addresses two questions: How has a globalized, more insecure world, where relations and responsibilities between states, their subordinates and other carers are shifting, affected the provision of the DoC? How is the DoC acted upon by governments, also in changing diplomatic practice, and by private actors when crisis occurs and after?
To illustrate the discussion, the article draws on two major incidents that affected citizens abroad: the terrorist attack at a gas facility at In Amenas, Algeria, in 2013; and the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011, following an earthquake and resulting tsunami. While these crises are different — one a planned violent action and the other because of a sudden natural disaster — they are particularly illustrative of: first, how the DoC for citizens and employees abroad is increasingly invoked because of global work, residence and travel patterns; and, second, of how coordination and cooperation challenges during crises are met by embassies/foreign governments, host governments and employers who act on the DoC.
This study relies on primary sources (public documents, speeches and press releases, etc.) and secondary sources, complemented with interviews with diplomats, ministry officials, academics and central company employees (see appendix 1). Interviews provided insight into how the DoC is understood, internalized and institutionalized (for example, crisis-response practices), particularly in the Norwegian context.7
The following section discusses how implementing the DoC forms current diplomatic practice. In subsequent sections, the Norwegian framework and approach to protecting citizens abroad will be analysed, first generally, and then through more nuanced empirical illustrations of the In Amenas and Fukushima crises. The discussion will highlight how acting on the DoC can challenge the role of foreign and host governments and employers, crisis ownership, the internal government distribution of tasks, and the lessons learned, before presenting some concluding remarks.
Diplomatic Practice and the Duty of Care
The heightened frequency of crises involving citizens abroad — whether an act of terrorism, the outbreak of violent conflict, or a devastating flood — exemplify how global and trans-boundary developments are challenging diplomacy, both conceptually and in practice.8 The DoC concept arguably contributes to innovative perspectives on and empirical knowledge of practices related to diplomacy, especially during crises. In addressing globalization and global crises, traditional diplomacy — that is, where diplomats represent their states’ interests ‘in the sense of conveying a set of beliefs and preferences to other states’ — has long revealed its limitations.9 These crises are not solved in offices or around meeting tables, but often on the ground, requiring a more ‘hands on’ type of diplomacy involving logistics, on-site coordination and digital communication.10
As Ole Jacob Sending, Vincent Pouliot and Iver B. Neumann argue, the effectiveness of diplomats will ‘to a large degree [depend] on their ability to work with and through other actors’.11 Indeed, implementing the DoC often demands concerted efforts involving public decision-makers as well as private stakeholders. Both traditional caretakers, such as governments and their representatives, and employers, such as international enterprises, are meeting intensified demands for employee assistance.12 Although governments are responsible for the security of all citizens on their territory, including foreigners,13 more is demanded of consular services in terms of protection because of the complexity and danger in many surroundings.14 Globalization has blurred the boundaries between the inside and the outside of the state, as well as between public and private.15 Even if there is no scholarly agreement on how these processes affect the state’s ability to care for its citizens abroad, the forms of governance are in a state of change. In the field of human relations, an understanding of the DoC drawing on legal duty has been developing. In the public sector, this duty covers all overseas staff employed by, or representing, the state or government.
The DoC for people working for non-governmental organizations (
Implementing the DoC has become more challenging with employees and sub-contractors increasingly engaging in providing aid or other services (for example, reconstruction, security and institution-building) in post-war settings, complex emergencies, or conflict-prone areas. Furthermore, as Nina Græger and Halvard Leira argue a ‘private DoC’ is expected to be more centred on protecting employees as assets (for example, securing profit), whereas a ‘state DoC’ is likely to be centred on the same people as citizens.19 However, as noted by Lisbeth Claus, ‘employers also have a moral, as well as a legal, responsibility and obligation for the health, safety, and security of their employees’.20 This distinction is, however, not black and white, as our two empirical illustrations demonstrate. For instance, when governments own shares in private companies that deploy employees to work abroad, the state has a certain duty towards them, both as citizens and employees. Moreover, a company could be partly state-owned but not have national employees, raising questions as to whether the state has a DoC towards the company’s non-national employees.
There are likely to be considerable national and company variations in the understanding and implementation of the DoC vis-à-vis citizens abroad.21 The social contract and the rules and practices defining the boundaries of the political community — that is, who is entitled to care abroad — also play into this.22
Protecting Citizens Abroad: The Norwegian Example
Norwegian citizens abroad are in principle well protected, and Norwegian authorities do their utmost to assist citizens in crises or accidents abroad.23 The first crisis response by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (
The Response Centre, which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is part of the
Apart from the Response Centre, several levels of responsibility are involved in crisis management when Norwegians abroad are the victims of a crisis or disaster, including the strategic crisis level in the
Given the number of levels involved, establishing who ‘owns’ a crisis and thus who is responsible for implementing the DoC is rarely straightforward. According to
The globalization of labour markets and business engagements mean that Norwegian companies have been increasingly involved in enacting the DoC. For non-
The following sections will explore two crises that are particularly illustrative of, first, how economic and political globalization is putting the security of citizens abroad at risk, because of more insecure environments and because citizens increasingly become symbols of the foreign policies of their governments; and, second, states’ and other actors’ efforts in implementing the DoC, highlighting issues related to preparedness, outsourcing, crisis management and the state–citizen relationship.
Acting on the DoC during Crises: Two Empirical Illustrations
The research draws on two major incidents affecting the duty of care for Norwegian citizens abroad: the terrorist attack in Algeria (2013) and the nuclear disaster in Japan (2011). The two crises share important characteristics, such as magnitude, the number and involvement of private, semi-private and government actors, distance from Norway, and the effects on future-crisis prevention measures.
In Amenas was the worst attack on Norwegian interests abroad since the Second World War and on Norwegians — five of whom were killed — since the Utøya massacre in 2011.37 On 16 January 2013, a gas facility located 50 kilometres from the town of In Amenas in Algeria was attacked by 32 militants from the Signed in Blood Battalion, a group linked to the international terrorist network Al Qaeda. Some 800 people, 130 of whom were foreign workers representing nearly 30 different nationalities, were held hostage for three days, and 40 people were killed, some allegedly ‘executed’. The scale and degree of violence led French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to describe the militant action as an ‘act of war’.38
In 2003, Statoil formed part of a joint venture consisting of three ‘parent companies’: Statoil; British Petroleum (
Our second illustration of how the DoC was enacted during crisis is the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station accident in 2011, the worst nuclear energy crisis since Chernobyl in 1986. The crisis was initiated by a natural disaster consisting of a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, which came to be known as the Great East Japan Earthquake, and which struck off the north-east coast of Japan on 11 March 2011 and prompted a 10-metre-high tsunami. The tsunami damaged the nuclear power station and disabled the power supply and cooling for its three reactors, resulting in the meltdown of reactor cores and a hydrogen explosion that released radioactive material. The plant’s approximately one-year-old security system (cameras and a warning system) was designed to counter hostile attempts to seize radioactive material for use in a terrorist attack, but insufficient provision had been made for the possibility of a nuclear accident occurring at the same time as a natural disaster.43
The unparalleled crisis scenario, which was later referred to as the ‘triple disaster’ or ‘3/11’, instilled great fear of an impending nuclear catastrophe. Coastal cities in the affected Tohoku area suffered devastating destruction from the tsunami, killing over 15,000 people and displacing 340,000 (150,000 of whom were ‘nuclear refugees’ from Fukushima prefecture).44 Significant infrastructure damage paralysed communication lines and complicated the response efforts of prefectural governments and embassies.
Foreign and Host Government Relations during the Crises
Acting on the DoC during crises often involves several actors, including the state hit by the crisis, states that have citizens in the area, and other actors that engage in relief or crisis management. Providing security and protection for foreign citizens as well as nationals is nevertheless the overall responsibility of the host government. While international businesses are increasingly reliant on effective host governments for security, these services are often also outsourced to sub-contractors (for example, security companies). Other states, aid agencies and
As mentioned above, the Algerian government was responsible for outer security at In Amenas. Measures included a military zone in the desert area around the gas facility (the border with Libya is 78 kilometres away) protected by the Gendarmerie border guards and supported by the Algerian People’s National Army if deemed necessary.45 The professional organization of the attack at In Amenas and the level of arms (including rocket-propelled grenades) indicated that it was planned in detail and over a long period. Both the media and the inquests later suggested that help from the inside was provided, which would put into question the entire security regime in Algeria and potentially also in other countries where companies must rely on national security forces for security.46
According to international law and regulations, foreign states (or their security forces) have no jurisdiction in Algeria. The Norwegian
Apart from the obvious practical challenges on the ground, acting on the DoC was further complicated by the fact that the attack could be seen as a major humiliation for the Algerian authorities, whose inability to secure all of the citizens on their soil demonstrated a weakness of state sovereignty. Prior to the crisis, the Algerian authorities had been reluctant to communicate about Algeria’s security environment, and the terrorist attack generally confirmed the lax and routine national methods of control that had worried Western oil and gas companies for some time.51 Keeping good relations with Algerian authorities was, the
The disaster response to the triple crisis in Japan was lauded by the media as one of the speediest responses of its magnitude, with the Japanese people being recognized for their ‘culture of preparedness’. However, it also revealed significant gaps in government response, especially concerning nuclear emergencies. Disaster response was an international effort, with over 160 countries and 43 international organizations participating in medical or financial support and on-the-ground relief efforts. etc.53 After the crisis, international teams worked together to coordinate communications, logistics and access capabilities, reconnaissance of the missing and medical care. The Japanese government coordinated the multi-level response with the prime minister heading an emergency-response team. The United States was especially involved through Operation Tomodachi,54 an assistance operation undertaken by the
The actions of the Japanese government and the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, were scrutinized during the hours of crisis and heavily criticized in the disaster’s aftermath.58 Although efforts to increase the disaster-response capacity by leveraging comparative advantages of international allies and regional partners were undertaken, in reality such collaboration often resulted in disorganization and insufficient information-sharing, which in turn led to frustration and mistrust.59 The parallel yet largely different responses of the Japanese government and other governments (particularly the United States but also Norway), and evaluations of the seriousness of the nuclear meltdown and radiation effects, led to competing conclusions regarding response to and communication of the crisis, and most notably on where to establish evacuation zones in Fukushima.60
Officially, the Japanese government is responsible for making decisions related to the security of foreign as well as Japanese citizens. Although the demarcation between host country and embassy roles was contested, Norwegian decisions about what to do were based primarily on the Japanese government’s assessment of the situation. Fearing that the Japanese authorities could face difficulty in protecting Norwegians, the Norwegian
The actions of close allies and partners who have citizens in a crisis area sometimes affect the national resources made available to act on the DoC.63 During the Fukushima crisis, for example, the Norwegian media reported that some governments (such as the Swedish and British) shipped iodine tablets to Tokyo, whereas Norway did not. Media speculations about certain governments knowing more than others eventually resulted in a cohesive policy line on iodine provisions.64 Similarly, the presence of high-level individuals in a crisis area may encourage heightened government response. At In Amenas, for instance, the Norwegian minister for development was the stepfather of one of the gas facility employees, and in Fukushima, a high-profile Norwegian politician’s son, who was studying in the region, was unaccounted for a couple of days.65
Whose Duty, Whose Crisis? Tasks and Turf Battles
During crises, the coordination of assistance on site and in the victims’ home countries is demanding, making the division of responsibilities in fulfilling the DoC even more important.66
Although the attack at In Amenas was not a crisis involving ‘classic’ national interests, it was a major attack against Norwegian citizens and interests: thirteen of the seventeen Statoil employees were Norwegian and the Norwegian government owns 67 per cent of Statoil. Establishing ownership of the crisis was, however, not straightforward, creating a grey zone dividing the private actors (the joint venture and individual oil companies, Statoil and
In interviews, Norwegian
Like in Algeria, the crucial and reoccurring questions of ‘who owns the crisis’ and who has the responsibility for acting on the DoC were present during the Fukushima crisis. Whenever Norway has a diplomatic presence in an area affected by crisis, the Norwegian embassy provides information that largely shapes decision-making. Since the scope of the Fukushima crisis was unprecedented, many governments, including the Norwegian, upgraded their embassy’s role and response on site. Norway’s Tokyo Embassy, which played a prominent role in implementing the DoC towards Norwegian citizens in Japan, is mid-sized with around 30 employees, seven of which are Norwegian diplomats. The embassy’s crisis-response capacity was enhanced by additional
The DoC on the part of Norwegian embassies in the wake of a crisis is first to confirm the safety of in-country diplomats, embassy employees and then other Norwegian citizens. The main Norwegian concern during the Fukushima crisis was the nuclear radiation risk.75 In addition to the travel registry, embassies often also have a ‘Norwegian list’ of contacts, which officers use in times of crisis when attempting to make individual contact with citizens by telephone or e-mail. A ‘guestimate’ of how many Norwegians are in Japan at any given time is about 500 citizens. Despite having a list of in-country Norwegian citizens, contact with and communication by telephone with the victims was often cut off, precisely because of the crisis. In times of major crisis, Norwegian embassies advise listening to the local news, with the caveat that language can be a significant barrier here. While Japanese-language competence is sufficient at the Norwegian Embassy in Japan, accessing information, for instance about Japanese health care, was a challenge in this particular crisis.76 One informant also described most people as being ‘spooked’ by Fukushima, since they were receiving conflicting reports and had a hard time assessing risk, especially in the immediate wake of the disaster when individuals provided the initial communications.77
Sobering Up? Investigations and Lessons Learned
It often takes a crisis to generate change in response and security procedures. As interviewees put it, there is ‘nothing like a crisis to expose holes in plans and things that fall between the cracks’ and ‘as with wars, it is the same with disasters: preparation is based on the last disaster’.78 Learning from the In Amenas and Fukushima experiences instigated revised response mechanisms in Norway, with a view to improving implementation of the DoC at both government and company levels.
Statoil appointed an investigation commission of six members, chaired by a former head of the Norwegian Intelligence Service (Politiets Sikkerhetstjeneste,
As noted above, the ‘private’ DoC entails that a company should prepare, train and equip its employees and, when crises or incidents occur, have instruments at hand to minimize their impact and scale. While states’ embassies and military compounds occasionally have been attacked (instances include the
Increased presence also increases risk, according to the company: ‘Statoil establishes itself in ever more new places in the world, which increases various non-technical risk environments’.87 Regarding lessons learned about how to implement the DoC, the investigation report stressed that overall responsibility for the tragedy nevertheless lies with the terrorists. Apparently, the attack could not have been foreseen and no preventive measures would have been able to withstand it:
Even if governments and companies do everything in their power to protect people and assets, they will still face the threat of terrorism. This is true regardless of where enterprises are engaged, whether in Algeria or in Norway. How serious the threat is, and how to best counter it, will vary.88
In sum, the In Amenas crisis showed that the ability of employers and states to act on the DoC in risk-prone areas depends on measures taken by the companies themselves, host governments and foreign governments, as well as the geopolitical context. Some experts claim that Statoil should have been aware of the heightened risk in Algeria, indicating that economic interests had trumped security assessments.89
Improvements regarding the DoC for citizens and foreign populations after the ‘triple disaster’ in Japan in 2011 generally focused on contingency planning, individual awareness, joining forces with allies in relief efforts at national and international levels, detailed emergency-response schemes, and new government bodies, such as the Nuclear Regulation Authority (
Japanese authorities also took measures to internalize and institutionalize their DoC for foreign citizens by strengthening the response by the National Police Agency (
Establishing the division of labour within the Norwegian government during crisis response was also a challenge during the Fukushima crisis. Concerning the DoC for affected Norwegians, the Norwegian government followed established practices, but also stretched them. Citizens were contacted, provided with updated information based on expert opinions and host country reporting, including on the radiation risk, and on-the-ground and air transport out of the crisis area was also facilitated. The Norwegian Embassy evaluated its own handling of the triple disaster as being done fairly well, suggesting that it would respond similarly to a crisis of comparable size and scope.93
This article has analysed the state’s duty to care for citizens who fall victim to unforeseen catastrophic or violent events abroad. The concept of the duty of care (DoC) highlights the challenges, dynamics and relations involved in diplomatic practice that is aimed at protecting citizens outside of state borders, and where traditional security concepts have had little to offer. Implementing this duty has become increasingly demanding for governments and companies, because of global work, travel and residence patterns, as well as more insecure environments, as demonstrated by the two crises discussed in this article.
In Norway, which was central for this article’s illustrations of the DoC, citizens abroad are in principle well-protected, although both crises revealed critical gaps in relief assistance and coordination. While the DoC concerns the state–citizen relationship, during crises it also involves other states, as well as private actors (such as companies). The crises analysed here revealed several challenges regarding cooperation between host and foreign governments, including sensitivity related to the provision of security on the ground and accepting foreign assistance. During both the In Amenas and Fukushima crises, Norwegian authorities offered assistance to the host government that were never taken up.
Regarding crisis ownership, Statoil’s considerable crisis organization toned down that question during the In Amenas siege. At the government level, the Norwegian
Finally, the crises at In Amenas and Fukushima triggered new ad-hoc but also longer-term diplomatic practices at the government (embassy, home and host country) and company levels, especially concerning liaising and information-sharing with stakeholders, to improve adherence to the DoC. Here, practical skills and measures beyond traditional diplomacy and institutionalized crisis mechanisms were warranted.
Based on this analysis, we cannot generalize about the understanding and implementation of the DoC beyond the In Amenas and Fukushima crises, since there are likely to be considerable national and company variations, and future crises might look different from those in the past. Yet our findings both welcome and require further analysis of how states’ foreign policy and semi- and private international business engagements invoke the DoC for citizens abroad.
Nina Græger is a Senior Research Fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (
Wrenn Yennie Lindgren is a Research Fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (