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The treatment of diplomats and their embassy is generally specified in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. Here is the link for the complete text. The key provision on the embassy is article 22 which says that authorities from the host country may not enter the embassy premises without permission of the represented country.

I'm interested in what the represented country may build on their embassy grounds and what kind of restrictions the host country can impose there. A represented country could do things like:

  • put slogans or pictures on their embassy building that may be insulting to the host country or even illegal to say/ show in the host country
  • place major weapons in their embassy (say a tank or artillery)
  • set up some major spy equipment

Are there any rules that restrict that kind of behavior? A diplomat that is seen as misbehaving can be declared a 'persona non grata' (Article 9), is there anything similar for the embassy premises that the host country can do?

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  • Concerning “major weapons”: zpravy.aktualne.cz/… Jan 17 at 11:10
  • Related question: What exactly legally qualifies as “the embassy premises”? Obviously, the embassy building itself is, but what about “the land ancillary thereto”? Would it include a public sidewalk in front of the building? Can the host country make rules about how to mark the border between the embassy grounds and the host country, e.g., by requiring a minimum fence height, or requiring posting a sign that says something like “no host country law enforcement allowed beyond this point without the ambassador's permission“?
    – dan04
    Jan 17 at 23:48
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    The country could also operate a hostel at the embassy.
    – Roland
    Jan 18 at 8:28

1 Answer 1

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A represented country could do things like:

  • put slogans or pictures on their embassy building that may be insulting to the host country or even illegal to say/ show in the host country

This is a diplomatic affront and, under the terms of the convention, it would be dealt with diplomatically. First the host country could ask nicely and remind the sending country of the article 41 duty to "respect the laws and regulations of the receiving state." If the sending state does not comply, the host country can break off diplomatic relations. The convention is silent on the process of winding down a diplomatic mission; if the sending state does not exercise the Article 45 option to entrust the mission to a third state, they will have to take with them anything that they want to keep out of the receiving state's hands.

  • place major weapons in their embassy (say a tank or artillery)

The convention is silent on this. As with the previous point, the receiving state could object through normal diplomatic means.

  • set up some major spy equipment

This is a well known use of diplomatic missions, despite the Article 41 duty not to use them

in any manner incompatible with the functions of the mission as laid down in the present Convention or by other rules of general international law or by any special agreements in force between the sending and the receiving State.

Another relevant article, however, is Article 27, which says (in part)

In communicating with the Government and the other missions and consulates of the sending State, wherever situated, the mission may employ all appropriate means, including diplomatic couriers and messages in code or cipher. However, the mission may install and use a wireless transmitter only with the consent of the receiving State.

Once again, there is no specific enforcement mechanism beyond the usual diplomatic means of complaints, negotiations, and expulsions.

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    In the modern era of Internet and encryption it's quite surprising that countries like Russia still regularly use coded radio systems (Mazielka/Perelivt) to communicate with their embassies other than as a test. Jan 17 at 17:43
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    @user253751: It is difficult to defend against traffic analysis when the receiving country may (be presumed to) have total control over the embassy's internet uplink, even with encryption. True, this does not give the receiving country very much information, but the sending country probably would prefer to give no information whatsoever.
    – Kevin
    Jan 17 at 23:59
  • @Kevin can't traffic analysis be applied to radio comms just as well? Perhaps you'll be interested in answering here.
    – mustaccio
    Jan 18 at 0:59
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    @mustaccio, with radio comms, you can just keep the channel saturated at all times. If it's encrypted, there's no way to tell true data from filler.
    – Mark
    Jan 18 at 2:27
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    @Mark the channel is not kept saturated at all times and AFAIK the current traffic volume is too low to be a cover for significant amounts of traffic. It would be the most important messages only. Anyway, internet usage is so ubiquitous, I doubt the host could make any inferences if every employee is streaming YouTube through the same VPN back to Moscow. Anyway, they can still see the traffic on the radio link. In fact the whole of Europe can see it. It's even less private. Jan 18 at 6:45

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