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Critical Review of ‘Secure borders and open doors: preserving our welcome to the world in an age of terrorism’, Report of the Secure Borders and Open Doors Advisory Committee, January 2008

by on May 5, 2012

  This report has been produced by the Secure Borders and Open Doors Advisory Committee to the US Department of Homeland Security whose mission is to protect America’s security, economic livelihood, ideals, image, and strategic relationships with the world.  The term Secure Borders and Open Doors suggests the goal of interviewing, processing, analysing and welcoming international visitors as well as finding those who wish to use the US’s ‘openness’ against them.  The report describes the challenges that the attacks on 9/11 created to such industries and institutions that relied on the international mobility and interaction of Americans with citizens from around the world.  There has been a struggle to increase security on the physical and virtual borders whilst at the same time maintain the freedom and openness of which the US is known for.  As the visa process has changed and become known around the world overseas travel declined 17% in 2000-2006 with two million less visitors from the UK, Japan, Germany and France.  The Secure Borders and Open Doors vision, or the Rice-Chertoff Initiative (RCI), has reflected a renewed effort to enhance the attractiveness of the US to international tourists, students, and businesspeople whilst preventing adversaries from entering.

  There is emphasis on the direct interactions between Americans and residents of other countries to Public Diplomacy, rather than the portrayal of the US through film, TV, music and sports; it is noted that this travel experience often escapes the notice of reporters and political experts.  In terms of international students the report draws attention to the fact that there was an increase of 3% in enrolment 2006-2007 yet it has still lost students when other major competitors such as UK, France and Australia have experienced growth.

  The report also relates Public Diplomacy to a new public-private partnership which includes representatives of the travel industry and business community to change perceptions about the US visa and entry process and promote US as a top visiting destination.  The report advises that improvements be made to the website to become a better tool for American Public Diplomacy and that the role of Public Diplomacy be an independent effort to engage all sectors of American society in improving world opinion.

  The report draws attention to the metrics and critical success factors which have not been utilized.  This is due to many reasons including the fact that some of the metrics that should be used for rational management and deployment of resources are considered politically sensitive, particularly those dealing with countries considered unfriendly to the US.  Yet the typical responding traveller noted that the courtesy with which they were dealt through immigration was slightly better than ‘average’, not ‘good’ or ‘excellent’.  Finally it is noted the those travellers who may feel most strongly about unfair  treatment may be the ones who contribute most to negative views and attitudes of the USA.

  The critical link that the Department of Homeland Security is making between immigration and Public Diplomacy should be commended.  The report notes its success on the way it not only deters and detects adversaries to the US but also that by treating visitors with dignity and respect US security will be reinforced, and crucially that human interaction is required as

‘…each visitor to the United States represents such an opportunity.’

  However, this report largely overstates the importance of the attacks of 9/11 to the individual visitor and most importantly it assumes that a citizen of a foreign nation is ignorant to the ‘American ideals’ of democratic freedom, private enterprise, human rights, intellectual pursuits and technological achievement and is accepting of persuasion.  This comes to light when the US is described as

“…an international beacon of freedom and economic opportunities…offering unique and attractive opportunities for international businesspeople, students, researchers, and tourists, America has long been a premier destination for people from all over the world.”

And reiterated in the comment

“A world that admires America is more likely to welcome and value American goods and services.”

  The report recommends that the Federal government and the private sector work together to establish a national-level strategic communications campaign to promote the US as the premier visitor destination in the world as well as articulating and implementing a policy for attracting international students.  Although this international outreach cannot be understated there should be caution when tying this outreach so close to the US government, as after all that is where the international mistrust lies.

  It is interesting that this reports also notes that

“Every international traveller entering the United States is a potential friend of the United States.”

Of particular importance is the stress that after visiting the US foreign citizens have improved their perceptions of the country, American people and even the policies compared to what they believed before.

  What should take greater prominence in this report is ensuring the international knowledge and cross-cultural skills of Americans.  This is mentioned when the report recommends that by increasing the number of Americans that study abroad to 1 million a year the skills and relationships gained would become a major asset to Public Diplomacy in the future.

  Finally the reports suggests large scale surveys around the world to understand the public attitude towards the US in order to determine the influence of visa and entry processes, even though it is admitted that this would not be an easy task it must be argued that this is almost too outrageous and overambitious.


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