National security rightfully has the president’s attention, but there’s a better solution available than blanket travel bans.
The recent terror attacks in London, and numerous other events throughout Europe over the past two years, are undeniably a cause for concern. For the sake of U.S. national security, policymakers must continually reassess evolving global terror threats, and the potential for attacks on the U.S. homeland.
These issues clearly have President Trump’s attention. Furthermore, the president has a tool at his disposal that can accomplish just that: the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), and the intelligent expansion thereof.
Here’s why: in a total vacuum, halting all travel from a specific country might stop terror groups from hurting Americans. But in 2017, this isn't our threat landscape. We live in a highly globalized world, where terror networks galvanize supporters in every continent with the click of a mouse or an uploaded YouTube video. Stopping travel from Country A doesn't stop an affiliated terror cell in Country B from engineering attacks. To truly manage the threat of terrorism, we need quality intelligence, shared in a timely manner to track terrorists, stop plots and dismantle networks. Wholesale travel bans could dangerously isolate our chances of gaining more compliance and cooperation from countries wherein terror groups may operate.
The VWP gives the U.S. that kind of quality information-sharing, through stringent security requirements for membership. VWP member countries, whose screened, pre-vetted citizens can travel to the U.S. visa-free for up to 90 days, are a great example of how the U.S. has successfully used travel facilitation as a way to gain more vital security information about travelers.
The travel industry isn't naïve, though. We know there are some countries around the world that don't want to work with the U.S. Many countries are not equipped to meet VWP security requirements. However, it is a good starting point for a “carrot and stick” approach to travel security. Dangling VWP membership (or, for countries who may never meet those requirements, a negotiated “VWP-lite” status) gives the president leverage, helping him push partner countries for more compliance without halting travel completely—essentially, allowing him to make a better deal. It also preserves all of the economic benefits that international travelers bring to the US.
This fall, the Supreme Court will decide the merits of President Trump’s revised travel ban approach, and it may well decide that this action is within the president’s discretion. That really isn't the issue here, though; whether such a travel ban is a smart action to take, and whether it will keep Americans safer, is the core question. We’re here to remind the president: a much better tool is on the table, in the form of the Visa Waiver Program.