The Relevance of U.S. State Department Travel Warnings

The U.S. Department of State has active “travel warnings” for 32 of the world’s 193 states, or just over 15 percent of the world’s countries. The State Department strongly urges Americans to avoid all non-essential travel – to selected areas or whole countries – for those states with an active warning. Below is the list of warning states, grouped by regions of the world. Some have been on the list for a decade or more.

Latin America (3 states):  Haiti, Colombia, Mexico

Sub-Saharan Africa (16 states):  Republic of South Sudan, Guinea, Sudan, Mali,  Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia, Mauritania, Cote d’Ivoire, Burundi, Eritrea, Mali, Niger, Chad

Middle East and North Africa (12 states and territories):  Syria, Libya, Israel, The West Bank and Gaza Strip, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Algeria, Iran, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan

Asia, other (2 states):  Philippines, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (a.k.a. North Korea)

For readers of this blog, there are many familiar names: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Mali, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, and Haiti. It is worth noting here that the State Department may issue a travel warning based on the limitations on U.S. diplomats and consular staff to offer assistance in particular countries (e.g. Iran, North Korea). Even with this qualification, the vast majority of these states either have active armed conflicts or are marked by significant state weakness or state failure.

How should we evaluate these travel warnings? Some largely disregard these travel warnings as irrelevant propaganda. Governments of countries with warnings often loudly protest this designation. Kenya, for example, has a substantial tourism sector that is reliant on foreigners, and official travel warnings are obviously not helpful to that sector. So, while the U.S. State Department warnings can tend toward alarmism, it is important to recall the main reason why these bulletins are issued. Contrary to what many cynics believe, these travel statements are primarily posted to keep Americans (and other foreigners) safe abroad. In the pursuit of this goal, the individual assessments do offer a fairly high degree of objectivity. As such, these periodically updated bulletins do provide relevant information on the world’s most troubled lands.

Below is a small sampling of excerpts from current travel warnings.

Nigeria:

Violent crime remains a problem throughout the country and is perpetrated by both individuals and gangs, as well as by persons wearing police and military uniforms. ….. Travel by foreigners to areas considered by the Nigerian government to be conflict areas should not occur without prior consultation and coordination with local security authorities. The Nigerian government may view such travel as inappropriate and potentially illegal, and it may detain violators. ….. Law enforcement authorities usually respond slowly or not at all, and provide little or no investigative support to victims. U.S. citizens, Nigerians, and other expatriates have experienced harassment and shakedowns at checkpoints and during encounters with Nigerian law enforcement officials.

Philippines:

U.S. citizens should defer non-essential travel to the Sulu Archipelago, due to the high threat of kidnapping of international travelers and violence linked to insurgency and terrorism there. ….. Security and safety conditions in the urban centers of Davao City, General Santos City, and Cagayan de Oro City in Mindanao are generally more controlled. Nevertheless, official U.S. Government visitors and Embassy employees must receive special authorization from the Embassy to travel to any location in Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago, including these urban centers.

Haiti:

The Department of State has issued this Travel Warning to inform U.S. citizens traveling to or living in Haiti about the security situation in Haiti. This replaces the Travel Warning dated August 8, 2011, to update information regarding the crime level, the prevalence of cholera, lack of adequate infrastructure – particularly in medical facilities – seasonal severe inclement weather, and limited police protection. The United Nations’ Stabilization Force for Haiti (MINUSTAH) remains in Haiti. ….. Haiti’s infrastructure remains in poor condition and unable to support normal activity, much less crisis situations. Medical facilities, including ambulance services, are particularly weak. Some U.S. citizens injured in accidents and others with serious health concerns have been unable to find necessary medical care in Haiti and have had to arrange and pay for medical evacuation to the United States.

*** Did you like what you read here? You might be interested in the new book by this blog’s author, Failed States: Realities, Risks, and Responses.

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One thought on “The Relevance of U.S. State Department Travel Warnings

  1. I don’t know what to make of these “travel warnings”, but they are the best reflection of America and the West’s gradual withdrawal from the rest of the World.

    I am not saying that there is no justification for these warnings, but the World of the 21st Century is a very dangerous place and if the West is so intolerant of risk – then the future belongs to the Chinese, Indians and whoever is willing to take risks.

    Consider the state of US embassies in the “Third World”, these are for all intents and purposes, fortresses. How much useful diplomacy can the US conduct if it is resigned to hunkering down into “safe zones” in Nigeria, the Arab World , much of Latin America etc.

    When Kaplan said something to the effect of “white men being unable to penetrate the interior of Africa”, his assumption was that nothing happens if “white men don’t make it happen”. The ubiquitous Chinese are proving that assertion wrong.

    In summary, enjoy your “State Department Travel Warnings” , but please remember, every travel warning suggests that the US isn’t sufficiently invested in future of the host country, has no staying power or stamina and is a propaganda victory for the Chinese.

    Doubt me? Let’s meet again in ten years time to compare the relative standing of the Chinese vs the US in Africa.

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