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Networks of Empire

The US State Department’s Foreign Leader Program in the Netherlands, France, and Britain 1950–70


Giles Scott-Smith

Exchange programmes have been a part of US foreign relations since the nineteenth century, but it was only during and after World War II that they were applied by the US government on a large scale to influence foreign publics in support of strategic objectives.
This book looks at the background, organisation, and goals of the Department of State’s most prestigious activity in this field, the Foreign Leader Program. The Program (still running as the International Visitor Leadership Program) enabled US Embassies to select and invite talented, influential ‘opinion leaders’ to visit the United States, meet their professional counterparts, and gain a broad understanding of American attitudes and opinions from around the country.
By tracking the operation of the Program in three key transatlantic allies of the United States a full picture is given of who was selected and why, and how the target groups changed over time in line with a developing US-European relationship. The book therefore takes a unique in-depth look at the importance of exchanges for the extension of US ‘informal empire’ and the maintenance of the transatlantic alliance during the Cold War.


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Preface 11


11 Preface In early 2004 the Dutch television programme KRO Reporter ran a three-part series on the Netherlands, part two of which covered contem- porary relations between the United States and the Netherlands.1 Special reference was made to the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) and its use by the US Embassy in The Hague to gain influence among Dutch politicians by inviting them on trips to the United States. Several interviewees attested to the Program’s success in this regard, some voicing critical remarks concerning the dubious ethics behind public servants travelling abroad at the cost of another government. Since then others have pointed out the relevance of these activities, but up until now the Program in the Netherlands has remained predomi- nantly the terrain of journalist conjecture.2 Within the broader scholarly literature on the Program there exist a handful of quality monographs and Ph.D. theses, but beyond them the subject has rarely been treated with any more than a passing reference. Traditional diplomatic history, with its focus on policy direction and top-level decision-making, cannot easily absorb the significance of the personal interactions and informal networks which this Program has sought to build worldwide over the previous six decades. For this reason it has remained a topic largely either of disdain, amusement, or conspiracy, judgements which exem- plify nothing more than a weak understanding of how power, or for some ‘soft power’, works in the international system. This book looks to fill in that gap by examining in detail the historical...

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