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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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INTRODUCTION. Networks of Empire. The Foreign Leader Program in Global Perspective 21


21 INTRODUCTION Networks of Empire The Foreign Leader Program in Global Perspective The United States has a unique ability to project and manage empire. Above all other nations it possesses an ‘enormous repertoire of instru- ments by which to implement its power’ abroad.1 Alongside its unques- tioned political, military, and economic strength, the cultural capital and ‘drawing power’ of the United States for other nations and individuals as a source of inspiration, modernisation, hope, fascination, knowledge, and opportunity was immense during the second half of the twentieth century. This book examines in detail the Foreign Leader Program, one of the principal means the USA, as a ‘soft power superpower’, has used to project and manage its global ambitions since WWII. The Foreign Leader Program (FLP) occupies a special place within this imperial endeavour. Inaugurated in 1949-50, it continues to operate today (it was renamed the International Visitor Program in 1965, then the International Visitor Leadership Program in 2004) and its operating principles have largely remained the same.2 It has always involved inviting and bringing individuals and groups from abroad to the United States, with a personal tour arranged around particular interests sug- gested by the participant. Itineraries were flexible and varied, with meetings with professional counterparts interspersed with tourist visits and small-town hospitality. Since the aim was to spread improved knowledge and understanding of the United States abroad, for most participants this would be their first visit to that country. Since 9/11, public diplomacy – the attempt to influence foreign pub-...

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