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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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PART I HISTORY AND APPARATUS 49 CHAPTER 1 The History of US Government Exchanges Laying the Foundations From the late nineteenth century onwards the United States govern- ment has used exchange programmes to influence and educate others. Although official interest in these activities before the late 1930s was intermittent, several programmes were run that paved the way for the exploitation of this field during WWII and the Cold War. The first application of the methods that would later be distilled into the Foreign Leader Program was the visit of seventeen Latin American delegates to the first Inter-American Conference in Washington DC, which opened on 2 October 1888. As a prelude to the conference, the US State De- partment arranged for the delegates a 6000-mile, six-week observation tour by rail to enable them “to get a taste of US hospitality […] to impress them with the economic resources and commercial advantages of the United States, and to attract the interest of the people throughout the country in the proceedings of the Conference”.1 It was not until 1908 that the US government embarked on a similar venture, and this time the educational function was more explicit. Elihu Root, Theodore Roose- velt’s Secretary of State, arranged for money paid by the Chinese as indemnity for damage done during the 1900 Boxer Rebellion to be paid into a fund for Chinese students to study in the United States.2 Similarly, after WWI Herbert Hoover was able to channel funds not expended by the Commission for...

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