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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 II THE NETHERLANDS IN THE 1950S 103 CHAPTER 3 The PvdA and the Transatlantic Anti-Communist Alliance During the 1950s all the Dutch politicians who participated in the Foreign Leader Program were members of the Labour party. This reflected the party’s time in power as part of the governing coalition from 1945 until 1958, including the fact that Willem Drees, one of the most respected of the party’s leaders, was himself Minister President from 1948-58. However, the dominance of the Labour politicians on the Leader Program list also reflects how the social democrats (and their allies in the unions) were seen by the Americans as playing an essential role within the reconstruction and modernisation of the Netherlands after the war. The Labour party (Partij van de Arbeid or PvdA) also consciously presented itself to the Americans as the most reliable force for the modernisation of the Dutch economy and society, thereby align- ing itself with US aims to out-flank support for communism by promot- ing a progressive social democratic alternative. US embassy officials in The Hague openly supported this non-communist left strategy and sought to influence the direction of the party through the judicious use of Leader grants. The chance to see America was willingly accepted. US political attaché William Nunley reported in 1950 that “while Socialist leaders have often said maliciously: ‘We don’t need to visit America; why don’t you arrange to ship over the entire Catholic leadership for three months and broaden their views?’, it is clear...

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