Networks of Empire The Foreign Leader Program in Global Perspective

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                                              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 instruments by which to implement its power’
abroad.1 Alongside its unquestioned 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 World War II.
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 suggested 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 publics in order to ensure a
favourable audience for one’s own policies, culture, and interests – has taken on a new
significance for the United States.3 Exchange programmes have been recognised as a vital
element to achieve these goals, allowing individuals the freedom to see the United States for

    Nye, J. ‘Soft Power’, Foreign Policy, 80 (1990), p.167.
    For the sake of consistency, and to fit with the terminology used at the time, ‘Leader Program’ and ‘FLP’ will be used
    throughout this book to designate the activities in question.
    See for instance Appendix A of Public Diplomacy: A Review of Past Recommendations, Congressional Research Service, 2
    September 2005, which lists 18 separate studies on US public diplomacy by government and private agencies that were released
    between January 2002 and September 2005. Available at <> (8 May 2007).
themselves, ‘up close and personal’.4 The renewed application of tried and tested standards is
clear to see. In December 2005 Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice announced the
inauguration of the Edward R. Murrow Journalist Program, which provides annual
fellowships for 100 media professionals from around the world to attend leading US
journalism schools.5 The Murrow Program is a continuation of similar journalist exchange
projects that were first run by the Committee of Public Information during World War I, and
later expanded by the State Department and other government agencies during World War II
and the Cold War. The international context may be different but the principles and the goals
that motivate this kind of public diplomacy are very much the same.6
From early on State Department officials considered the Leader Program to be “the most
effective cultural and educational activity in support of American foreign policy objectives”.7
Practitioners-turned-historians have pointed it out to be “the most prestigious USIA exchange
operation” and “a key American weapon in the Cold War with communism”.8 Foreign
Service Officers (FSOs), familiar with its uses, have regularly referred to it in their oral
histories as one of the most useful methods an embassy had to establish constructive relations
and gain influence in its local environment.9 On a tour of US embassies in Europe in 1950,
the first year of the FLP’s operation, State Department official William Johnstone Jr. found
that “every post […] urged consideration of an expanded leaders and specialists program.”10
US Ambassadors continue to rank this exchange programme as the most useful among the
range of public diplomacy tools available to them.11 By the end of 1997 it was calculated that
100,000 people had participated in the programme since 1950, 177 of whom thereafter
became head of state or government.12 Between October 2003 and September 2004 4500
people, either as individuals, members of groups, or as voluntary visitors, went to the United

     See for instance Hughes, J. ‘Winning the War of Words in the Campaign against Terrorism: Exchange Programs help us win
     Hearts and Minds in the War on Terror’, Christian Science Monitor, 17 May 2006.
     See <> (19 May 2006).
     On the applicability of Cold War models to a post-9/11 context see Kelley, J. ‘US Public Diplomacy: A Cold War Success
     Story?’, The Hague Journal of Diplomacy, 2 (2007).
     Ketzel, C. ‘Exchange of Persons and American Foreign Policy: The Foreign Leader Program of the Department of State,’ PhD
     dissertation, University of California, 1955.
     Dizard, W. Inventing Public Diplomacy: The Story of the US Information Agency, Boulder, Lynne Riener, 2004, p. 189; Mahin,
     D. History of the US Department of State’s International Visitor Program, draft manuscript for the History Project, Bureau of
     Educational and Cultural Affairs, US Department of State, 1973, p.2.
     See for instance the oral histories collected by the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, Washington DC, available
     online via the Library of Congress at <> (8 May 2007).
     ‘Report on European Survey Trip,’ William C. Johnstone Jr., 1950, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Historical
     Collection, MC 468, Group XVII Box 337 Folder 9, Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville
     (hereafter ‘CU’).
     Field Survey of Public Diplomacy Programs, Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, US
     Department of State, Washington DC, 2000.
     See the USIA website from 1999 at <> (12 March 2007).
States on this programme alone.13 All those who participated in or received assistance via this
programme were in some way or another sanctioned and selected by US embassies on the
basis of their local influence and leadership qualities. Commenting on the numbers of former
grantees who subsequently became heads of state in their home countries, Secretary of State
Colin Powell stated in November 2004 that “I know tomorrow's leaders are among the
thousands of men and women who will participate this year in U.S government and privately
sponsored educational exchange programs”.14
To manage empire, particularly the American version of informal empire, it is crucial to
maintain alliances and nurture friends. The focus of this book is an examination of the ways in
which the Leader Program, often in combination with other tools of public diplomacy, was
used to cultivate and facilitate relations with three key US allies within the Atlantic alliance:
The Netherlands, Britain, and France. Each of these three nations played a special role in US
foreign relations during the 1950s and 1960s. Britain was the closest ally, its global reach
making it a vital partner, while France, swaying between ambivalence and hostility, was a
crucial player in US transatlantic strategy. While much has been written on relations between
the United States and these two nations, the Netherlands deserves more attention in Cold War
historiography for its role as a transatlantic bridge-builder and contributor to the alliance.15
After WW II the Dutch abandoned their long-standing neutrality in foreign affairs to join the
Western alliance. Despite some misgivings among the political elite, there was a broad
understanding that the enforced decolonisation of the East Indies (in which the United States
played a crucial role) pointed to a re-anchoring of Dutch foreign relations around a
transatlantic axis. From the perspective of the United States, the Netherlands was an ideal
ally. The Dutch were close politically to the UK and were opposed to European affairs being
dominated by either a renewed France or a resurgent Germany. Despite a brief wave of
support for the Communist party in the immediate post-war years, the Dutch body politic,
dominated as it was by the democratic socialists and christian parties, was resoundingly anti-
communist in outlook. The Netherlands was also positive towards a US-led free trade regime,
and was wholly committed to building a managed post-war economic and political order
based around international organisations such as the IMF, the World Bank, and the OECD.
Used to negotiating among larger powers, the Dutch were skilled arbitrators who were active

     See the Department of State information page at <> (12 March 2007).
     Commenting         on        International    Education       Week,         15      October        2004,     available  at
     <> (13 April 2006).
     Good studies of the American impact on post-WW II Netherlands are scarce. A fine recent exception is Snyder, D. ‘US Public
     Diplomacy in the New Netherlands, 1945-58: Policy, Ideology, and the Instrumentality of American Power,’ PhD dissertation,
     Southern Illinois University, 2006.
in smoothing the paths of diplomacy through both governmental and non-governmental
contacts (such as the Bilderberg conferences). The Netherlands’ contribution to regional and
global order, underrated in much historiography, was always acknowledged by the US
embassy in The Hague, if not always by Washington. As a 1953 embassy report remarked, the
Dutch were “perhaps closer ideologically to the United States than any people in Europe”.16
The focus here, therefore, is on the contribution of the FLP towards generating and
maintaining an atmosphere of favourable bilateral relations with three vital allies in the
Atlantic alliance. Psychological warfare operations during WW II and the early Cold War
placed great hopes in the ability to change the attitude and political opinion of individuals,
and this way of thinking inevitably fed into exchange programme operations. However, it
became clear that these programmes instead worked best by strengthening and magnifying
already-existing favourable opinions.17 Exchange programmes, in contributing to the constant
transatlantic traffic in people and ideas, were thus a prime tool for facilitating alliance
management during the Cold War. During 1950-70 there were 167 grantees from the
Netherlands (including one future Minister President), 512 from the UK (including two
subsequent Prime Ministers), and 648 from France (including one subsequent President).18
What follows looks at who these participants were and how their invitations to participate
interacted with particular US foreign policy interests in these countries over time.

     Country Plan for USIS The Hague, 30 January 1953, 511.56/1-3053, RG 59, National Archives, College Park (hereafter ‘NA’).
     The unique case in that period, where the optimum conditions existed for using exchange programmes to facilitate societal
     change, was in occupied Germany. The scale and the depth of the German programmes, run first by the military authorities and
     then from 1950 by the State Department, place them in a special category and several large-scale studies on them already exist.
     The aim here is instead to track how the lessons learned in Germany were applied elsewhere. See Johnston, H.W. ‘United States
     Public Affairs Activities in Germany, 1945-1955,’ Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1956; Kellermann, H. Cultural
     Relations as an Instrument of US Foreign Policy: The Educational Exchange Program between the United States and Germany
     1945-1954, Washington DC, Department of State, 1978; Duggan, S. ‘The Politics of US-German Educational Exchange:
     Perspectives of German Decision-Makers’, Ph.D. dissertation, Stanford University, 1988; Schmidt, O. “Civil Empire by
     Cooptation: German-American Exchange Programs as Cultural Diplomacy, 1945-61”, Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University,
     A Statistical Profile of the US Exchange Program, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Annual Report, 1971. These
     figures compare with for instance Germany (5575), Italy (583), Belgium (197), and Denmark (170) during the same period.

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