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Citizen Diplomacy Abroad

What You Can Do to Prevent Terrorism

Can the feelings of vulnerability that terrorist threats evoke be transformed into action that decreases the probability of terrorist acts?

The answer is "Yes," become a citizen diplomat. Citizen diplomats are ordinary citizens who open their homes, offices, or farms to emerging international leaders, entrepreneurs, and scholars. Visitors may be participants in the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Program, the Fulbright Program, the U.S.D.A. Graduate School, or any of the numerous exchange programs sponsored by government or private sector. Those who promote citizen diplomacy believe that in a democracy the individual citizen has the right—indeed, the responsibility—to help shape foreign relations "one handshake at a time."

If war is too important to be left to the general, as the old maxim asserts, then diplomacy is too important to be the exclusive domain of official diplomats. The thousands of volunteers who host participants in international exchange programs are working hard to foster international understand and cooperation—to fight stereotypes and prejudices. The U.S. is blessed with a number of national networks of citizen diplomats who open their homes, offices, and schools to foreign leaders, specialists, and scholars.

One International Visitor Program alumna eloquently captured the impact of these programs designed to give foreign leaders firsthand exposure to U.S. society, history, and values. Madhura Chatrapathy, trustee director of the Asian Centre for Entrepreneurial Initiatives, in Bangalore, India, told a Boston audience: "You welcomed a stranger; you sent home a friend."

Exchanges, and the volunteers who make them possible, develop the web of human connections that provides a more receptive context for the efforts of official diplomats. Take France and Germany for examples:

In 1999 former French President Valerey Giscard d’Estaing, who was an exchange visitor to the U.S. in 1956 while a young parliamentarian, observed: "The America that I experienced was vigorous, self-confident, and all the while welcoming us with generosity: an indelible image I always remember when our relations are involved."

An International Visitor in 1981, German Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder stated that the International Visitor Program is "one of the most intelligent ways of giving young politicians a positive attitude about America."

Building constructive relationships with emerging leaders around the world is perhaps the best way to achieve homeland security.

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