CHAPTER 6: STUDENT PROTEST AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
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Chapter 6 STUDENT PROTEST AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS STUDENT PROTEST in the second half of the 1960s did not have an immediate influence on the course of U.S. foreign policy, but the efforts of activists on both sides of the Atlantic did play an important part in its institutional conceptualization. The impact of youthful dissent continued to occupy American policymakers in the Johnson and Nixon administrations, who sought to analyze this worldwide phenomenon most effectively and minimize its damage to U.S. interests. To that end, the role of the Inter-Agency Youth Committee (IAYC), which served as the center of all government efforts directed at foreign youth, had grown in significance since the mid1960s . In addition, the Department of State initiated further study groups on student unrest and implemented structural changes in the training and selection of its diplomatic personnel to make them better equipped to deal with the challenge of student protest. Other agencies, such as the CIA, conducted lengthy reviews of the international dimension of youthful unrest that even provoked heated discussions in the Johnson cabinet. On the local level, and with respect to the Federal Republic, U.S. diplomats began to pay more attention to the concerns of foreign students and tried to integrate their interests into American cultural diplomacy efforts. To cater toward this future generation of leaders more effectively, the Department of State altered its country programming and made youth its primary target group. It also adjusted its cultural exchange programs in response to the increasing influence of youth and used former West German grantees, who had participated in transatlantic exchanges during the 1950s, to counter unfavorable opinions about the United States in the Federal Republic. Sensing a growing political alienation from the transatlantic alliance and a transformation of West German society as a possible result of the student movement, U.S. officials restructured their attempts to recapture the hearts and minds of the young on various levels. U.S. GOVERNMENT REACTIONS TO STUDENT UNREST AFTER THE “FRENCH MAY” The reactions of the U.S. government to the West German student movement reflected a much larger effort to come to terms with the international INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS 195 dimension of student unrest. The May events of 1968 in France took the Johnson administration and the Department of State completely by surprise and dramatically confirmed the significance that the Inter-Agency Youth Committee had placed on European youth since the mid-1960s. Recognizing student protest as a crucial factor in international relations, the administration now felt the need to guard its foreign political interests against the challenge of the young generation worldwide and began to devise adequate political responses with the help of the IAYC. In the aftermath of the French May, inquiries into the Western European and international youth scene became a priority on the agenda of the Department of State. In a circular to all American overseas posts, dated May 30, 1968, U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk described the events in Paris as a “sobering lesson” that illustrated “how successful a handful of university students in France were in precipitating a crisis which has potentially very serious overtones for our foreign policy interests .”1 Since similar discontent might still be “somewhat masked elsewhere ,” Rusk urged U.S. officials to look for national trends toward similar incidents: “[O]ur concern cannot be solely with the crises such disaffection may generate. We must be concerned with the very existence of such undercurrents before they coalesce to force action on long-standing social problems. They are a part of the ambiance in which we operate today and, more importantly, may foreshadow future national policies. As such, they must be evaluated and reported.”2 The response from diplomatic posts worldwide was overwhelming. In a memorandum to the president, Special Assistant for National Security Affairs Walt Rostow summed it up as follows: “So far 1968 has witnessed outbreaks of student violence in about 25 nations—including ours. . . . Quantitative data and factual indicators are few in the face of assertions, value judgments and speculations—many of the latter support contrary conclusions.”3 Trying to come to terms with this phenomenon analytically , Rostow pinpointed the following factors for this revolt: advances in modern technology, the need for institutional reforms, tensions from an “oligarchic to [a] more broadly based rule of society,” a progressively militant urge to have a say in one’s own destiny, as well as a striving for wealth...


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