March 25, 2002
I am pleased to submit a statement in support of the FY2003 appropriations request from the Center for Russian Leadership Development to the Legislative Branch Subcommittee of the United States Senate.
I am submitting this testimony wearing, if you will, multiple hats: as a member of the Board of Trustees appointed by the Librarian of Congress, Dr. James H. Billington, in accordance with the terms of P. L. 106-554, and also as ambassador from the United States to Russia from 1997 to July 2001. I would like to share my impressions of the need and value associated with the "Open World" Russian Leadership Program managed by the Center. I have been associated with the program since its inception and I have enjoyed a unique perspective because I have had the opportunity to gauge the need for and efficacy of the program in Russia and to contemplate its long-term effect since my return to the United States last summer.
I have known Jim Billington for many years. During this time we have been colleagues and friends with a shared, deep interest in improving relations between the United States and Russia - through the Cold War, glasnost, perestroika, and the current period exemplified by burgeoning ties between the two countries nurtured by an interest in promoting democracy and market economy in Russia. I will not here review all the reasons why I believe these ties are important - my career commitment and Jim Billington's own testimony on this subject are sufficient. Rather I want to focus on my own role in shaping the first pilot Open World exchange in 1999 and how I have already seen the results of that effort and succeeding years.
As a career State Department official, I have been intimately familiar with the full-range of exchange efforts that the U. S. government has conducted with Russia for many years. Programs such as the International Visitors Program have been instrumental in bringing educators, scientists, government officials, and cultural leaders to the United States for extended stays of a few weeks' time. These programs were the mainstay of maintaining important ties to key opinion leaders in the former Soviet Union, particularly through the Cold War era. Few such programs were available to non-English-speaking leaders far from the power centers of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Numbers of visitors also fluctuated with funding for such activities as U.S. foreign policy priorities dictated.
Had the Cold War lingered on and Russia not begun a series of remarkable transitions in the late 1980's, such an approach would probably have been sufficient. With the collapse of Communism in Russia and that nation's completely unanticipated turn toward democratic principles and processes, a more dramatic effort - in both scope and size - was clearly needed. Jim Billington was a direct observer of what he correctly calls Athe greatest political transformation in the late twentieth century": the final overthrow of Communist rule in Moscow in 1991. Perhaps no other living scholar/statesman - for that truly is Jim Billington's calling - was better poised to comprehend both the promise and danger that lay ahead for Russia and its people. Jim is hard-nosed about the lingering threat that Russia's vast stores of nuclear weapons and materials pose for the West. He is simultaneously poetic about the long history of the Russian people's struggles to survive their leaders.
It is our country's good fortune that Jim Billington's understanding of Russia's politics and her people collided, so to speak, in April 1999 with the collective political insight and will of the many Members of Congress gathered early one morning to discuss the state of U.S.-Russian relations at an Aspen Institute breakfast. Jim has escorted many CODELS and even Presidential Summit delegations to Russia. He offers guidance when asked and informs whenever and wherever possible about Russia's complex and remarkable history and culture. Fluent in its language and familiar with its far reaches, Jim keeps a steady eye on and ear to the Russian citizen's attitudes toward the West and the United States in particular.
When asked about Russian views toward the U.S. engagement in Kosovo, Jim provided both an important history lesson and a note of concern about the deterioration of the average Russian's views of U.S. foreign policy. When asked what could be done, Jim offered a dramatic, but certainly not new proposal: a large-scale program modeled on that portion of the Marshall Plan that brought thousands of young Germans to the United States for essential training to rebuild their shattered nation and its economy. Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the Marshall Plan. Even after 50 years, numerous participants spoke at celebrations, symposia, and reminiscences of the power and efficacy of the U.S. investment in guaranteeing the democratic future of the German Federal Republic.
Jim and I had discussed such an approach many times. I am certain that he raised it to many senior Members of Congress or presidential advisors. In April 1999 the time and place had come together. With the strong backing of Members of Congress - Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, then-Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, Representative David Obey of Wisconsin, to name but a few who involved themselves in the first discussions of launching and funding such a program - the "Open World" Russian Leadership Program was launched in May 1999. The Open World Program was tasked with bringing up to 3,000 of Russia's future political leaders to the United States to see democracy and a market economy for themselves, all in a scarce five-month period.
In all candor, I must tell the members of this subcommittee that I was pleased to be involved in shaping the program, its goals, and its management. As Ambassador in Moscow, I knew that this program would affect official relations with all levels of the Russian government and that the embassy's own resources of staff would be greatly strained - if only by the unprecedented number of visas we would be processing.
I had already had the opportunity to travel widely throughout the Russian Federation and knew firsthand the tremendous reserves of political talent dedicated to building democracy in Russia and eager to understand options open to Russia from American experience. I also was well aware of a whole generation of emerging leaders faced with the daunting challenges of a virtually-ruined economy and collapsing social infrastructure. Like Jim Billington, I shared a belief that a program of the size and scope we were proposing had to reach deep into every area of Russia - over thousands of miles - to introduce a shock wave of direct experience with the country that had so long been identified in the minds of every Russian as Russia's principal adversary.
If invited, would they come?
If they came, what benefit could be derived in 10 days?
I will not dwell very long on the first question. The record of achievement speaks for itself; Jim Symington's and Jim Billington's testimony amply cover the challenges of mounting such a large-scale program. We had heroic partners in both Russia and the United States. In Russia, the U.S. consulates and a score of organizations including the Open Society Institute, IREX, and others, including leading Russian government and non-government organizations, provided a superb pool of nominees from 86 Russia's 89 regions. In the United States, voluntary organizations such as Rotary International, Peace Links, and the Russia Initiative of the Methodist Church became the program's partners and made it possible for over 2,000 young Russian leaders to experience the political ideals and American hospitality of over 500 American communities. Jim Symington's heartwarming experience in Lee's Summit, Missouri, was repeated hundreds of times as young Russians shared volunteerism, political debate, barbeques, sports events, American music, and Fourth of July picnics and parades.
I would like to devote the balance of my testimony to the second question. We know the Russian have come to the United States under the aegis of the "Open World" Program - nearly 4,000 leaders from 88 regions. What has the experience meant to them and what does that experience offer to persuade members of this subcommittee to support its continuation and growth?
The facilities at Spaso House offer the U.S. Ambassador to Russia a wonderful place to engage continually Russian leaders and citizens. Virtually all receptions held after September 1999 included Open World alumni. I also met groups in Samara, Saratov, Tomsk, Tolyatti, and Novosibirsk at locations where the United States launched American Corners and Centers to house much-needed information resources about the United States. Let me describe what I think is important about the experience the Open World Program provides from the impressions I gained at these meetings and alumni conferences:
- The program is reaching not only a large number of young Russians - the average age is 38 - but Russians involved in town, city and regional non-governmental organizations, and regional and city Dumas - who would not be invited to the United States under any other circumstances. These are the future leaders of a civil society in Russia's regions.
- The Open World Program does not require English speakers and gives priority to first-time visitors to the United States. In hundreds of communities, the Open World Program is providing the first contact with America - with the real America, not reruns of Dallas.
- Unlike virtually all other exchange programs, Open World guests stay in American homes. Direct contact with American families in your home states is the most powerful public diplomacy tool that America possesses. Open World has fully capitalized on that possibility - nearly 4,000 Russians have stayed in over 700 communities in 48 states and the District of Columbia. The photo albums that document each visit and return to Russia with our guests capture memories and experiences that will be discussed around kitchen tables in both countries for years to come.
- Each participant returns home with new insight into American values and an understanding of just what we means by accountable government. Participants also told me repeatedly - judges, nurses, city councilmen, etc. - how much they valued the exchanges they had with American counterparts.
When the Board of Trustees met recently for the first time, we were given the opportunity to scale back the program or expand it. We voted overwhelmingly to expand the scope and debated the desirability of allowing return visits to Russia by American hosts. We were fortunate the first year to have the opportunity to bring newly elected State Duma Deputies - nearly 25 percent traveled to the United States and were hosted by Members of Congress.
As new leadership enters the Duma and Federation Council and they are tasked with enacting significant legislation dealing with trade and security issues, it is more important than ever to continue to expand these ties. I am particularly pleased that the Congressional members of the Center's Board of Trustees want to be fully engaged with their counterparts. This aspect of the Open World Program - direct and sustained legislature-to-legislature relations - is of the utmost importance. As Ambassador, I worked with scores of CODELS, but I must emphasize how important it is for Russian legislators to meet their American counterparts on American soil and to participate in the informed and transparent work of the U.S. Congress.
In closing, I urge you to support the Center's FY2003 request for $10.0M. The members of the board are committed to assisting with private fundraising but results cannot be expected overnight. Meanwhile, the continuing support of the U.S. Congress for this program - or the lack thereof - will be noticed in Russia. I can assure members of this subcommittee that senior Russian officials in all three branches of their government are keenly aware of it and appreciative of the opportunities the Open World Program affords Russian political leaders of all parties and points of view.