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Why We Should Expand the Fulbright Program

Posted by Karen Traeger on Apr 20 2015
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By:  Jack Hipkins

It is in the best interest of the United States to shift funding from defense spending, to areas of soft power, such as the Fulbright Program.

The Fulbright program was created in 1946 through the efforts of Senator J. William Fulbright, with the intention of using surplus war goods to fund the “promotion of international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture, and science.”

Since its inception in 1946 the program has had around 325,400 participants, with 122,800 coming from the United States and 202,600 from foreign countries. The program is designed to increase the level of mutual understanding between cultures and therefore increase their levels of cooperation and good feeling.

Not only does the Fulbright program encourage scholarly achievement and cultural development between countries, but is also an important aspect of US power throughout the world. The Fulbright program is one of the most important and effective soft power instruments that the US possesses, and serves to increase the US’s influence and reputation throughout the globe.

However despite all of these benefits, the Fulbright program was at risk of loosing $30.5 million of it’s funding for the 2015 fiscal year due to budget cuts. This cut would have brought overall funding for the program from $234.7 to $204.2 million. This amounts to a 13.5 percent reduction, which would have been the most severe cut in the programs history. Thankfully, lobbying efforts by Fulbright alumni, among others, led to the appropriations committee’s in both the House of Representatives and the Senate voting to not only restore the program’s full funding but also increase it by $1.8 million to $236.4 million.

While the US government was considering cutting $30.5 million from the Fulbright program it was busy passing a Defense budget that amounts to a whopping $585 billion. By comparison, the Fulbright program costs .04% of what the Defense budge does.

Given the mixed results of recent military actions in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, the US should shift its policy of heavily relying on military force to encouraging more peaceful means of wielding influence. By spending even just .1% of the money slated for the defense budget, the US would have an additional $585 million to spend on expanding the Fulbright program, and developing additional programs that can project US power and influence in a peaceful manner.

It is time for US senators and congressmen to reduce their subservience to the military-industrial complex, and push for a greater emphasis on other proven means of exerting US power in the global community. 

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