9. Letter From Secretary of State Rusk to President Kennedy1

Dear Mr. President:

As you are well aware, informational, cultural and educational activities have become a major factor in United States foreign relations. In your State of the Union address you emphasized that these activities must be given even greater importance in the future.2 They can strengthen our ties with older nations, help advance underdeveloped nations, and enable the younger generation to build a positive long run basis for world peace.

Everyone who has looked into it, including several recent task forces and consultants, is strongly agreed that this whole area is in serious and urgent need of policy clarification, program coordination and strong direction.

A wide variety of related activities have proliferated in a number of Federal agencies. In the absence of any clear policy or direction, and under pressures from many sources, there have been conflicts both of philosophy and of day-to-day operations among these agencies, often to the detriment of our foreign relations.

When it comes to solutions, our advisers are generally agreed that responsibility for developing policy and coordinating programs must be focused in one place, even though operations may be shared among agencies.

There are very divergent opinions, however, as to whether and how these diverse activities should be reorganized. The primary agencies involved (though there are many other peripheral ones) are the United States Information Agency, the International Cooperation Agency, the Bureau of Cultural and Educational Affairs of the Department of State, and the Department of Defense.

The different advisers tend to propose solutions which emphasize their own primary concerns and experience. Some emphasize primarily the “psychological” or propaganda objective and impact, some the [Page 37] “development” aspect, and others the long-range cultural and humanistic objectives. Actually, of course, all these are important and a way must be found to give them all a properly balanced emphasis.

Having considered the various diagnoses and cures that have been submitted, I have come to the following conclusions which I wish to share with you. (1) Although reorganization and redistribution of activities among various agencies will undoubtedly be necessary, this should not be our most immediate concern. Reorganization plans should be based on sound experience of the next few months.

The most pressing need right now is to provide all these agencies with clear, firm and imaginative policy and program direction. Even under present organizational arrangements, I am convinced, a much more forceful and imaginative job can be done, especially with an infusion of able people in key positions.

(2) Since all of these activities deeply affect our foreign relations, and since the Secretary of State has clearcut responsibility under existing legislation for providing policy guidance or direction to three of the four primary agencies concerned, I believe that the Department of State is the appropriate place to center policy development and coordination for the executive agencies with respect to these matters.

(3) In order that the State Department may be properly staffed and organized to exercise this responsibility vigorously and imaginatively, I propose to appoint a well qualified person as Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs. Through consolidation, we have made available an Assistant Secretaryship for this purpose. I believe that a post at this level is requisite to giving the new position and the subject itself proper prestige and authority. This Assistant Secretary, working closely with the operating agencies concerned, would concentrate his energies on clarifying, developing and communicating policies in this area and insuring that such policies were faithfully expressed in operating programs. In this position he could maintain a balanced perspective of the several major objectives involved and devote himself fully to the central problem of policy development and program coordination which confronts us. This Assistant Secretary would also be concerned with providing guidance and stimulation to colleges, universities and private foundations and organizations that constitute the main “resource base” for the nation’s international activities in these fields.

I hope to secure for this position, as you know, Philip H. Coombs of the Ford Foundation who I believe is well qualified by experience, ability and personality to get this job done. If you agree with these proposals, I believe that it would help exceedingly to get things off to a fresh start if you personally would announce the new arrangements. [Page 38] Enclosed is a draft press release3 which suggests what I have in mind by way of an announcement.

I will, of course, welcome the opportunity to answer any questions you have on any aspect of this matter.

Faithfully yours,

Dean Rusk4
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Subjects Series, Box 296, Cultural and Social Activities, General, 1/61–8/61. No classification marking.
  2. For the text of the President’s State of the Union address, which he delivered before a joint session of Congress on January 30, see Public Papers: Kennedy, 1961, pp. 19–28. The United States Information Agency summarized the address in Potomac Cable No. 136, sent via Wireless File on January 30. (National Archives, RG 306, Director’s Subject Files, 1961, Entry UD WW 142, Box 7, Government Agencies—White House 1961 January–March)
  3. Attached but not printed is the 3-page draft press release, dated January 30, entitled “Suggested Press Release on International Educational and Cultural Affairs.”
  4. Printed from a copy that indicates that Rusk signed the original.