11. Memorandum From the Director of the U.S. Information Agency (Allen) to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Gray)0


  • Your Memo of June 11
After a good deal of thought, I have come reluctantly to the conclusion that a proposal to bring a large number of Soviet students to the United States, in a one-way exchange, would do us rather more harm than good in world opinion.
I think we may assume that the Soviet Government would not accept, so the question of the propaganda value of the proposal is the real issue. The Soviet Government was reluctant to allow even the 20 Soviet citizens to study in the U.S. who are now here, and then only on a strictly reciprocal basis. In fact, even the present arrangement will run into severe difficulties if any Soviet student returns to the USSR and expresses pro-democratic or pro-U.S. views.
If a proposal were made for a large number of Soviet students to come to the U.S. without any mention of more American students going to the USSR, the Soviet Government would immediately denounce it because of the lack of reciprocity. National pride alone would force the Soviets to object, aside from other considerations.
It can be argued that such a one-sided proposal would have a propaganda advantage for us from the very fact of its being declined. The latest issue of the Soviet magazine USSR (copy attached)2 carries on page 17 an open letter from a Soviet student addressed to American youth. It praises the exchange idea and claims that Soviet students are anxious to learn to know American students better, in order to develop better understanding. We could take them up on this by proposing that 10,000 of them come here, at our expense, to study for a year in American [Page 31] universities. If they decline, we could expose their assertions for what they are—pure propaganda.
This approach has a good deal of appeal. However, unless we offer reciprocity from the start, I believe our proposal would rather quickly backfire against us. We ourselves would be accused of engaging in a propaganda exercise. People in third countries such as Britain, France, India, etc., would not expect the USSR to agree to a one-way exchange in our direction. Even though world opinion were convinced, as it might well be, that the President had made his proposal in good faith, everybody would think he had made a one-sided offer in confidence that it would be declined, and most people would at least understand, and perhaps even sympathize with, the Soviet refusal.
The Open Skies proposal made at Geneva in 1955 was excellent for the very reason that it was reciprocal. If the President makes any proposal about student exchange, I think it should be a reciprocal offer from the start.
I believe it would be a good idea for the President to make a dramatic offer of an exchange of 10,000 students in each direction.
Such an offer, even if strictly reciprocal, would be refused by the USSR on one ground or another since the Soviet Government will not dare run the risk of having a large number of Soviet students exposed to a free society. It can be argued that the President would expose himself as a propagandist by making even this offer, since he would have every reason to expect, when he made it, that it would be refused. While I recognize some validity to this argument, I believe, on balance, that a reciprocal proposal would have many more advantages than disadvantages, at least in the eyes of third countries. It would show our confidence in the superiority of our system, and if by any remote possibility it were accepted, we would gain handsomely in the exchange.
It might be difficult to persuade the American people to support the suggestion that thousands of Americans might be permitted to study under the Communist system. However, since the likelihood of acceptance is practically nil, little harm would be done and we would reap advantage in world opinion for having made a courageous offer towards easing world tensions.
George V. Allen
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Project Clean Up. Confidential.
  2. In his June 1 memorandum to the Vice President, the Acting Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Acting Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, and the Directors of the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Information Agency, Gray recalled the May 21 NSC discussion on East-West exchanges and the suggestion by the President to bring increased numbers of Soviet undergraduate students to American colleges and universities and the Vice President’s suggestion to invite members of the Soviet “managerial” class to visit the United States. Gray asked the addressees to advise him of their personal judgments as to the merits of these two suggestions. (Department of State, Central Files, 511.613/6–159)
  3. Not found attached.