For almost 60 years, the United States government has sent more than 230,000 of its citizens abroad to serve as Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) for two-year tours, often in very poor countries. As these Volunteers work in grassroots development, helping to build local capacity, they also serve as citizen diplomats and contribute to U.S. public diplomacy. The unique experience of the Peace Corps provides the Volunteers knowledge and a profound understanding of another country or region of the world. Volunteers continue to serve their country as they bring their experience and knowledge back to the United States. Many of them go on to serve in the State Department and in the United States Agency for International Development. Some have even risen to the top ranks of the Foreign Service.
Thomas Nisley argues that the Peace Corps is an important tool of U.S. foreign policy that contributes on multiple levels. As these citizen diplomats do their work, they help to improve the popular image of the United States, contributing to U.S. “soft power.” Soft power is a co-optive power, getting others to want what you want.
After a general exploration of how the Peace Corps contributes to U.S. foreign policy, the book takes a direct focus on Latin America. Dr. Nisley provides evidence, along with a theoretical explanation, that PCVs do indeed improve the popular perception of the United States in Latin America. He then examines three different periods in U.S foreign policy toward Latin America and shows how the Peace Corps made its contribution.
Not all U.S. policy makers have equally recognized the role of the Peace Corps in U.S. foreign policy. Some have even dismissed it outright. This book argues that the Peace Corps plays an important role in U.S. foreign policy. Although the Peace Corps is much stronger today than it was in the late 1970s and early 1980s, U.S. foreign policy would be well served if the Peace Corps were further strengthen and expanded, not only in Latin America but in the world. We should consider the wider policy benefits of the Peace Corps.