The American Committees on Foreign Relations is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing public dialogue on foreign relations. Established as a program of the Council on Foreign Relations in 1938, ACFR became its own association in 1995 and established headquarters in Washington , D.C. Comprised of 15 local affiliates around the country, ACFR promotes dialogue between civic leaders and policy makers and other foreign relations experts through lecture-discussions and other civic forums.
The main activity of the Washington office of ACFR is the Speaker’s Program, through which knowledgeable foreign policy specialists from Washington, from policy institutes and universities throughout the U.S., and from abroad, are recruited to travel to meetings of Committees, in response to the requests from Committee members for programs on particular topics (and often, with a particular speaker). Up to eight programs a year are provided to each of the Committees under ACFR auspices. Member dues pay for the travel costs of the speakers. ACFR speakers receive no honoraria; they willingly accept the speaking opportunity as a way to gain access to knowledgeable publics in the U.S. “heartland” and to engage in spirited dialogue on topics of mutual interest. Often, a speaker will have just completed a book or policy paper and will want to share his or her findings by means of the Committees’ program. Speakers also welcome the opportunity to engage with local media, schools, and colleges, as well as to taste the highlights of local cultures and cuisines.
The Washington office of ACFR also organizes an annual conference every spring for members from Committees across the country. The typical format is a Thursday reception at a foreign embassy in Washington, followed by a full day of panels on Friday featuring well-known specialists on current and controversial topics. The highlight of the conference is the Friday evening reception and dinner at the Franklin Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the U.S. Department of State, where the attendees are addressed by a high State Department official, and where the ACFR Distinguished Service Award is presented to an outstanding honoree. On the following day, each Committee is represented at the Annual Meeting of the ACFR Board of Directors, which elects ACFR officers, adopts the annual budget, and sets policy for the organization.
The National Conference for 2010 was held on Thursday, May 6 and Friday, May 7 in Washington, D.C. . The Thursday evening opening reception was held at the Embassy of Pakistan and was hosted by Ambassador Hussain Haqqani, who spoke to the Tulsa Committee in March 2003. The Friday panels, on the theme “Plus ca change: The More Things Change,” were held at the Washington office of the Council on Foreign Relations. At the luncheon on Friday, the address was given by Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, who was presented with the CFR Distinguished Service Award. The Friday evening dinner was held in the Diplomatic Rooms of the U.S. Department of State, hosted by Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller. Further information is available at www.acfr.org.
ACFR occasionally organizes overseas study tours for Committee members. Although there are tourism opportunities, these trips are centered on high-level briefings for attendees by top officials, journalists, business people, and academicians. The most recent of these trips, organized by Bob Donaldson of Tulsa and ACFR Executive Director Ken Jensen, brought about 20 members of committees around the U.S. to Lithuania and to Russia. Highlights included attendance at the conference in Vilnius which celebrated Lithuania’s accession to the EU and to NATO, and briefings in Moscow at the Carnegie Moscow Center and the Moscow Institute of International Relations (the Foreign Ministry’s diplomatic training academy), as well as a dinner hosted at the country dacha of Russia’s foremost living poet, Yevgeny Yevtushenko.