Younger generations of Americans, specifically those under age 30, have grown up with a completely different understanding of the world than their predecessors – one that is colored not by the Cold War but by September 11th.  Recent events in Ukraine, however, serve as a reminder that 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the sweeping democratic transformations that followed, Europe is not free from conflict.  As the world’s attention has focused on armed struggles in the Middle East and the rise of Asia, we risk forgetting something both simple and essential: Transatlantic relations still matter. In fact, they’re crucial to our future. 

The U.S.-European partnership is central to addressing problems requiring a global response – climate change and energy security; terrorism and organized crime; international trade and financial stability. Because we face a messier and more difficult world, international understanding --direct knowledge of different countries and cultures—will be vital to our ability to meet these many challenges. But if young people do not have the opportunity to experience the world outside the United States, where will our next generation of leaders come from?   

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When they eventually come into positions of responsibility, the commitment of young people to transatlantic problem-solving will depend in large part on their personal experience. There is no better way to inform young people and to make a life-lasting impression than through exchange programs.  Whether university study abroad, high school exchanges, fellowships, or internships in another country, U.S.-European exchange programs offer a new perspective for participants and broaden their worldview in ways they never forget.   

You never learn more about your own country and its place in an interdependent world than when you live outside of it, observing from a foreign angle looking in.  As former Robert Bosch Foundation Fellows to Germany, we had this experience 25 years apart, but its effect on us was the same: it opened our minds to new possibilities.  We know that the best ideas can come from anywhere; the key is to adapt them to your country and your culture. 

Unfortunately, some of these valuable opportunities to live abroad are currently threatened by potential funding cuts.  If they’re scaled back, all of our horizons will be diminished. 

Take the long-running Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) program, which has been a tremendously successful multiplier for cultural understanding with over 22,000 alumni in its 30 years of existence.  Funded by the U.S. Congress and the German Bundestag, CBYX could face some very detrimental cuts in a tight FY2015 budget environment in the U.S.  The negative impact could have strong ramifications for the U.S.-German relationship, which is already struggling to recover from the NSA affair, as we jointly face a number of global threats that demand cooperation. 

Today there are a number of deserving exchange programs to an impressive array of countries around the world, and they should not have to fight each other for limited dollars. The U.S. needs partners around the world that export security and export public goods to the international system. Europe has filled this role in an exemplary way, reliably contributing to security and prosperity around the world. It is both harmful and troubling if we fail to fund those exchange programs that help make our partnership work so well. 

The long and rich history of U.S.-European exchange has been a central foundation for the transatlantic relationship and has helped build a community of shared values as we address the multitude of issues before us. There is no better investment for the taxpayer than funds invested in international educational exchange.  Informing young people today will lead to better partners and stronger alliances for a generation to come, so that Europe and America can work together on behalf of a peaceful and prosperous planet.  

Kojm served as chairman of the National Intelligence Council from 2009-2014 and is currently a visiting professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. Tsafoulias is a former congressional staffer, Robert Bosch Foundation Fellow, and visiting fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin.  She currently serves as the Congressional adviser for the Embassy of Switzerland in Washington, D.C.