The Dartmouth Conference is the longest continuous bilateral dialogue between citizens of the Soviet Union, now Russia, and the United States. It has been an attempt to create a sustained dialogue on the changing nature of the relationship between the two countries for the purposes of preventing nuclear war and then strengthening the relationship between two powers that have much to contribute to world peace and development.
The first meeting took place in 1960 at the height of the Cold War with the secret support of President Dwight Eisenhower and Chairman Nikita Khrushchev. “I can’t talk to the Russians,” Eisenhower once told later Kettering Foundation board member Norman Cousins. “But somebody better.”
First held at New Hampshire’s Dartmouth College and, since 1972, continued by the Kettering Foundation, the talks have brought leading citizens from the two countries together in both large plenary sessions and smaller task forces to discuss the full range of issues affecting the US-Soviet relationship—political and economic relations, détente and arms control, and interactions between the two countries in regional conflicts beyond our borders.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Regional Conflicts Task Force conducted task force meetings between 1993 and 2005 to help citizens of former Soviet republics deal with their own conflicts—37 meetings between factions in a vicious internal conflict in Tajikistan and 12 meetings on the conflict involving Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Nagorno Karabakh. The current task force, begun in 2008, has focused on the Russian-US relationship, which reached a low point in that year after a brief military conflict between Russia and the former Soviet republic of Georgia.
As of fall 2015, more than 130 3-day dialogues have been held under the auspices of the original Dartmouth Conference.
Shortly after the turn of the 21st century, an experiment called the “New Dartmouth” project began. Russian and US citizens launched an increasingly ambitious exploration of the interaction between the civil societies in the two countries.
Through deliberative forums organized in each country by American and Russian researchers and civil society groups, the New Dartmouth project seeks to enhance citizens’ understanding of the relationship between the two countries. Research began by exploring citizens’ perceptions of the relationship and then moved on to discover what could be learned from how citizens in each country approach sensitive issues such as immigration and racial and ethnic tensions—key issues in both countries.
As Russia rapidly regains its status as a major power, this research aims to identify the underlying values that drive US-Russian relations in order to help build a more peaceful world.
On October 26, 2010, a day of events was held in Washington DC to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Dartmouth Conference. A commemorative book was created to celebrate the occasion.