International Cultural Cooperation

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International Cultural Cooperation


In general usage, the term international cultural cooperation refers to both public and private and to both national and international efforts to promote the transmission of knowledge, skills, arts, and information across national boundaries. It includes such activities as exchanges of students and scholars, technical assistance programs, and informational programs through mass media. However, the meaning of the term has been undergoing significant changes since the 1940s and there are signs that it will acquire a more precise meaning in the immediate future.

In its earlier phases international cultural cooperation was principally the concern of individuals or such voluntary organizations as religious bodies, educational institutions, foundations, and business groups. Although national cultural resources were sometimes marshaled for the development of colonial territories, most national governments did not undertake the systematic promotion of cultural activities across national boundaries until comparatively recently.

Governmentally sponsored cultural activities remained for many years a kind of optional adjunct to the governmental conduct of foreign relations and even until World War II were recognized to be of importance for the attainment of foreign policy objectives by only a few countries, notably France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Today, the cultural dimension is recognized in some degree by virtually all countries to be an essential element in the conduct of foreign relations. At the same time, this dimension has become central to the work of most international organizations, whether for the stimulation of a sense of community or for providing varieties of technical assistance to newly developing countries.

Strictly speaking, the term international cultural cooperation should be limited to activities of international organizations, such as the United Nations, the Organization of American States, or the European Community organizations. National efforts using cultural resources as instruments of foreign policy are not really international in the modern use of the term.

The recent impetus to international cultural cooperation is the result of several factors in the contemporary international scene: (1) the positive role assigned by member states to the United Nations in the maintenance of peace and in the development of conditions essential to a peaceful community; (2) a widely held belief that increasing cultural cooperation can contribute to international understanding and the development of the peaceful world community; (3) the reality of interdependence among all nations in their development and in their need for access to the cultural, intellectual, and technological resources of the world; and (4) a recognition that while postwar tensions and ideological conflicts cannot be resolved by resort to modern weapons, they may at least be mitigated by promotion of international understanding and advancement of human welfare through cultural cooperation among nations.

In the organized promotion of international cultural cooperation, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization clearly was given the central role among the United Nations agencies. Its focus was initially upon the general advancement of knowledge and promotion of international understanding by encouraging communication and cooperation in education, science, culture, and the mass media. The rapid emergence of new states in former colonial territories led, however, to increasing focus upon cultural cooperation as a means of dealing with developmental problems. These called for assistance in strengthening the basic resources of education, science, the mass media, and the humanities. But from the start UNESCO assistance required coordination with the technical assistance coming from other United Nations agencies and especially the World Health Organization, the International Labour Organisation, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the United Nations itself, and the UN regional commissions in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The Expanded Program of Technical Assistance for Economic Development and the related work of the Special Fund became a composite effort of the United Nations agencies to promote international cultural cooperation in the widest sense of that term: that is, marshaling world resources of knowledge, skill, education, science, and the arts in a world community effort to speed the development process in new countries. This is in cost and quantity the most important part of present-day international cultural cooperation.

Regional organizations, such as the Organization of American States and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, have developed cultural cooperation programs of considerable importance, both to promote understanding and to provide developmental assistance.

International cultural cooperation is still overshadowed by natural cultural activities in support of foreign policy objectives (student exchanges, technical assistance, information programs, etc.). These activities may complement international cultural activities insofar as national policy is consistent with policies of the international agencies.

A large segment of cultural cooperation across national boundaries lies outside the domain of international organizations and national governments. It is carried on by national and international non-governmental agencies, including foundations, business, welfare, religious, and professional agencies. They place a substantial emphasis on assistance to newly developing countries and in this way help reduce the need for national and international governmental activities.

The literature on cultural cooperation has rapidly increased, especially during the postwar period. Official documentation of international organizations and national governments has focused on policy questions, organization, administration, and financing, and to some extent upon evaluation of effectiveness. Lengthy committee discussions and debates in national legislatures, especially the U.S. Congress, and in the United Nations agencies have revealed growing interest and recognition that a new dimension is developing in international relations. Scholarly writings have been partially historical and descriptive and partially analytical and have sought to test the significance of this new dimension. Among the principal concerns of social scientists have been:

(1) Techniques for evaluation of the impact of cultural cooperation activities.

(2)Definition of goals toward which cultural cooperation can contribute.

(3)Evaluations of types of cultural cooperation, including exchanges of scholars and students, information, propaganda, communications, and technical assistance.

(4)Evaluations of specific cultural cooperation programs and experiences.

(5)Governmental and international organization policy in relation to cultural cooperation,

(6)Institutional facilities for cultural cooperation within the world community, including the role of universities.

(7)Communication between cultures and between nations, often with special reference to cross-cultural education.

Walter H. C. Laves

[See alsoInternational organization; Technical assistance.]


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International Cultural Cooperation