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Political Sensitivity at the Peak of the Cold War

by on March 22, 2012


In February 1963, the United Nations (UN) held the UN Conference on the Application of Science and Technology for the Benefit of the Less Developed Areas (UNCAST) in Geneva, Switzerland. This conference, held at the peak of the Cold War, brought together about 1,600 delegates from 96 countries, including delegations from both the West and its allies and from communist countries, to address the issue of utilizing science and technology to assist developing countries – the “less developed areas.”

As the report of the United States delegation to the Conference noted, the Conference agenda “could not avoid raising sensitive political issues” and that the “danger loomed large of the Conference becoming a forum for ideological debate – which could have ruined it.” Given the political sensitivity of the Conference at this stage of the Cold War, the U.S. was naturally concerned about the delegates it and its allies chose not representing overtly political sentiments.

One document I stumbled across while processing the RG 286 series “Records Relating to the United Nations Conference on the Application of Science and Technology for the Benefit of the Less Developed Areas, 1962-1963” (ARC Identifier 6120052) details the consideration of Chon Sang-kun as a member of the South Korean delegation to UNCAST. Marked “confidential,” it indicates the sensitive nature of considering such a candidate as Chon.

From file unit "G - Scientific Secretary Activities" (ARC Identifier 6202011)

Chon was controversial because his brother was Chon San-ch’on, Syngman Rhee’s “infamous” Minister of Public Information from January 1959 until April 1960 when Rhee resigned and his regime fell from power. After the April Revolution in South Korea, Chon San-ch’on spent two years in prison for his role in “rigging” the March 1960 election. As a result of his brother’s infamy, Chon Sang-kun was dismissed from his position as plant manager at the Munkyung Cement Company after the April Revolution.

From file unit "G - Scientific Secretary Activities" (ARC Identifier 6202011)

However in 1962, Chon was  slated to represent South Korea at UNCAST on “the development and fostering of technical trained manpower.” After detailing the political considerations behind choosing Chon, the document notes that Chon was an “intelligent, forceful, articulate (his English is fluent), and dedicated individual” and that he “has not been politically active.” While Chon went on to serve at UNCAST as rapporteur for the specialized session on building materials and building techniques, this document highlights the sensitive political considerations being made by the U.S. and its allies in selecting delegates prior to the Conference.

More records relating to U.S. preparation for UNCAST can be found in the RG 286 series “Records Relating to the United Nations Conference on the Application of Science and Technology for the Benefit of the Less Developed Areas, 1962-1963” (ARC Identifier 6120052). The Agency for International Development’s temporary Science Conference Staff was responsible for organizing U.S. participation in the Conference. Additionally, records from the U.S. delegation to UNCAST can be found in the RG 43 series “Program Records, 01/01/1962-02/20/1963” (ARC Identifier 2825218). A copy of the document featured in this post can be found in the Department of State “Central Decimal Files, 1910-1963″ (ARC Identifier 302021) from RG 59. Marked with the decimal filing code “399.801-GE/12-2662″ in the top right corner, the copy and other documents relating to UNCAST can be found in this series filed under decimal number 399.801. All of the abovementioned series are great sources of information for researchers interested in UNCAST and its Cold War context or in the scientific and technological discussions at the Conference. Come to Archives II if you are interested in seeing documents from these series, or contact archives2reference@nara.gov for more information.


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