International Organizations in the Cold War: The Circulation of Experts Beyond the East-West Divide


  • Michel Christian University of Geneva
  • Sandrine Kott University of Geneva
  • Ondřej Matějka Charles University, Prague; University of Geneva


This article aims to explain the existence and longevity of East-West contacts across the Iron Curtain between groups of actors in various international organizations. Three particular organizations,
the International Labour Organization (ILO), the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and the World Council of Churches (WCC), were chosen, all of which were involved in social, economic, and cultural issues. The official discourses of the era were clearly built in opposition to each other on each side of the Iron Curtain. This study allows us to understand the necessary conditions for the constitution of the groups of experts in the organizations who succeeded in working together, while still acknowledging their ideological differences. A focus on individual and collective actors and their career trajectories enables us to examine a hypothesis that specific “epistemic communities” gradually formed, based on convergent conceptions of modernity. In order to emphasize the global aspects of this process, our analysis pays attention to the North-South dimension as well as the East-West contacts. It examines the roles and perceptions of recently decolonized countries inside the chosen international organizations in order to identify another element contributing to the organizations’ stability.

Keywords: transnational history; international organizations; Cold War; epistemic communities

DOI: 10.14712/23363231.2017.17