chapter  10
19 Pages

Piercing the Iron Curtain? Competing Visions of Transnational Expert Community and the Question of International Order after 1945


Recent scholarship has shown that alongside the superpowers’ political and economic rivalry during the Cold War, the arms race and the ongoing rhetoric of confrontation throughout the conflict, there were various forms of cultural, humanitarian and expert internationalism that could pierce the Iron Curtain. Although movements across the East-West divide intersected with the aspirations of the superpowers, they were not fully determined by American or Soviet aims and were capable of following distinct agendas of their own. 1 This happened in an international arena in which the non-aligned nations of Europe in particular could pursue flexible strategies towards the United States and the Soviet Union, often sponsoring interactions between the two spheres. 2 Moreover, programmes of cultural exchange promoted dialogue between East and West, and sporting events provided sites for contact through competition. 3

Besides conferences and sport tournaments, various forms of expert internationalism aimed to transcend Cold War cleavages. 4 Numerous commissions of the United Nations (UN) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) became forums for East-West cooperation among professionals such as nuclear scientists and social experts. Moreover, researchers attempted to continue long-established forms of professional communication, maintaining contacts with their colleagues working abroad and resuming their engagement in specialist networks across the new divisions of post-war Europe. Both the desire to compete with the ideological enemy and the belief in the objectivity and impartiality of science fostered faith in transnational cooperation. 5

Building on the scholarship on relations across the political divisions of the Cold War, my chapter argues that expert internationalism put forth ideas about transnational professional community that could question the predominant geopolitical context of the Cold War on a broader scale than previous studies on East-West cooperation have suggested. I will show how expert networks imagined conceptions of transnational community that not only challenged the rivalry between East and West but also called into question the cohesion of the Western alliance and offered alternatives to the internationalism of intergovernmental organisations such as the UN.