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A/MS files, lot 54 D 291 (V), “UNA/P master file”

Paper Prepared by the United Nations Planning Staff, Bureau of United Nations Affairs


Propoganda in the United Nations


This paper attempts to make a preliminary analysis of the problem of US propaganda in the UN. It is hoped that an analysis of our experience [Page 106]to date may provide insights into advantageous courses of action in the future.

For the purposes of the analysis, it has been necessary to formulate a working definition which will distinguish “propaganda” from other aspects of US action in the UN. The definition used here is not meant to indicate what propaganda “should be” in all circumstances. It is merely a working tool to clarify the different motives and purposes which underlie our various actions and utterances in the UN.

For the purposes of this paper, therefore, the following meanings are used:

When our objective is primarily to influence the attitudes of others by communicating to them (through either words or actions) broad ideas or concepts, we speak of propaganda.

When our objective is primarily to attain certain diplomatic results, without primary consideration to how these may affect the attitudes of others, we speak of substantive policies.

(Most actions in the UN partake of both purposes in varying measure, and obviously in our substantive policies we often undertake propaganda operations to maximize or minimize their popular impact.)

scope of the problem

1. The UN, by virtue of its wide membership, open meetings, and multiple news media coverage, is a unique forum for propaganda. Propaganda takes many forms in the UN. The main categories are: (1) the forensics of debate before representatives of 59 other states, all of whom theoretically are open to persuasion and all of whom presumably will report back to their governments; (2) exploitation through press releases and conferences, of the news services available in unique quantity at the UN; (3) substantive policies “dressed up” for their broadest possible appeal to special audiences; (4) “policies” actually conceived or primarily motivated by propaganda considerations; and (5) purposeful public conduct, through personal behavior, voting tactics, etc., by delegates seeking to create special impressions.

2. It is understood that many member nations exploit as best they can, for their own purposes, the propaganda potential of the UN, e.g., the Arab-Asians on the colonial issue. Because of the Cold War, the UN has increasingly been used as a prime instrumentality in the ideological struggle between Soviet Communism and the free nations led by the US. The Soviet Union has wielded its propaganda as a powerful instrument of the Cold War, with the UN as one of its favored platforms and sounding boards. In the UN as in other arenas, the US has had to accept the Soviet challenge and intensify its own propaganda activities. (Because the GA epitomizes the public and parliamentary nature of the UN, it provides the chief illustration employed [Page 107]here. The problem is generally similar in ECOSOC and the TC, and to a more limited extent, in the Specialized Agencies.)

3. The UN itself constitutes a special audience, and divides up into a series of different audiences as well. In one sense we are dealing with individual nations through their representatives. But at the same time we are also confronted with those nations arranged in special political and regional groupings. These groupings often coalesce on abstract general principles such as human rights, equality, self-determination, independence, freedom, etc. Since democratic governments have to mean what they say and expect to be taken seriously, there is here a special problem for us, since to meet these pressures we have had to supplement ordinary techniques of diplomatic negotiation with actions calculated to evoke a sympathetic and responsive emotion in our audiences.

In this sense we are engaged in continuous propaganda operations in the UN, since very few actions are devoid of implications conveyed to other peoples in this fashion.

4. Given our diverse and multiple interests in the world, it is likely that American motives and interests would express themselves somewhat ambivalently even if there were no UN. It is indisputable, however, that in a body where, for instance, the anti-colonial forces have equal voices and votes with the Western powers, and where the rules of politics apply to the rallying of political forces, we have had to sound to the anti-colonials as if we were anti-colonial and to our allies as if we actually supported them, all of which makes us often appear to our critics as if we couldn’t choose between our conflicting interests.

5. The Soviets have from the beginning used the UN for important propaganda benefits. They have characteristically aimed at outside audiences. At other times, as at present, they have exploited the normal expectations of Soviet vituperation by deliberately varying the volume and degree of their invective. They have since 1946 submitted proposals combining “war-mongering”, “Western imperialism”, and Disarmament which are propaganda-motivated. They have tried recently to win Arab-Asian support away from western majorities through ostensible concessions and support on colonial issues. They have publicly built up their leading personalities, such as Vishinsky, and have recently used changes of personal demeanor (handshaking, smiles, etc.) to create impressions consistent with their “peace offensive”. The general concepts they have attempted to convey in their propaganda include “peace” (usually unidentified), “imperialism” (in terms of Western capitalism and colonialism), and “dominance by US”.

united states policy

1. In its public utterances on broad foreign policy questions the US generally has sought to appeal to other peoples in terms of its own aspirations [Page 108]and ideals and has often reflected the American characteristic of wishing to be liked and approved of. By and large, we have in the UN Charter a statement of our own values and objectives, and we have tried to persuade other members to identify their self-interest in terms of that same standard of measurement. With this in mind, the ideals or concepts which generally underlie our public attitudes include: individual liberty and freedom (vs. tyranny); prosperity (vs. poverty); the desire to live and let live (vs. the use of force contrary to the Charter); the right of self-government and national independence (vs. national subjugation—although we reflect some ambiguities on this score in the context of Western colonialism).

2. The US from the beginning has taken a stand in support of open public UN sessions (which have provided the chief opportunity for propaganda exploitation in the UN.*

Our position from the start has been to identify the Purposes and Principles of the Charter with our own. The positions we took on various issues were generally motivated by a firm conviction of right and of helping the organization to flourish. In terms of broad propaganda, this stance conveyed to others the general impression we sought to convey as to where we stood on questions of justice, law, and human and political liberties. On the basis of this overall stance, it was possible for us, particularly in the first years of the UN, to formulate most of our individual policies without aiming primarily at a specific propaganda effect.

The chief differences between our propaganda operations from roughly 1946 to 1949, and those since the attack on Korea, are in method and tactics. In the first period we generally refrained from frontal assaults on the Soviet Union for a number of reasons: our determination to build up the UN through constructive action; our relative inexperience in political warfare; our belief it would be more effective to refrain from combatting Soviet propaganda at its own level; our uncertainty about results; and our sensitivity to criticism from neutralist forces abroad and conciliatory forces at home.

At the same time we vigorously utilized debate and speeches to defend ourselves against attack. We concentrated on making as clear as possible the contrasts between Soviet obstructionism and US cooperativeness. And in our speeches and press relations we attempted to emphasize those aspects of our policies most likely to have “general” popular appeal.

Generally speaking we brought to the UN problems we felt could be actually ameliorated by UN actions, rather than a wide range of [Page 109]Cold War issues, although we did bring in the Korean case in 1947 and joined in submitting the Berlin blockade item in 1948.

3. Since the attack on Korea we have accelerated our political and psychological offensive activities in the UN. This intensification of Cold War propaganda has been manifested in several ways:

Our speeches, in particular the opening statements in general debate, have been designed increasingly to contrast our constructive performance with Soviet non-cooperation and wrecking activities. Furthermore, during the past session we sharply increased the tempo of our anti-Soviet propaganda by forceful statements and immediate rebuttal of Soviet attacks.
We have taken limited advantage of press services available at the UN by releasing supplementary material designed to strengthen and popularize our case and by conducting numerous press conferences.
Propaganda exploitation of major US policies, i.e., “dressing them up” for maximum appeal to certain audiences, has been a basic development. In any subject before the UN considered to be of public interest, the propaganda implications are analyzed and taken into account in our public presentation where feasible. (For example, in the South African cases we sought through our statements to soften Arab-Asian dissatisfaction with our failure to support condemnation of the Union of South Africa.)
Since 1949 we have undertaken certain policies determined in large part by propaganda consideration—introducing or encouraging UN action on items which while sincere in the sense that we could live with them and even profit greatly if they were carried out, were introduced with the primary purpose of winning Cold War propaganda advantages with little or no expectation that their ostensible purpose would be achieved directly or within a reasonable time. This characterization is based on the fact, understood by us and presumably by the Soviets that acceptance of certain of our positions would work decisively to our advantage and to the disadvantage of the Soviet regime.

Examples are:

Condemnatory resolutions such as “Failure of USSR to Repatriate POWs” (5th Session), “Observance of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Rumania” (5th Session), as well as our initiative in exposing through ECOSOC forced labor conditions in the Soviet system.
Items on basic power issues between the USSR and the US such as Formosa (5th Session), German Elections (6th Session)f and Austrian Treaty (7th Session) items.
Disarmament in 1951 was a political device for convincing our friends and the neutrals (as well as the Russians, within limitations) of our interest in ending the arms race and of our peaceful intentions. Until the recent Soviet “peace offensive” began we had little hope that in the absence of other settlements elsewhere the Soviets would be interested in disarming, and no real expectation that they would accept a plan calling for international controls and inspection which we regard as indispensable but which involved a breach of the Iron Curtain.
Although prepared as counters to Soviet-sponsored resolutions, we took the lead for tactical and propaganda reasons in certain purely hortatory resolutions such as Essentials for Peace (4th Session) and Peace Through Deeds (5th Session) in which action was designed to enunciate high standards of international conduct which by inference or comparison condemned Soviet actions and policies but without expecting that it would have any real effect on Soviet attitudes.

difficulties facing the united states

Over the past seven years Soviet propaganda has generally followed a relatively narrow and predictable course. Considerations of responsible free world leadership have imposed on the US a far more complex propaganda problem. US propaganda is subject to heavy domestic and international pressures which, often because they may appear to be incompatible, must be carefully weighed in the formulation of our propaganda position at each UN session.

1. American Public Opinion and International Audiences

Considerations of influencing our international audiences are by definition fundamental to our propaganda position, but of course cannot be divorced from considerations of American public opinion. While our policies and our overseas propaganda are both constructed to reflect as faithfully as possible the wishes of the American people, the diversity of our public opinion and of the groups specially interested in particular causes often confronts us with real dilemmas in our choice of propaganda tactics. For example, while domestic audience reactions seem to favor strong, straight-forward, emotionally-tinged attacks on the Soviet system, and such an approach has definite appeal in the firmer anti-communist states, a subtle, reserved approach to the Soviet system has been more effective with the Arab-Asians—the major group which tends to view Soviet conduct least critically.

2. Conflicting Interests of Various Audiences

In general, we have pursued in the UN a broad scale appeal for support from as many quarters as possible for our position and our values, and both our diplomacy and our propaganda have had to balance in specific circumstances the various long and short term goals of US policy.

Attitudes on the vital issues of the Cold War and the colonial problem, to cite two paramount examples, go to the heart of our several policy objectives and confront us with serious dilemmas of propaganda. To understand fully the special nature of our difficulty in handling these matters to our own advantage in the UN, two phenomena of UN operations must be recalled: a) voting strength, however unconnected with power realities, is in one sense a test of the support we can muster in the struggle with the Soviets; and b) blocs have formed in the UN [Page 111]based not only on regional interests but on abstract general principles as well.

In fighting the Cold War in the UN, we are under great pressure to confront the Soviet single-mindedly with sharp attacks, notwithstanding the possibility that such an approach may frighten the timid or alienate the unconvinced. Despite these pressures, primarily domestic, we are competing for the understanding and, if possible, support of neutralist sentiment, both Arab-Asian and European. Our objective with these groups is gradually to lead them to fuller understanding of the threat of the Soviet system, and to increased willingness to support anti-Soviet measures. One way of achieving these ends is by seeking to impress them with US reasonableness and lack of belligerence, which has caused us occasionally to recede from positions which appeared to these groups to be unduly rigid or demanding (Indian resolution on Korea, CMC, etc.). To convey the same impression, we have at times given such policies as, e.g., disarmament an emphasis that the foreseeable possibilities might perhaps not have otherwise warranted. In a few instances we have possibly risked misleading other groups by joining in resolutions of general and pious intent, adherence to which by the Soviets permitted them to spread wholly cynical propaganda of their own.

Although our techniques for measuring comparative successes in our propaganda are imperfect, it can be argued that we have at least maintained our position vis-à-vis neutralism through restraining ourselves from inflammatory propaganda, and have probably improved our support where our tactics have recognized the sentiments and fears of those groups.

With respect to colonialism the demands of our various objectives have required us to walk an even more delicate tight-rope, in our propaganda as with our diplomacy. A major US objective has been to enlist Arab-Asian support in all feasible ways. One of the most significant ways available is through words spoken and actions taken in the UN on issues which touch on their basic interests and aspirations.

But the aggressive anti-colonialism of the Arab-Asian grouping has created a dilemma for us in which manifestations of our prestige strength through voting majorities on crucial East-West issues are increasingly dependent on our ability at least ideologically to disassociate ourselves from our European allies on colonial questions. Thus on the one hand we have pursued a policy of extensive support for the UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Simultaneously, we have: (a) at times sided in the UN with the forces having interests antagonistic to those allies in their dependencies (political information, UN flag in trust territories, visiting missions, independence of Libya, etc.) or at least, (b) essayed a role of “Impartiality” in the UN between both sides, to the dissatisfaction [Page 112]e.g., of the French in North African cases, and above all in the South African cases.

In sum, we have tried to follow a middle course. In doing this we have tried to meet ideological pressures from anti-colonial groupings through statements which in the eyes of our closest allies were damaging to their interests. On the other hand, our own profound convictions regarding free discussion and national independence have at times had to be suppressed to give our allies a feeling of support (inscription of Tunisian item on SC agenda, granting hearings to nationalistic spokesmen, etc.).

The problem of choice of audiences is equally acute in some other fields, such as human rights, where for example we have avoided condemning some of our friends (South Africa, e.g.) for deprivations for which we have unhesitatingly condemned the Soviets (or conversely, our soft-pedalling of the 7th GA of Soviet anti-Semitism because of anticipated Arab hostility).

3. “Policy” and “Propaganda”

As the propaganda potential of the UN is increasingly recognized and exploited we are often tempted to give high priorities to consideration of expediency. The danger here is that when propaganda tends to become the master rather than the servant of policy, our varied and overriding policy objectives, particularly those of long-range importance, may genuinely suffer, and at a minimum may become obscure even to us.

Actions which we may take in the UN primarily for propaganda gain become a link in our total foreign policy operations. Our actions in the UN, however they are motivated, inescapably become connected with the body of American policy commitments, and can affect directly the substance of our policy efforts elsewhere. A prime current example of this is the powerful relationship of the Indian resolution on Korea to the conditions of negotiations at Panmunjon.

Exploitations of the UN propaganda potential can also suffer if policies adopted primarily with a view to propaganda are recognized by others to be insincere. For example, in the interest of demonstrating US concern for the underdeveloped countries, it was seriously suggested that the US support initial studies into an International Development Fund at a time when it was understood we could not support its establishment in the form it was then likely to take, and if this had been done the immediate propaganda advantage vis-à-vis underdeveloped countries might have been overwhelmingly offset when it became apparent that we had no intention of following through.

Note: Because the subject of this paper is in a slightly different category than the others in the series, it is felt appropriate to add to the above analysis at this stage the following questions which arise [Page 113]in the course of analysis but which can not be answered without further investigation by technically competent personnel:

Content of propaganda: what are relative advantages and disadvantages of types of propaganda use we have made of the UN? what is relative effectiveness of US and Soviet propaganda in UN? what is relation between propaganda operations and effectiveness of UN in carrying out its functions?
Audiences for propaganda: what are the chief audiences actually available in and through the UN? to what extent are they actually reached? to what extent do UN operations actually influence their attitudes? what priorities should be assigned to what audiences, and what effect would this have on future US propaganda operations in the UN?

  1. It was the US which took the Initiative at the Preparatory Commission meetings in 1945 resulting in the decision that Security Council meetings normally be open (PC/BX/SC/28). (Open meetings of the Assembly were never an issue.) [Footnote in the source text.]