Tuesday, August 2, 2016

What the U.S. International Communication Agency Achieved

Note: For a brief period (1978-1982), the United States Information Agency (USIA, 1953-1999) was renamed/reorganized as the U.S. International Communication Agency (USICA).


From the newly-published papers newly by the Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State:


215. Summary Prepared in the International Communication Agency1

Washington, undated

President Carter’s Reorganization Plan No. 2 of 1977 consolidated the functions of the former U.S. Information Agency with the State Department’s former Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs into the new International Communication Agency (USICA), established on April 1, 1978.2 The outcome of the reorganization has been greater managerial efficiency as well as a more coherent approach to the sharing of ideas between Americans and foreign peoples. With maximum credibility and impact as a primary aim, and in fulfillment of the mandate of the President and the Congress, USICA has stressed dialogue over soliloquy in the practice of communication with foreign peoples.

Efforts have also been made to staunch the serious decline in funding suffered by the exchange-of-persons programs prior to the reorganization, and to respond to new opportunities to serve the national interest in China, the Caribbean, Africa and the Middle East and South Asia. Because the Agency’s financial resources have remained essentially static and its personnel levels have declined further over the last four years, communication initiatives have been achieved through the reprogramming of existing funding levels.

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Following is a summary of several of USICA’s most important activities and accomplishments during the Carter administration.


In response to President Carter’s March, 1977 call to upgrade the broadcasting facilities of VOA,3 funds were appropriated for a number of additional transmitters to be located in Europe, Africa and Asia. Four new transmitters are now being installed in the United Kingdom at the facility managed for VOA by the BBC. Two new transmitters at the VOA plant in the Philippines are to be installed beginning in the summer of 1981. A medium-wave relay station reaching southern Africa is being established in Botswana, and six high-power transmitters are planned for the VOA site near Colombo, now that agreement has been reached with the Sri Lankan government and upon the appropriation of funds for the purpose.

At the request of the National Security Council in early 1979, VOA undertook a study of languages and hours in which it should broadcast during the coming decade, updating previous such studies in 1972 and 1976.4 As a result, VOA has added or expanded programs in Farsi, Dari, Bengali, Urdu, Hausa, Turkish and English to the Near East and South Asia, and is in the process of adding broadcasts in Azeri and increasing Uzbek programs. In the Caribbean, VOA has doubled its English programming to four hours per day, and is seeking a medium-wave outlet for carrying that programming. During the last four years, VOA has added 13½ hours a week and 3 new languages (Farsi, Dari and Hausa) to its programming schedule, bringing its total output up to 686 hours a week in 39 languages. In FY 81 VOA expects to add a daily Amharic broadcast to Ethiopia, and to increase programming in Hausa, Swahili and Indonesian in a further effort to improve U.S. access to Islamic audiences over a wide area.

One of the most significant developments in recent years has been the dramatic increase in VOA’s listenership in the People’s Republic of China. Since the cessation of jamming in 1977, VOA’s Chinese audiences have grown rapidly and are now estimated to number over 100 million listeners.

With the reorganization of the Agency, the Voice of America was made fully responsible for its own output in all its broadcast languages, and its policy advocacy function was clearly separated from its news and other programming operations. As part of the new operating rela[Page 644]tionships, a new set of guidelines and procedures was established for VOA foreign correspondents, placing them for the first time on an equal basis journalistically with their colleagues in the commercial news media, and thus enhancing their credibility and operational mobility.


With the implementation of Reorganization Plan No. 2, which transferred administration of the U.S. Government’s exchange programs from the Department of State to the International Communication Agency, the greatest challenge facing administrators of the exchange programs was to assuage the fears of those inside and outside the organization who doubted the continued efficiency and “integrity” of their conduct in an Agency that had formerly been primarily concerned with informing and persuading foreign audiences. Simply put, this challenge has been successfully met. Not only have the exchange programs been maintained and their links to outside constituencies strengthened; at the same time, they have become essential elements in the Agency’s contribution to the conduct of American foreign relations. During this period:

—The President’s mandate for USICA established for the first time in the U.S. Government specific responsibility for enhancing Americans’ understanding of other societies and cultures. To carry out that directive, the Agency created a new program of competitively awarded grants to U.S. private organizations involved in “American learning.”

—The first thoroughly original academic exchange program in many years, the Hubert H. Humphrey North-South Fellowship Program,5 was established to provide American training and internships for promising, mid-career professionals in the public service from Third World countries. The quality of the participants and of the programs arranged for them by American universities testify to the trust and involvement of academic institutions here and abroad and add a program for non-academic professionals worthy of the high standards of the Fulbright program.

—In accordance with the President’s directive to USICA, the Agency made significant progress in coordinating U.S. Government exchange programs and policy. The first reports on Government-wide exchange programs are in the final stages of preparation.


Arts America, a major planning innovation initiated in 1979, is an Agency program designed to take advantage of the powerful communi[Page 645]cation potential of the arts in public diplomacy.6 The point of departure for the operation was a formal agreement to seek the advice of the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities in developing the Agency’s international cultural program agenda. This agreement with the Endowments has given USICA wider access to cultural groups within the intellectual and artistic communities of the United States.

The best way to summarize the goals, scope and diversity of the cultural programs carried out by the Arts America staff is by example:

—To share the very best of American culture with audiences abroad, USICA works with leading institutions. For instance, five Washington museums—among them the National Gallery—loaned paintings to a major retrospective of American art that was shown in Mexico City.

—To diversify the sources from which USICA draws its programs, the Agency, on the Endowment panels’ recommendation, worked with a consortium of U.S. businesses to program “Art Inc: American Paintings from Corporate Collections” on a Latin American tour; with the Rockefeller Foundation to program the Solaris Dance Theater in Africa; and with private impresarios to facilitate the National Symphony Orchestra’s performances in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil.

—To promote a better understanding of the roots and sources of American culture, Arts America sponsors international tours of American folk artists. “Southern Music USA” brought together performers such as D. L. Menard, John Jackson, Ricky Scaggs and Buck Owens for programs in the Far East and South Asia.

—To place American literature in context, leading writers, critics and professors are invited to lecture abroad. Recently, William Saroyan, John Ashbery, Susan Sontag, Joyce Carol Oates and Raymond Smith participated in a writers’ conference in Poland, while John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion are scheduled to lecture in Japan, Indonesia and Singapore.

—To promote direct contacts between American artists and their counterparts abroad, numerous workshop/exhibitions were carried out, including ones featuring sculptor Mel Edwards and fabric artist Nancy Hemenway, both in several African countries.



From the earliest stages of Nigeria’s transition from military to civilian rule, beginning in 1975, USICA Lagos has provided ideas and [Page 646]information about the American experience in federal government to the men shaping the new Nigerian constitution and its current development. Our post arranged a long series of lectures and seminars on our governmental system, provided copies of philosophical U.S. political treatises, and sent important Nigerians on IV grants to study the American practice of federalism. USICA’s work has contributed importantly to the growth of a stable, democratic government in Africa’s most important black nation—and America’s second most important source of foreign oil.

All USICA efforts in South Africa are focused on encouraging a rapid end to apartheid and peaceful transition toward majority rule. We have brought more than 75 carefully-selected influential white South Africans to the U.S. to expose them to the American civil rights experience and to stimulate their thinking on how they might move toward an inter-racial society of their own. More than 100 South African black leaders have also come here under USICA auspices to gain new ideas, and USICA has administered special training and graduate studies programs that have reached nearly a thousand other important South African blacks in this period. In addition, we have sent more than 100 American speakers to South Africa to discuss various aspects of peaceful change; we supported programs of South African institutions aimed at peaceful change; and we have used our “neutrality” to allow our premises to serve as one of the very few venues in the entire country where members of all races can meet as equals for substantive discussion.

When “human rights” was first articulated as a major American foreign policy plank, it was greeted with skepticism and sometimes outright scorn in Africa. Today, four years later, it has become part of the political agenda throughout the continent, often because of USICA’s wide range of information and exchange activities. As a spin-off, human rights has also given us a positive credo to counter the Marxist-Leninist dogma that has been in vogue on the continent since the days of Soviet aid to the independence movements of the fifties and sixties. Over the last four years, USICA has also used all the means at its disposal to articulate and capitalize on administration policy initiatives to heighten African awareness of the human dimension of our nation. We have concentrated our communication on events and policies that have demonstrated that the U.S. is a country of ordinary people committed to democratic principles, rather than a monolithic entity bent on imperial neo-colonialism.


Human rights programming in Argentina began in August, 1977 when USICA Argentina designed a series of programs called “Return to [Page 647]the Rule of Law.” These programs brought together U.S. and Argentine legal experts in an examination of legal reform. The series also included IV grants and American speakers and led to what one participant called an “interchange of ideas that is responsible for the positive changes being made in the Argentine justice system.”

USICA Panama’s work in 1977–78 with local media and with reporters in Panama from the Latin American area made possible a public airing of U.S. views and helped bring balanced discussion of the issues to the public. Our work with Panamanian media and public affairs officers of the Panama Canal Commission and the Southern Command has been instrumental in creating an atmosphere of cooperation in which views and information on treaty implementation can be profitably shared among those in the media.

In response to President Carter’s emphasis on the importance of the Caribbean region and U.S. relations with it, USICA reprogrammed significant resources into its activities in Caribbean countries. We strengthened our staff and our programs in Barbados and the eastern Caribbean, opened a post in Cuba and planned another in the Bahamas, and increased our academic and other exchange programs as much as threefold.


USICA played a leading role during the period July 1978–March 1979 in assuring that the rapidly evolving U.S. relationship with the People’s Republic of China included a cultural dimension and responded to broad educational interests in the United States, while preserving an information and cultural program of high quality with the people of Taiwan. When the PRC leadership first began, in early 1978, to look hesitantly toward the outside world, it defined its needs as scientific and technological. The initial U.S. response was expressed in similar terms. Due in large part to USICA leadership and persistence, the program for U.S. scholars in the PRC that evolved in late 1978 and early 1979 was multi-disciplinary, including social sciences and humanities as well as natural sciences, and including researchers as well as students. USICA also pressed for a cultural agreement with the PRC as well as a science and technology agreement and was the principal drafter of the cultural agreement signed in January 1979 by the President and Vice Premier Deng.7USICA was active in assuring that an implementing accord related to the cultural agreement was the centerpiece of Vice President Mondale’s visit to the PRC in the summer [Page 648]of 1979.8 At the same time, a small conventional USICA operation was established in the PRC.

A more solid basis for programs with the five countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN—Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand) emerged when the first real summit meeting of ASEAN leaders was held in 1976.9 In 1979, ASEAN Foreign Ministers met with the U.S. Secretary of State, who committed the U.S. to seek ways to improve and expand mutual cooperation with ASEAN.10USICA began a painstaking process of exploring with the five ASEAN nations possible forms of cultural and educational programming. In 1980, scholars from ASEAN were brought to the U.S. to examine U.S. approaches to educational planning and curriculum development. In the summer of 1980, American scholars in the social sciences and humanities carried out a research and familiarization visit to ASEAN countries. Similar activities are contemplated during the next few years. Although neither large nor dramatic, these exchanges have significant importance as a symbol of U.S. interest in ASEAN and U.S. determination to maintain a framework of mutuality which serves the interests of the ASEAN nations as well as U.S. interests.


During late 1979, USICA implemented an intensive public information effort preceding the positive NATO decision to deploy new theater nuclear weapons. A combination of speakers, written background materials, videotapes, press briefings and—most important of all—personal contacts between USICA officers and important European opinion-leaders helped to pave the way for this sensitive, hotly debated NATO action. Although problems with the TNF issue persist (especially in Belgium and Holland), public diplomacy in large measure defused European anxieties and neutralized the Soviet Union’s vigorous anti-TNF campaign.

During the past four years, USICA stimulated both private and government attention to the implications stemming from generational shifts in American and Western European leadership. USICA European posts shifted resources and redirected efforts toward the new European leadership, which lacks the World War II generation’s strong personal [Page 649]ties with the United States. Our concern had a ripple effect beyond the Agency, including formation of a high-level “successor generation” working group in the Atlantic Council and a special “successor generation” resolution passed by the North Atlantic Assembly. With increasing problems and tensions separating the United States and its traditional allies in Europe, Americans both inside and outside government today are more sensitive to the generational dimension of the evolving Atlantic relationship, an awareness that originated with USICA in 1977.

In response to the government-wide policy of limiting official programs and contacts with the Soviet Union after its invasion of Afghanistan, USICA sharply curtailed many cultural programs with the Soviet Union; we did continue, however, most of the low-visibility academic exchanges.

Despite the strains in Soviet-American relations, USICA programs in non-Soviet Eastern Europe continued to expand during the past four years. In 1977, we signed an agreement with Hungary to enable us to increase our bilateral exchanges in culture, education and science.11 One program made possible by the new agreement was the Agency’s “America Now” exhibit, the largest American exhibit in Budapest since World War II. A U.S.-Bulgarian cultural agreement was also signed in 1977 and renewed in 198012 to govern slowly improving educational and cultural exchanges. USICA opened a new information center in Titograd, Yugoslavia, in 1980. We now have a center in each Republic of this pivotal Eastern European country. The “America Now” exhibit was also organized in Bucharest with a record 130,000 Romanian visitors.


Perhaps most importantly, the context in which our activities are carried out in the crucial Arabic-speaking portion of the Middle East has been characterized since 1976 by expansion, both in program and geographical terms. This expansion in several Gulf nations, in East Jerusalem, and in Iraq, coupled with the assignment of more officers qualified in Arabic, has significantly enhanced our ability to communicate with an audience of immense present and potential importance to the United States.

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USICA has made an effective contribution to the on-going Middle East peace process through such special efforts as: (a) separate funding for “cultural normalization” IV grants to bring Israelis, Egyptians and other Arabs together under Agency auspices to discuss common concerns; (b) projects such as the May 1980 Salzburg International Affairs Seminar, supported by an Agency grant, which provide additional fora for the consideration of regional issues by Israelis and Arabs alike; and (c) priority production and satellite transmission of VTRs about the Camp David Accords and related developments in the peace process.

Bilateral educational and cultural agreements have been negotiated with Morocco and Tunisia, establishing joint commissions and providing the basis for the rational development of exchanges and other Agency programming in these two important Francophone nations.

The Indo-U.S. Subcommission has provided a stable and innovative focus for long-term cooperation in the arts and education between India and the United States, weathering without difficulty the political ups and downs in the bilateral relationship. USICA also played the role of midwife in the birth of the South Asian Committee on Human Rights and Development (SACOHRD), a five-nation non-governmental body which potentially can make real contributions to two of our major concerns: human rights and the search for regional solutions to common problems.

USICA operations in Iran, which had been maintained at a low level following the Islamic revolution in that country, were of course terminated with the seizure of the hostages on November 4, 1979. Activities at the USICA post in Kabul were suspended indefinitely following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.


1. Source: Carter Library, Plains File, Box 16, Accomplishments: Agencies, G–R,12/80. No classification marking. Reinhardt sent a copy of the summary to Carter under a December 16 memorandum. (Ibid.)↩

2. See Document 93.↩
3. See footnote 3, Document 14.↩
4. See Document 165.↩
5. See Documents 119, 123, 127–129, and 145.↩
6. See Document 178.↩
7. The text of the cultural agreement is printed in Department of State Bulletin, March 1979, p. 10.↩
8. Mondale traveled to China August 25–September 1, 1979. The texts of his address at Beijing University, his dinner toast at a welcoming banquet in Beijing, and his remarks at the opening of the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou are printed in Department of State Bulletin, October 1979, pp. 10–13.↩
9.The summit took place in Bali February 23–24, 1976.↩
10. During the 1979 ASEAN summit in Bali July 2–3, 1979, Vance met with the ASEAN Foreign Ministers. For the text of Vance’s July 2 statement and the transcript of his July 2 news conference, see Department of State Bulletin, September 1979, pp. 35–39.↩
11. On April 6, 1977, representatives from the United States and Hungary signed an Agreement on Cooperation in Culture, Education, Science and Technology. (Department of State Bulletin, April 25, 1977, p. 426)↩
12. Representatives from the United States and Bulgaria signed the agreement on June 13, 1977. The agreement was extended through the exchange of notes at Sofia on March 21 and April 9, 1980. (Department of State Bulletin, July 4, 1977, p. 40 and July 1980, p. 83)↩

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