Challenges to Comprehension Implied by the Logo
of Laetus in Praesens
Laetus in Praesens Alternative view of segmented documents via Kairos


Concept of Future UN Structure


-- / --

Part of: International Organizations and the Generation of the Will to Change (UAI Study Papers INF/5, 1970)


The Jackson Report Study makes the important assumption that development problems are and will, for the next 30 years, be the most important problems. It also affirms that the UNDP is the most appropriate body to take care of these problems:

"the procedures and processes proposed...could only be implemented if (among other things) the development activities of the various organizations of the United Nations system are coordinated to the maximum extent possible by a central body, through which the greatest amount possible of technical cooperation funds made available should be channeled....It should be accepted that UNDP provides the best foundation on which a coordinating organization could be based." (II, pp. 148-9)


"Not only does (the UNDP) exist as an active programme, it operates in a hundred fact is the embodiment of the United Nations to villagers and townspeople, as much as to senior civil servants and ministers." (I, p. 8)

From these assumptions it quickly follows that the governing bodies of the WFP and UNICEF should be merged into a more powerful UNDP. Then

"other measures which could be contemplated at a later date might aim to reduce the number of subsidiary bodies of the General Assembly which deal with matters of economic and social development. The purpose of this would be to make ECOSOC the unmistakable focal point for the coordination and policy orientation of all the economic and social activities of the UN system and for all development cooperation operations undertaken by the system. Logically the governing bodies of UNCTAD and UNIDO should also be brought under the aegis of ECOSOC....A concentration of this kind would effectively transform a suitably constituted ECOSOC into a one-world parliament, pledged to a unified attack on poverty, disease, hunger and ignorance, and to the corporate achievement of economic and social progress." (II, p. 331).

It is not quite clear why ECOSOC should be the world-parliament rather than the General Assembly, or just how much influence UNDP would have on ECOSOC or where the World Bank and IMF would fit in. (The Study does not discuss their operations "because they are independent and well managed,, (I, p. iii)). It does however appear that a considerable amount of power is being concentrated in the agency which sponsored the Study, UNDP, with little recognition of the problems of controlling such power. It is not sufficient to give the UN system a "brain", it is necessary to ensure that the brain will be a healthy one (other than in its own view). It is clear from the preceding sections that the brain has very poor eyes, in terms of its ability to detect and take into account the non-political processes in the world system -- this is dangerous.

This move is dangerous in another way as well. It is intended that the improved UNDP should make use of all the new long-range planning techniques with computer assistance (II, pp. 255-6). The dangers of this situation have been very neatly described in the following quote about a similar problem at the city planning level. It is sufficient in the quote to replace "city" or "urban" by an elastic term stretching from "UNDP-system" through "UN development system" to "world system", and "citizen" by "ECOSOC or General Assembly delegate" or "delegate, citizens and international bodies" to realize some of the unconsidered problems to which implementation of the Study recommendations could lead:

"Long-range planning will be an unprecedented complex activity because the urban condition is complex and planning technology is increasingly using sophisticated economic and social theory, applied through systems analysis, program planning and budgeting, and the like. Since knowledge of this sort will be the basis for city management, it will also be central to attaining and maintaining political and bureaucratic power.

These circumstances presage new problems. In brief, long-range planning requires continuity and some unknown degree of stability to reap its fruits, but at the same time small percentages of the population will increasingly have the ability or inclination to upset the "system". Planners and those responsible for managing the city will tend to do what they can to prevent their long-range plans from being upset. More often than not, this will involve partisan interpretations to the public of the purposes and prospects of the planning goals and their implementation. Given the complexity of both the planning process and the urban situation, the citizen will probably be unable to find out the implications of pursuing one plan rather than another. His option then will be disrupting protest, political withdrawal, or ritual participation".such actions will encourage further activity, thereby compounding the complications in responding to and coping with the urban scene in some coherent manner. Meeting such demands...will become all the more complex...because increased mobility and communications will facilitate their interaction and emphasize priority and resource conflicts"..

It is commonplace today to recognize the necessity for moving in this direction (use of computers and long-range planning techniques) in order to deal more adequately with the operating requirements of day-to-day government...But using the computer for long-range planning in a context of social perturbations will demand a collaboration among planners, policy-makers, and politicians that will threaten the practice of democracy. This threat can, perhaps, be mitigated by using the computer in (other) ways.....

All decision-making related to a city government or made by agencies of a government has a substantial political component, even those decisions based heavily on the kinds of information the computer and its human adjuncts provide. Any political decision is made with the intent of preserving or expanding the base of power, command, control, and influence of the organization or persons involved. Mayors, authorities, chiefs or commissioners of this and that do not choose to weaken their personal power, nor do their organizations deliberately act so as to lose control over their traditional mandates. In the urban world of 1976 that control, that power, will increasingly be based on access to and control of information and the means for generating new knowledge out of it. Information will provide an increasingly potent basis for "adjusting" the outside world so that it is compatible with the survival and growth aims of the agency and for internally adjusting the agency so that it can respond to what it perceives as pertinent to it in the evolving complex environment....the politician (and I include the agency chief and the advocate planner), working in tandem with his technological advisers and program designers, is in a position to put forth interpretations of "urban reality", programs to deal with it, and evaluations of those programs as implemented based on knowledge either unavailable to those who might challenge him or unavailable at the time that a challenge might be most effective.

This situation characterizes the way military affairs and military policies are planned and operated...The partisan use of incomplete or selectively emphasized technological knowledge is already the case with regard to the justification offered for the supersonic transport... It is beginning to be so with regard to methods advocated for pollution control, mass transport, educational technology, and social welfare. As these areas of planning and operations become more rationalized, the agencies and persons responsible for such plans and programs will try to protect their decisions and actions from effective criticism or impedance....And given the nature and the basis for decision-making and operations -- increased social complexity dealt with through increased conceptual complexity, -- it will be easier to obscure the organizations, situation, than it is in a simpler day unless we specifically design means for keeping these reflexes from operating too well.....

These anticipated characteristics of urban governance suggest that we should be preoccupied with developing not only the means for making the political system manipulable by the poor, but also the new means that will enable affluent, concerned citizens to get at the political system in years to come. Unless we do so, the citizen of 1976 may find himself unable to judge whether he knows enough about a particular proposed policy or a proposed or ongoing program to discern where his and the community's interests lie.

He probably will not be able to identify the set of options or the conceptual model used to transform the data. He will not even know what data were fed into the program or how adequate they were. Nor will he be able to judge which costs and benefits of the secondary and tertiary impacts reverberating out through the urban environment have been taken into consideration and by whom. (Given the autonomy of various agencies in the urban government, he will probably be safe in assuming that some of the "interface" issues have not been dealt with or even recognized by agencies indifferent to or ignorant of them -- or by those avoiding them for political reasons.) Thus, even when he is offered a choice of programs, his ignorance about the assumptions made by the planners regarding the supposed future context in which the programs will operate and eventually "pay-off", will prevent him from choosing wisely, from committing himself to a long-range risk with an understanding of what the costs and benefits are thought to be.

If the concerned citizen felt ignorant or impotent in the past, he could take solace in the knowledge that the capacity of organizations to change things was usually small and potentially subject to some revision at the next election. That solace will disappear, however, when the requirement for long-range programs means that many programs will have to carry on through many elections if they are to have any chance of success....

The concerned citizen's discomfort will be increased in a new way: He will know he is unskilled in manipulating and evaluating the information from which the computer-based options are derived. Not only will he realize that he lacks some of the fact; he will know that he is unable to work with them, even when he has them." (Michael, D.M. On coping with Complexity: Planning and Politics. Daedulus, Fall 1968, pp. 1179-1185)

Not one of the above problems has been considered. It is not possible to avoid the above issues by arguing that the UN is not a political body in the same way as a city or local government council. The UN is a political body swayed in the same way by short-term political issues and split into voting blocs, and it is as a political body that it is examined with such fervor by political scientists. The Study argues that the UN is "politically objective", namely that "countries should be able to participate in UN the sure knowledge that no strings are attached, nor any ulterior motives aspiring to the extension of political, economic, commercial or cultural influence." (II, pp. 108-9). But it also states that "...very real political pressures now surround many of the Agencies. Their good intentions are not in doubt, but in practice it is almost impossible for them to subordinate sectoral interests to collective policy." (I, p. 33)

Under the new form, such pressures will continue to exist, although the governments may have their options reduced to "take it, or leave it". The attempt to achieve political objectivity is not the same as that to achieve political neutrality.

The Study also makes little allowance for the fact that the United Nations system is "inhabited" by people with their own interests to protect and further.

"Once an organization is set up, a human group is in being, all the individual and personal motives which have induced persons to join the group...assume great importance in their minds...And they build up, often unconsciously, very elaborate codes of behavior and loyalties, and affections and antipathies, which have little or nothing to do with the normal organization of the undertaking, the official relationships which their superiors recognize..." (Urwick, L.F. Notes on the Theory of Organization. American Management Association, 1952).

The center of interest becomes Agency oriented, or even department oriented, rather than objective oriented once an organization reaches a certain degree of complexity in the eyes of its personnel. Quotes included in the Study illustrate this:

,,...what exists today is "inter-Agency rivalry for projects', each Agency insisting, almost as a matter of right, to get a slice of the country pie, regardless of the value and the propriety of the project from the country's point of view." (II, p.76)

,,...each United Nations body was "pressurizing" its opposite technical ministry, which, in turn, was pressurizing the planning and development ministries." (II, p. 76)

Such group pressures within the UN (or any body) guarantee the relevance of the problems in the quote above. It is the "great inertia of this elaborate administrative structure" (I, p. ii) which impedes any change. It is subject to the same control problem noted by Tam Dalyell) MP reporting on the views of Anthony Wedgwood Benn, Minister of Technology and Power, Great Britain, "...he advanced his theory that having reached a seat of power alas he found that the levers of power were somehow no longer connected to the machine. 'You can pull and tug at them, but nothing much may happen'..." (New Scientist, 25 December 1969, p. 652)

This will be the problem faced by national representatives attempting to control the new machine.

It is ironical that the processes, which could lead to a solution to the problem of democratizing the computerized planning process, are the very processes which the conceptual filters used in the Study have been unable to detect. If a democratic society is considered as a political system, it is immediately clear that it is the function of pressure groups and unofficial "interested parties" to influence the government decision-making process to protect and further their own interests or the interests of minorities which are believed to need protection or furtherance. Government responds to and has its policies reviewed and supported by individuals represented by the leaders of such groups. At the national level they are considered a normal and essential part of the democratic process. At the international level this process also exists:

"Although the role of interest groups and pressure groups has long been recognized7 their role 11as been understood in relation to national politics. Traditionally, it has been said that international relations has never been able to develop a constituency in the same way that other "interests" have. I doubt that we have seriously reviewed this assumption in light of the rapid changes in the world in the past twenty years." (Roosevelt, C. The politics of development : a role for interest and pressure groups. Paper presented to an SID Conference, New Delhi, 1969)

Tacit recognition has been given to some 500 of their international representative bodies in the form of the consultative relationship with individual Agencies. The UNDP does not have such a relationship, which may account for the bias in the Study.

Clearly, the problem of safeguarding the interests of all concerned, and not just the "politicians, planners and policy-makers", is to ensure that the information needs and consultative function of nongovernmental international bodies are carefully taken into account in designing the future UN structure. If they or their national members have a democratizing or supporting function to perform, they should be designed into the future organizational structure and information system. If they do not, then this should be made very clear to the parties concerned.

If an attempt is made to modernize and computerize one part of the democratic process, why is it impossible to recognize the need for an equivalent modernization of the counteracting parts in order to preserve the balance and safeguards which are considered characteristic of democracy? There seems to be an implicit assumption that the number of government policy or administrative levels which can be added above that of the national level is unlimited -- that, in fact, an increasing number of such levels does not change the character of the process or create special control problems. If the character of the decision-making process is changed, then clearly corrective feedback from other international sources, or sources not dependent on the long administrative communication lines, should be sought. (See: Galtung, Johan. Non-territorial actors and the problem of peace. Paper presented at the World Order Models Meeting, Northfield Inn, 1969, on the possible relationship between the UN and international non-territorial organizations)

The article quoted earlier points in the direction of a solution.

" principle, the means for such citizen involvement exist today, operating in the form of multiple-access computer systems in which many people use the same computer and share one another's programs, data, thinking, and solutions"With access to all the data the government agencies will have about what is happening to their areas of responsibility, it can be expected that the citizens' various interests will result in one or another group scanning each pertinent situation, alert for new data revealing unexpected gains or losses that can be attributed to the working out of one or another plan. These continuing monitoring efforts could force the agencies not only to appropriate programmatic responses to what the citizens discover, but also to collect new types of data needed for improved evaluation of the programs. Most important of all, the extraordinary degree of openness required to operate this way could mean that, over time, the political system, including the citizen, could come to recognize error and failure as natural products of trying to cope with a complex urban environment. No longer would the government have the need to cover up...Knowing that some error and failure are inevitable, both government and citizen would be able to accept social experiments more easily for what they are....Although the individual citizen can usefully contribute to the elucidation of some of these issues on the basis of his own circumstances, much of what he will need to transform his concerns into decisive queries to the information system will have to be provided by specialists.... But the present roles are not refined enough to provide a readily accessible resource for linking citizens with computers. A more specific delineation of specialties will be needed to implement the proposed system. These would provide the functional equivalent of the "shadow" planning, policy-making, and program-evaluation agencies of urban government. These specialists, retained by citizen groups, could be individuals or consulting firms that do not take government contracts and thus avoid conflicts of interest..... We really have no choice in the matter if we wish to maintain the reality of democracy....(In the absence of such an approach) the citizen would be less and less able to assess the implications of what the government proposes in his best interest. Being unable to assess his interest, he would be forced either to abdicate political participation based on a knowledgeable assessment of the situation or to accept out of ignorance what the planners and politicians offer him. And in the urban world of 1976 these alternatives would, I hope, be unacceptable.' (Michael, op. cit. p.1187-1191)

The above argument and solution apply incidentally to the related topic of protecting national data banks against abuse by their controllers and users. As data on individuals and organizations at the national and international level becomes accessible through directly linked computer data banks -- now quite practicable -- some control on the controllers is necessary. Governments are at present hesitating to implement such data banks because of the lack of adequate control mechanisms. Again it is ironical that the conception of such national systems and its users excludes use by citizen interest groups when it is through the active participation of such groups that the solution to the "privacy/democracy" problem may be obtained. Such an approach to a solution also avoids the legitimate accusation that government is once again opting for procedures which exclude the public.

The needed new relationship between planner and citizen, and between their representatives at the international level, which organization structures and information systems should facilitate, perhaps especially in the case of international programs, is well illustrated by the following quote with regard to urban development:

"Despite protestation to the contrary, most planning and urban development thinking is based on the linear notion of a sequential progression from goal formation to getting the facts, to analyzing the facts, to the formation of alternative plans, to the selection of a plan, to implementation....Until there is general understanding of the process of hypothesis formation, its injection into the tumult of democratic dispute, he generation of feedback, in an ever recurring cycle interaction, little progress will be made in achieving a viable relationship between the intellectual and actual decision-making, and indeed, in the very formation of viable concepts....In the process, the idea formulator himself has been tempered by the heat of his confrontation with his peers, and he himself, perhaps unwittingly, has become a more sensitive instrument more closely attuned to community values." (Bacon, E.N. Urban Process, Daedalus, Fall 1968, pp. 1168-9)

The ongoing debate on the need for the greater participation of the individual in the decision-making process by which his future actions are circumscribed, needs to be considered far more seriously. It is not confined to processes at the national level but also extends to the international level.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

For further updates on this site, subscribe here