Unesco in the twenty-first century

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The specific nature of UNESCO

Discussion paper

prepared by Yves Courrier, CII/USP

Paris, November 1999

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization



A collective project for UNESCO 1

I. Historical review 2

II. The humanist ideology of the United Nations system 3

III. Some common characteristics of the Specialized Agencies of the
United Nations system 4

IV. UNESCO’s unique characteristics 7

V. The specificity of UNESCO’s actions and mission 11

VI. Implications for reform 18

Conclusion 19

Bibliography 21


A collective project for UNESCO

Economic, social and political pressures have placed a question mark over the lives of a great number of organizations. Whether institutions are in the public, private, non-profit-making or voluntary sector, only those that are able to prove their social usefulness are granted the means to exist. Thus, while the sale of a product or service ensures the survival of a company, only social usefulness guarantees the continued existence of a health or education system. Faced with these very serious challenges, many organizations have been able to survive only by asking themselves fundamental questions such as what is the institution’s basic purpose? what can it do better than the others? what advantages does it have over other institutions working in the same fields? It is basically a matter of separating the essential from the incidental, and of defining the specific role an institution can or must play in its field. It is reasonable to suppose that intergovernmental organizations in general, and UNESCO in particular, are no exception when it comes to this process. There are many signs, in any event, which suggest this.

This internal and external questioning calls for a stock-taking such as is commonly practised in France and North America (and no doubt elsewhere too) in both the public and private sectors. This consists of a collective process that aims to establish an institutional project. We have thus seen the spread of “company projects” and “educational projects”. This approach is feasible regardless of the size or status of the institution concerned, and in a wide range of different contexts. It nevertheless implies two quite distinct stages - that of deliberation followed by that of decision-making.

To begin with, as wide-ranging a consultation as possible must be carried out in a strictly methodical way. As will be seen below, where UNESCO is concerned, the range of those concerned is vast, going from government authorities to the final beneficiaries in Member States and including governing bodies, NGOs, professional groups and so on. However, in an undertaking of this kind it is all too common to leave out one of the groups most closely concerned, namely the Secretariat. Given that the existence of UNESCO depends to a large extent on the staff who serve it, they must play a full part in this seeking for the specific nature of UNESCO. If the Secretariat is given the opportunity and the resources, it can play its part pertinently and precisely. This emphasis on the role of the staff in the stock-taking process is vital and is backed up by the work of sociologists like A. Etzioni and A. Touraine, who have shown that social groups are the ones who shape their own future. Once the stock-taking process is over, it is then time for decisions to be taken, and these are the responsibility of the governing bodies and the Director-General.

The aim of this paper is to propose a method of deliberation which will lead to a definition of what the specific nature of UNESCO is and which could be used by all those who - directly or indirectly - are concerned by the Organization’s action. However, it seemed advisable first of all to provide a few basic descriptive details about the Organization. To begin with, we shall deal with the general context, both historical and philosophical. We shall then look at what we feel to be the essential features of the institution which need to be taken into account in an approach of this kind and which are characteristic of the Specialized Agencies of the United Nations system and UNESCO. We shall end by proposing a means of assessment which should enable the stock-taking process to be continued and expanded.1

The meandering route thus proposed might strike some people as very theoretical. We consider the journey worthwhile since it is part of an approach that aims to establish a sure foundation.

Finally, we should like to point out that the range of matters falling within UNESCO’s sphere of competence is fairly vast and that it is difficult to have a full knowledge of them all. The references to the activities of the different sectors are given by way of illustration or example. The information given is in no way intended to be exhaustive or even representative. The purpose of this paper is to encourage discussion rather than put forward arguments.

I. Historical review

The United Nations system as we know it today was established at the end of the Second World War. It consists of a political agency, the United Nations, and a score of Specialized Agencies including ILO, FAO, ITU and UNESCO. Born of the idealism of the victors of the Second World War, the raison d’être of all these intergovernmental organizations was international cooperation, and each has been affected in its own way by the historical events of the past half century. First came the confrontations of the Cold War and East-West rivalry, which was to continue into the late 1980s (with the Star Wars project) to be an essential part of the overall picture. Then decolonization in the 1960s brought with it the mass accession to the system of the developing countries, the emergence of the Group of 77 and greater emphasis on cooperation for development. The third major stage saw two concurrent events, the less spectacular of which turned out to be the more far-reaching in its effects. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the abandonment of the Marxist ideology and the command economy had no clearly perceptible influence on the functioning of the United Nations system. On the other hand, the surge of Anglo-Saxon ultra-liberalism placed a question mark over the role of some of the Specialized Agencies: in parallel with attempts to whittle down public services and transfer to the private sector a great many tasks previously performed by state agencies, there is a similar bid to pare down the resources of the Specialized Agencies, particularly in terms of staff. Over the last 50 years some of the agencies have undergone a twofold process of politicization. On the one hand, their governing bodies have forfeited the specialized character of their membership, meaning that Member States are now represented by members of their governments or ministers and no longer by independent specialists. On the other hand, these governing bodies have increasingly become forums for political and ideological debate and sometimes confrontation, which to an ever greater extent determines the programme activities of their secretariats (Bekri, 1991; Soudjay, 1996).

Paradoxically, despite the tensions of the second half of the twentieth century, the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the various agencies of the system has not given rise to any institutional or legal transformations. The original instruments are still in force and they have not been amended. Too little attention has been paid to the fact that, in addition to the legal and institutional framework they define, they also establish an ideology.

II. The humanist ideology of the United Nations system

At a time in the life of the United Nations system when many basic principles are being called into question, including its mission and its future, it may be as well to take a look at its defining characteristics. Its purpose is defined in relation to a body of ideas that appear to be self-evident and accepted by all, and which are set out in such texts as the Charter of the United Nations, UNESCO’s Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which in technical terms constitute an ideology. The French Dictionnaire Robert defines an ideology as “a set of ideas, beliefs and doctrines characteristic of ... a particular society”.

The Marxist use of the world “ideology” has long since given it a pejorative connotation, to the extent that Marx held bourgeois ideology to be based on the exploitation of the working class. We shall see, on the contrary, that the ideology of the United Nations system is entirely based on noble ideals oriented towards the service of humanity. When we speak of the ideology of the United Nations system we are thus using the term in a fully positive sense.

Let us recall that, unlike a philosophy, an ideology has postulates that it does not set out to prove and that, unlike a religion, it makes no reference to any revelation and pursues no eschatological end (e.g. collective or individual salvation in the other world). The ideology of the United Nations system was designed to be acceptable to every human being, whatever his or her philosophical or religious convictions or cultural background. We shall not go into the question here of whether or not that objective has been achieved (see De Senarclens, 1988 and Thomas, 1962). Kriegel (1994) has shown how this ideology, which was formulated in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries on the basis of older philosophical and religious material (particularly the Bible), conflicts with that of the sovereign State deriving from Roman law.

The United Nations system covers the whole of humanity. Its mandate is universal and its specific purpose is to serve humanity as a whole. Furthermore, as it is made up of intergovernmental mechanisms, it can reasonably be assumed that, like States, it is expected to last a certain time. In other words, the United Nations system is placed in the service of the evolution of humanity towards a future which is assured and in which all will share and all will find fulfilment.

Building the future means first of all making sure we survive. This calls for suitable responses to the threats of overpopulation, of environmental or nuclear disaster, of shortages of water, power or food, of genetic manipulation, of diminished biological diversity, and so on.

This future is the future of all humanity, since the equality of all human beings is now a universally accepted principle. All human beings have an equal right to existence, a right also to the satisfaction of their basic needs (food, shelter, family life, health, education, safety and employment) and finally the right to live together on this planet of ours.

Since all human beings are to be respected equally, a duty of solidarity links rich and poor, the haves and the have-nots, in a sharing of resources and the gifts of the earth and in ensuring that everyone can live with dignity. This applies as much within a particular society (e.g. the handicapped, ethnic minorities and underprivileged sectors) as internationally (rich countries and poor countries). Solidarity, let us note, presupposes tolerance not the reverse.

The goal of an assured, shared and mutually supportive future is to give every human being and every social group the opportunity to achieve their full development, both material and spiritual. It is for each individual and each group to define this development in terms of cultural and social environment; it will provide conditions for the full exercise of freedom, responsibility and solidarity, both for individuals and for groups.

This condensation of the ideals of the United Nations in the compact form of an ideology makes it easier to understand how they conflict with other equally powerful forces that are driven by other ideologies. It is not difficult to find examples of situations where the humanist ideology of the United Nations has come into very real conflict with the liberal ideology of free enterprise and the pursuit of profit. For instance, in the name of free enterprise, the firm Nestlé began to promote the use of artificial milk for babies in some developing countries. The lack of clean water and ignorance of sterilization procedures made this alternative to breast-feeding lethal in many African countries. Pressure groups involving WHO and NGOs in particular had to make considerable efforts before the multinational company could be persuaded to back down.

At the moment we are witnessing the excesses of other proponents of the liberal ideology as multinational American tobacco firms make peace with United States government agencies by paying billions of dollars in order to be able to carry out their criminal plans to increase tobacco consumption in the Third World by encouraging young people there to smoke. At UNESCO, on a less tragic note, the debate on the information highways has drawn attention to the essential cultural stakes involved in information technology which, as things stand at present, favours the languages of a few countries and hence their cultural influence and economic activities as a whole.

UNESCO, as we shall see, occupies a very special place in this ideological context, which needs to be made clear if we are to have a better understanding of the specific nature of the United Nations agency in Paris. In the same way, the general characteristics of the agencies of the United Nations system need to be examined before identifying those that are peculiar to UNESCO.

III. Some common characteristics of the Specialized Agencies of the United Nations system

Rather than attempt an exhaustive analysis, we shall identify a limited number of characteristics of the Specialized Agencies of the United Nations system that are specific to them:

(a) They are intergovernmental agencies, i.e. sui generis legal entities created by virtue of an agreement between several governments. Some agencies were preceded by other organizations which existed prior to the Second World War: the United Nations and the League of Nations; FAO and the International Institute of Agriculture, WHO and the International Institute for Public Hygiene; and lastly UNESCO, which succeeded the International Institute for Intellectual Cooperation and the International Bureau of Education. Their Statutes were not uniform. The Second World War provided an opportunity to rationalize and standardize the system as a whole through a functionalist approach, under which institutions were set up with precise objectives in relation to well-defined needs. The functionalists used the example of the Tennessee Valley Authority (United States) or the Danube Commission (in Europe) as models of institutions whose establishment required a transfer of authority and which had achieved their objectives effectively. The same approach governed the concept of the system of Specialized Agencies (Abi-Saab, 1981) based on the fundamental principle that supranational mechanisms must correspond to precise needs. The purpose of this was to avoid oversized institutions, Utopian objectives and the natural resistance to any transfer of authority.

(b) As intergovernmental agencies, the twin principles of the sovereignty and equality of States are strictly applied: on the one hand, “one country-one vote” (except in the United Nations, where the Security Council distributes power differently); on the other, participation is on a voluntary basis and can be revoked at any time. Thus the USSR, for example, became a member of FAO only at a very late stage and the United States left UNESCO and UNIDO. As we know, the United Kingdom returned to UNESCO in 1998 after having left in 1986.

(c) The principle of the sovereignty of States has two extremely important consequences: first, the refusal to transfer authority. For instance, contrary to the European Union system, the agencies of the United Nations have not benefited from any delegation of authority on the part of the Member States. All their actions depend on voluntary acceptance, without any obligation stemming from an agreement or treaty. Secondly, Member States refuse on principle any interference by the agencies in their internal affairs and ensure that this is strictly adhered to. This second consequence, although strongly challenged in specialized circles and the media, has not yet been publicly questioned, to the best of the author’s knowledge, by any governmental authority.

(d) There being no delegation of authority, the type of action undertaken by secretariats is usually confined to a rather limited range of activities: international conventions, resolutions, declarations, cooperation on a voluntary basis, training, and promotional or incentive activities such as conferences, publications and pilot projects. Some agencies, however, have carried out actions which have had a considerable impact on a large section or the whole of humanity (the green revolution by FAO or the eradication of smallpox by WHO). ITU is one of the few agencies in which the decisions that are taken are binding on its members. (This very brief account deserves closer and more comprehensive study.)

(e) In principle, the agencies are meant to be universal in scope; every country in the world can join them. In that respect, they differ from other intergovernmental organizations established on the basis of economic criteria (OECD), or cultural or geographical criteria (OAU, League of Arab States, Agence de la Francophonie). It should also be borne in mind that the typology of international organizations is extremely complex. Thus, an organization can be universal and “political” without being intergovernmental (Amnesty International) or universal and specialized (the scientific and vocational NGOs).

(f) The Specialized Agencies have basically similar structures, with certain typical components:

governing bodies, made up of the delegations of Member States and constituted in a general assembly and another, more restricted executive assembly;

a director-general, responsible to the governing bodies for the functioning of the organization, who is the guardian of the secretariat’s independence. For staff members, this independence relates to both status (conditions of employment in the broad sense of the term) and function: the performance of duties, in particular the execution of the programme, is determined by collective decision of the governing bodies and not according to the wishes of a particular Member State;

a secretariat responsible for programme execution. Even for the largest Specialized Agencies, the limited size of their secretariats (from 2,000 to 3,000 staff members) leaves them far behind the governmental services of the major developed countries and many of their institutions (universities, research, standardization and supervisory bodies, the private sector);

the secretariat is made up of two categories of staff (international and local) which differ in recruitment procedures, the system of remuneration and certain fringe benefits. This remark merely states an inescapable fact. Although it may give rise to objections of an ideological nature, it none the less governs a large number of factors relating to the functioning of intergovernmental organizations, such as, for example, geographical mobility and careers;

staff salaries, based on the Noblemaire and Flemming principles, are considered very generous by most Member States and public opinion in general, although they are considerably lower (by 30 to 40%) than those of the Bretton Woods system;

a biennial programme accompanied by a budget made up of compulsory contributions, which may be supplemented by voluntary contributions or other, “extrabudgetary” resources;

a scale of assessment of contributions under which each member country contributes in accordance with its resources;

a twofold constituency: in the case of the specialized intergovernmental organizations, the two constituencies consist of:

(1) the governmental constituency: i.e. the Member States, through their representatives on the governing bodies and permanent institutions (permanent delegations, National Commissions - which are unique to UNESCO and to which we shall return - relevant ministries);

(2) the civil constituency: i.e. the scientific, vocational or social groups concerned, at the international level (NGOs) and at the national level (in the case of UNESCO, teachers, researchers in all fields of knowledge, intellectuals, journalists, etc.) (Hoggart, 1978, Thomas, 1962);

indirect feedback mechanisms: these are the governmental bodies of Member States (the first constituency) which define the programmes and allocate the resources, whereas the actions of the secretariat target the communities or populations in the Member States (the second constituency). Evaluation mechanisms are therefore nearly always inadequate since the second constituency has no real feedback system. It is impossible to overemphasize this fundamental difficulty which affects all the Specialized Agencies of the United Nations system. In the absence of mechanisms enabling both constituencies, governmental and civil, to carry out a genuine evaluation, it is impossible to judge whether these agencies truly discharge their duties and whether the results are commensurate with the resources allocated to them. Many intellectuals today question the mechanisms for securing democratic representation, despite the fact that they are based on a direct feedback system, i.e. elections. To the best of our knowledge, the special situation of intergovernmental organizations in this respect does not seem to have attracted the attention it deserves.

It should be noted that a group of agencies was set up separately, under the Bretton Woods agreements (the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund). Their competence relates to the economy and financial mechanisms - that is, the most important component in the functioning of our modern societies and present-day governments. They were established on different basis, both as regards decision-making and the activities and remuneration of their secretariats. This peculiarity obviously has to do with the dominant position of finance ministries in most countries and reflects the dichotomy described above between the humanistic ideology of the United Nations and the materialistic ideology of liberalism. We may recall, in this connection, the difficulties that arose when WTO was set up, which are a further example of this ideological divide.

The conflict between the humanistic and liberal ideologies is set, however, in a new context, that of globalization. Of course, globalization did not appear out of the blue: it might even be said, alas, that the first human activity to be truly global was the Second World War. Since then, the interdependence of States and peoples has continued to expand in all spheres: work and employment, agriculture, industry and services, trade, transport and communications, health and the environment, migratory movements, education, scientific research, culture and leisure activities. No field of human activity, whether individual or collective, has been spared, although there have been variations in the degree of intensity and the pace of progress, and especially in the effects, which may be either good or bad. Hence, humanity as a whole has joined forces to study the changes in the ozone layer, while the “fatwa” against Salman Rushdie could only be applied because of the media. People have migrated on an unprecedented scale because information on the standard of living in other countries (whether accurate or not) circulates widely and the means of transport are available. The advocates of the liberal ideology seek to exploit for their own benefit the immense opportunities opened up by the current process of globalization and therefore oppose the institutions that represent the humanistic ideology. It is not by chance that the attacks on the United Nations system emanate from a small number of countries at this particular period in the development of humanity.

IV. UNESCO’s unique characteristics

Although UNESCO is one United Nations Specialized Agency among many, it has a number of unique characteristics. These can be described from a systemic angle. From a terminological point of view, we shall use “mission” to mean the ultimate aim which justifies the existence of an institution, and “goal” to mean the formulation of that mission in operational terms. No distinction will be drawn between “goal” and “objective”. Some people use the word “goal” quite legitimately for “mission” and “objective” for “goal”. Our choice has no ambition to fix the meanings of the words and merely aims to establish an explicit one-to-one terminology to facilitate the discussion of this document.

UNESCO’s mission. Within the ideological context described earlier for the United Nations system as a whole, two essential features need to be stressed where UNESCO is concerned. In the first place, the Constitution aims explicitly to go beyond the areas of economics and finance and sets itself at the level of the “intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind” (para. 6 of the Preamble). The Miollis Group (1995) stated that the Constitution thus goes further than the United Nations Charter itself, which does not go beyond the political level, and was in existence three years earlier than the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Constitution of UNESCO is based on the idea, later confirmed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that peace and development form the preconditions for human fulfilment, this fulfilment being an end in itself. In other words, respect for the human being and his or her cultural, intellectual and moral identity is a value higher than peace and war, that is to say, higher than governments and conflicts among States and nations (see the contrast Kriegel makes above between the rights of States and human rights). Secondly, the mission it assigns to UNESCO is to “contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among the nations through education, science and culture”. Collaboration in the fields assigned to UNESCO is a means to achieve an objective, namely, peace and security, an objective which is itself a means to an ultimate end, the fulfilment of every human being. The Miollis Group (ibid.) thus stated that the context of bipolar rivalry seems to have faded away, with conflict frequently occurring directly within States. This trend would seem to confirm the value of the idea underlying the Organization’s Constitution, which sets UNESCO over and above the particular international political context of the second half of the twentieth century.

Goal. As indicated above, the Organization’s goal is to create conditions for peace through international cooperation in its fields of competence. Intellectual cooperation is therefore its primary goal. Technical cooperation was added to this first objective in the 1960s when many Third World countries acceded to independence. Since that period, the existence of two different objectives has given rise to a measure of conflict at UNESCO, visible at the institutional and the operational levels, the two objectives being seen sometimes as incompatible and sometimes as complementary (Miollis Group, ibid.). In practical terms, the Organization has been wondering since the 1960s whether, from the institutional point of view, the objective of international cooperation is compatible with that of assistance to developing countries and whether, from the operational point of view, priority in terms of efforts and resources should be given to the first or second objective.

Competence. In line with the distribution by functions given above (Section III.a), the Organization’s fields of competence are education, science, culture and communication. It has often been said that among the system’s agencies, UNESCO is the one with the broadest and most heterogeneous mandate. This is largely incorrect. ILO, which is concerned with all aspects of the world of work, covers by definition all forms of employment, whatever the field of activity or level of specialization. The competence of FAO covers everything to do with agriculture and food. Conversely, the Miollis Group pointed out that when UNESCO was founded, its entire mandate was in most instances, at the national level, the responsibility of a single ministry, the ministry of education. The distribution of responsibilities among ministries may in fact vary - and has varied - considerably depending on the country. Culture may be associated with education or communication, scientific research with higher education or industrial development, and so on. A real problem arises, on the other hand for some of these fields taken individually. Since (and sometimes even prior to) the founding of UNESCO, the question has been asked whether, for example, education, which is a matter of national sovereignty, can be the subject of international cooperation or whether high-level scientific cooperation, which is conducted very well by NGOs, needs support mechanisms of an intergovernmental nature (Archibald, 1993; and Hoggart, 1975).

However, the most striking feature of the Organization’s fields of competence lies elsewhere and is to be found in what we will call its controversial character. This means that many of the issues considered by or in the Organization are by nature undecidable, the consequence of which is that discussions on them have no natural conclusion. Discussion on the qualitative objectives of education, the place of art in society and the need for a philosophy division at UNESCO can be endless. Decisions will always leave some people dissatisfied and can always be called into question. On the other hand, a conflictual theme can spark off debate, but it always comes to a conclusion, most frequently after compromises have been reached, with a decision to which the parties hold. The allocation of radio frequencies at ITU and the launching of vaccination campaigns at WHO are therefore decisions that will not be perpetually called into question. The controversial nature of the Organization’s activities necessarily leads to the functioning of the governing bodies being particularly strange because the positions of governments and their representatives frequently vary on essential points. But above all, in the event of disagreement, there is no possibility of lasting compromise (see NWICO).

Organizational structure. As indicated above, UNESCO has broadly the same structure as many other agencies in the system, i.e. governing bodies composed of two assemblies, a Director-General and a Secretariat. It is a rather centralized agency (this section deals only with its structure; the decentralization of activities - what the Miollis Group calls regionalization - will be looked at later). The question of decentralization is, however, often badly put because the structural and functional points of view are all too often confused. If agencies are to a greater or lesser extent structurally decentralized (see, for example, WHO or UNDP), this is dependent on operational needs, which require an optimal balance to be struck between the cost and the effectiveness of action. There is no abstract or absolute criterion that permits the definition of an ideal kind of decentralization.

Forms of action. Like other agencies, UNESCO implements a programme that has been endorsed by the General Conference. The limited nature of the resources provided to the Organization has already been emphasized. Similarly, the range of programme activities is basically relatively small, e.g. conferences, publications, fellowships and training seminars, missions by staff members and consultants, provision of equipment and various contracts. One particular type of action also taken by other agencies must also be highlighted, namely, conventions. It is interesting to note that the Constitution does not use the term “programme” but mentions “agreements” and “conventions” as forms of action. In fact, UNESCO, in the early days, promoted the signature of a large number of conventions and each Member State was required to report on the implementation, at national level, of the conventions to which it had acceded. This form of action seems to have lapsed except for some important conventions such as the Universal Copyright Convention and conventions for the protection of the cultural heritage.

A recent example of UNESCO’s action in this field took on an unusual political dimension and attracted much media publicity when the 1972 Convention for the Protection of the Natural and Cultural Heritage was invoked to prevent the construction of a motorway near the pyramids in Egypt. In another connection, the Bern Copyright Convention was the subject of a diplomatic conference convened by WIPO in December 1996 to take account of the new information and communication technologies. It is surprising that this form of action, which seems by nature most appropriate to an intergovernmental organization, has thus lost so much of its importance and this is no doubt significant. Either international cooperation in one of the Organization’s fields of competence, that of intellectual life, seems not to need a large number of legal instruments, or the preparation of such instruments raises too many difficulties for them to succeed. This question deserves to be considered in some depth.

Other instruments like the resolutions adopted by UNESCO’s different meetings, from the General Conference to meetings of experts, and like Declarations and Prizes, are similar to conventions but without their legal character. They are like conventions in that they are addressed to the public at large and commit the organizations responsible for them, not from the legal point of view but morally and as institutions. One example is the UNESCO-Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, the establishment of which caused quite a stir. Another even more important example is the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights, adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO on 11 November 1997 and recently endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly.

However this may be, the specific nature of UNESCO relates not so much to the ways in which they are implemented, as described above, as to the Organization’s target audience, the communities dealt with.

Communities dealt with. The two communities - governmental and civil - with which the Specialized Agencies of the United Nations system deal, take on distinct characteristics where UNESCO is concerned.

The governmental community. On account of the large number of links with UNESCO, the governmental community takes on quite a different composition there from that found at the other Specialized Agencies. The links are at two levels - on the one hand within each government and, on the other hand, in the workings of the relationship with UNESCO. Within governments, it has already been pointed out that education, culture, communication, science and research may come under a great variety of ministries in the Member States, and this is true both at any given moment and over a period of time. This situation creates serious problems of coordination and communication with UNESCO’s activities, and the problem is unfortunately aggravated by the large number of channels of communication. In addition to official delegations to the governing bodies, as in all Specialized Agencies, UNESCO has two further channels not found in other agencies. These are the permanent delegations, exclusively concerned with UNESCO’s activities and housed on its premises, and the National Commissions, whose legal status and capacity for participation may vary considerably from country to country. To speak more frankly, the position of Member States vis-à-vis the Organization and the debates it initiates often lacks continuity and consistency and the pressures that Member States bring to bear on the Organization all too often go beyond the limits permitted by the Constitution.

In this connection, it is easy to understand why, when to the large number of channels of communication is added the controversial nature of the subjects dealt with, as we saw earlier, UNESCO has formidable difficulties to overcome in its fields of competence in order to arrive at positions that satisfy everyone involved.

The civil community. The civil community connected with UNESCO, as we have already observed, is no more diverse than that of ILO or WHO. Apart from the fact that its fields of activity already referred to are “controversial”, we must bear in mind that they are also difficult to express in monetary terms. Governments are beginning to realize that education or research are investments that a nation cannot afford to neglect, but there is still no direct and indisputable link between a precisely costed investment and the expected results. It is possible to arrive at a fairly accurate estimate for the cost of a vaccination campaign and the number of potential victims spared, but it is difficult to quantify the advantages of a higher teacher/pupil ratio. This is even more true for cultural investments in general.


The trend towards globalization noted within the United Nations system is taking on particular forms in the fields of competence of the Organization. However, the examples given below show that the global dimension of the problem in no way rules out regional or national dimensions.

Education. Recognition of objectives like equality of access to education (according to gender or geographical or social origin), the fight against illiteracy, and so on, is global, but action is always subject to national, linguistic and cultural limitations.

Science and the social sciences. Here two levels need to be distinguished: the development of science through research and the application of science to particular problems. The development of science is by nature global. Apart from the aberration of Lyssenko, who set out to construct a Marxist biology, no one has ever claimed that any field of science belonged to a particular culture or nation. International exchanges have been the norm since Greek Antiquity. On the other hand, the study of certain scientific problems is a frankly regional matter. The El Niño current, illiteracy in shantytowns or the impact of drug production and marketing are scientific issues that unquestionably have regional or national roots.

Information and communication technologies. The globalization of these technologies is a widely recognized fact, the impact of which is at the heart of many controversies. The beneficial or harmful consequences of globalization still continue to spark debate; and it is even claimed both that the Internet caused the failure of the Moscow coup d’état and that it represents a serious threat to the linguistic and cultural diversity of the world.

Culture. The cultural identity of peoples and nations is no longer questioned, but globalization raises issues like cultural tourism or the protection of copyright, about which views are far from unanimous.

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