The Specialized Agencies and the United Nations: The System in Crisis; The UN, UNESCO and the Politics of Knowledge

In This Review

The Specialized Agencies and the United Nations: The System in Crisis

By Douglas Williams
St. Martin's, 1987
279 pp. $29.95

The UN, UNESCO and the Politics of Knowledge

By Clare Wells
St. Martin's, 1987
281 pp. $32.50

It is not an exaggeration to say that the U.N. agencies (and in many respects the entire world organization) are in a state of crisis. Douglas Williams, a senior British civil servant long associated with the work of those agencies, describes the causes, nature and consequences of that crisis in skillful and objective fashion. He clearly shows how the system, in some though not all of the agencies, has been frustrated by the "politicization" of presumably technical and economic functions, yet recognizes that basic political differences exist and cannot be wished away. They call for negotiation, but the U.N. and its agencies are a most unfavorable venue for this task. In her book Clare Wells, a former UNESCO official, tells in all its dreary detail the story of how Western and Third World representatives have argued, bargained and voted on the flow and control of information. The West, backed by its powerful media, has not done badly at all; the "new international information and communications order" is still no more than a Third World dream. The latter part of the book deals with the less controversial but still sharply debated matters of regulation and setting of standards in education, science and culture. The author does not go deeply enough into why America and Britain withdrew from UNESCO, but she ventures the opinion that they will come back.

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