Fragmentation and complexity of the United Nations system

Other Names:
Inadequate coordination of the UN system

Within the UN system of organizational sub-entities which are concerned with promoting the economic and social goals set out in the UN Charter, and between them and the specialized agencies, which are working towards the same ends, continuing differences of view regarding their respective competences exist. There continue to be cases of duplication and overlapping, of lack of cooperation among organizations and their staffs, of failures to consult, and divergencies of objectives at headquarters, regional and field levels. The extreme decentralization of the system, deliberate at the outset and then aggravated by the establishment of new organs, has not been counterbalanced by a coordination imposed on agents that had no desire to be coordinated.


The structural complexity is indicated by the number of legally independent entities attached to the main bodies within the system: 20 for WHO, 18 for FAO, 10 for UNESCO, 10 for ILO, 13 for UNDP and 15 for the UN. Furthermore, within any of these bodies, the degree of independence of a division (which may have its own committee of experts or intergovernmental organ) or of a field office, is often at least as great as that of the legal entity. The degree of coordination and hierarchical structure varies within each organization but is in most cases very weak. The same situation prevails with respect to regional offices, programmes and field projects. Because of the very ambitious scope of the programme coverage, there is extreme fragmentation of the resources available for any particular project. Because of the system of disbursement of funds, in a single country which is a recipient of aid, some 15 different organizations intervene simultaneously to organize their projects there, which may be extended to 30 when bodies attached to the UN are included.

The complexity of intergovernmental machinery and experts reflects the number of bodies and programmes. Moreover, because of the number of member States, the main committees, with a representative on each committee, cannot examine all problems in detail. This has led to the creation of smaller committees, specialized subsidiary organs, and a system of relationships has been established between them. A whole network of coordination machinery has been imposed on this structure. The vagueness of the terms of reference; the similarity of jurisdiction of organs as important as the Economic and Social Council, UNCTAD, the Second and Third Committees of the General Assembly; and the number and repetition of general debates repeated in committee after committee whose relative status is not clearly defined, have created in the UN particularly a state of confusion which in spite of countless efforts it has been found impossible to remedy.

Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal
Problem Type:
E: Emanations of other problems
Date of last update
15.09.2019 – 18:24 CEST