Jurisdictional conflict and antagonism among the specialized agencies of the United Nations


Although the proliferation of intergovernmental organizations rarely leads to pure duplication of activities, there is a considerable problem of overlapping. Two or more intergovernmental organizations may carry out somewhat similar projects which cover much but not all of the same ground, or which are executed in a group of states most but not all of which participate in both organizations.

This kind of 'duplication', more properly called overlapping, is to be found on every hand and is no doubt to some extent inevitable. The mandates of international organizations themselves overlap and, in any case, most organizations tend, with the passage of time, to enlarge their mandates beyond the intentions of their founders. This is most likely to occur in areas which have become 'fashionable'. There is a scramble by international secretariats to establish their organizations in what seems to be a promising area of work, and for this purpose political differences between governments are exploited in favour of this or that organization, as are differences in membership of competing bodies. The unnecessary element in the problem of overlapping thus arises from defects in the structure, functions and control by governments of intergovernmental organizations. The complementary vice of 'overlapping' is 'lacunae', or areas of problem solution which are neglected because no intergovernmental body has paid attention to them. Both sets of problems are inadequately understood, and both merit study by governments.


The ILO provides a host of illustrations. Its main fields of activity are employment promotion, vocational guidance, social security, safety and health, labour laws and labour relations, labour administration, workers' education, cooperatives, rural and related institutions. Each of these fields contains 'grey areas' where other agencies are also much concerned. Furthermore, the ILO is empowered by the Philadelphia Declaration of 1944, which is incorporated in its revised Constitution, to undertake if it wishes, a considerably broader range of international economic and social responsibilities. A number of cases of overlap and proliferation of machinery have therefore occurred. For example, the improvement of living conditions has involved the ILO in aspects of rural development generally, including land reform (FAO) and the conditions of indigenous populations; training is closely linked to education (UNESCO); manpower to questions of small industries (FAO and UNIDO); workers' health standards with health standards generally (WHO). Such situations are of course met so far as possible by various coordinating devices. Some programmes, such as the World Employment Programme, are carried out in cooperation with all or most members of the UN family.

UNESCO provides illustrations no less striking. UNESCO has a general responsibility in matters of science, education and culture which entitles it to contribute, should it wish, to almost every field of international endeavour. Under 'science', the organization has not only played a part in the technical work of the ILO, FAO, IAEA, WMO and ITU, as well as the UN itself, but, since the term has been understood to include social as well as natural sciences, it has been concerned from time to time with such subjects of major concern to the UN as development theory and the peaceful settlement of disputes. On the basis of its general scientific mandate, it has established an International Oceanographic Commission, while FAO (fishery), IMO (marine pollution), IAEA (pollution through atomic waste), and of course the UN itself, have all developed their own networks in related aspects. A 1984 report by the USA General Accounting Office showed that 30% of UNESCO's programmes were duplicating other work, and various UN emergency aid agencies have been proven duplicative to the point of developing antagonisms which have impeded the delivery of aid to African famine victims.

Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal
Problem Type:
E: Emanations of other problems
Date of last update
25.09.2019 – 17:23 CEST