The United Nations and the Rationale for Collective Intelligence

by Bassey Ekpe


A study of the relationship between intelligence and the United Nations raises questions of both practical and academic importance. It should also be noted that the multifaceted issues that need to be addressed underscores both the complexity of the subject and the difficulty in carrying out such a study. Frequent changes in the political environment and members’ preferences and perspectives, as well as uncertainties, are characteristics that present difficulties not only on organisations acting on shared intelligence assets but also for the scholar attempting to make sense of the often contradictory relationship between strategic intelligence and collective decisions in complex political organisations. This book tackles these issues and the debates around the subject head on.

Taking as its central argument the question of whether an intelligence system is both desirable and feasible within the UN structure, this study explores the complex and sometimes, irreconcilable issues of strategic intelligence in a sharing context. This study further identifies and develops both conceptual and empirical framework for a viable intelligence capability in multi-agency institutions; exploring and suggesting, for the first time, necessary and acceptable conditions for collective intelligence in an environment characterised by conflicting objectives among international actors. It takes as its main premise the view that the United Nations and the world of intelligence are two separate and contradicting entities that conflict in both principles and operating doctrines. From this point of view, the author explores the many theoretical imperatives which set the two institutions apart and stand in the way of understanding the concepts. He also goes further to examine the contexts in which the contradictions could be harmonised.

This book is one of a handful of studies; it is highly original in that it focuses on the relationship between intelligence and the United Nations. While previous efforts to examine the subject have approached it from a strictly practical point of view, this work is clearly focused on the linkages between theory and practice. The methodology is thoughtful and broad in scope, and the work is theoretically well informed and sophisticated in its analysis of the subject matter. The discussion of aspects of the theory of international relations––specifically those relevant to the role of international governance and the examination of the working of the UN––and several case studies of the UN in action are further characteristics of the rigor and clarity in which the author approaches the study in an intelligent and illuminating manner.

The idea of intelligence sharing has been promoted at various levels as a mechanism to avert future crisis and catastrophic events and as a means for managing international conflicts. Despite the growing importance and urgency of this concept, there has been very little (or at best, cursory) efforts to explore the subject in depth. There is thus an entrenched misunderstanding of the notion of collective intelligence, as well as its relevance to the UN as both a decisional and planning tool. Debates about a viable intelligence system within the UN continue to be both misplaced and anecdotal, and the absence of a consistent theory on the notion of intelligence also foster the widely held view that such a system is infeasible or incompatible with the UN system.

The fact that this book is clearly focused on processes, as well as examining the theory and practice around which two contradicting and apparently irreconcilable institutions are interfaced, provides a distinct departure from the usual and limited approaches studies of the subject usually have. While previous approaches have their usefulness in both the study of intelligence and peacekeeping, the disproportionate balance against a need to interface theory and practice demonstrate an apparent reluctance to depart from the familiar to explore new territories that could provide a platform for extensive and rigorous analysis of functions of intelligence, decision making, and international organisations. The study extends and provides a bridge between theory and practice.

While the book’s many contributions can be found at various levels of originality, its thorough assessment of the linkage between theory and policy stands out, perhaps, as the most important and primary contribution to the areas of collective intelligence and international relations. Other important contributions include the case study analyses and specification of criteria for evaluating collective security intelligence mechanisms. In essence, a lack of scholarly efforts to ground the notion of collective intelligence within a rigorous intellectual framework is a significant vacuum in the study of intelligence which the present study has filled.

Scholars working within the international relations discipline and more specifically issues of global governance and security will find this study invaluable. The book should also appeal to many categories of readers working in information and policy environment, as well as governmental and non-governmental organisations.


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