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Is there a hole in the whole? Knowledge, technology, interdependence, and the construction of international regimes

  • Ernst B. Haas


This essay seeks to make the following points: (1) The search for holistic intellectual constructs to legitimate the construction of international regulatory regimes is fruitless if it is based on some notion of naturalness suggested by science itself. The purposes to be served by the use and regulation of science and technologies cannot be subordinated to the scientific attributes of the activities to be regulated. (2) Darwinian evolutionary propositions concerning survival imperatives are not adequate guides for the definition of political purposes governing the international regulation of science and technology. (3) If holistic constructs are not fruitful as organizing devices entirely disaggregated and fragmented solutions to technological problems are self-defeating in terms of achieving political purposes. What kind of knowledge do we have to suggest the creation of cognitive links among parts which add up to wholes consistent with political purposes as units-to-be-regulated? The identification of links demands a closer type of cooperation among technical experts and political decision makers than practiced hitherto. Hence a notion of the public interest is advanced to suggest the identification of links through new types of institutions and procedures for combining scientific with political knowledge. (4) Wholes to be identified through such processes can be analyzed in terms of the language of complexity and decomposability, leading to various notions of interdependence. Political purposes and technological developments are discussed jointly to show how a given concern can be characterized by different kinds of interdependencies at different times. “Interdependence” then emerges as a multi-dimensional and dynamic device for identifying wholes. (5) Various types of interdependence are matched to various forms of international organizational cooperation and the evolution of organizations is examined in terms of learning to manage interdependence. (6) By combining organizational forms with changing political purposes we arrive at provisional wholes called “technology-task-environments” which permit the scientist and the politician to contribute jointly to the management of interdependence issues triggered by changing technologies and scientific ideas until the evolving mix of knowledge and purpose leads them to construction of alternative (but equally temporary) wholes.



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1 du Gard, Roger Martin, Jean Barois (New York: Viking Press, 1949), p. 256.

2 Much the same point is made in more elegant, philosophical terms by Holton, Gerald in “On Being Caught Between Dionysians and Apollonians,” Daedalus, vol. 103, no. 3 (Summer 1974), pp. 6582.

3 I have relied on the Maltese text reproduced in US Congress, Senate, Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, 92nd. Congress, 1st Session, The Law of the Sea Crisis (Washington: USGPO, 1972), pp. 168256, and all quotations are from this text.

4 Wenk, Edward Jr, The Politics of the Ocean (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1972), p. 437.

5 Ibid., pp. 405–08.

6 Ibid., pp. 410–16.

7 Ibid., P. 425.

8 Ibid., p. 430.

9 One way of justifying Paido's option is to consider ocean space primarily in terms of global economic redistribution policies. For such an argument, see Fabian, Larry L., “The Ocean, the United States and the Poor Countries,” in Hunter, Robert E. (ed.), The United States and the Developing World: Agenda for Action (Washington, D.C.: Overseas Development Council, 1973).

10 On Systems and International Regimes,” World Politics, vol. 27, no. 2 (01 1975).

11 This species of systems theorizing, because of its inductive-heuristic character, is not acceptable to many commentators on systems theory, especially not to devotees of General Systems Theory. See Waltz, Kenneth N., “Theories of International Relations,” in Greenstein, Fred and Polsby, Nelson (eds.), The Handbook of Political Science, vol.7 (forthcoming). I am explicitly criticizing the type of systems theory expounded by Laszlo, Ervin in The Systems View of the World (New York: Braziller, 1972) and The World System: Models, Norms, Variations (New York: Braziller, 1973). Laszlo treats natural systems and social systems as different entities but he interprets the behavior of social systems as subordinate to the imputed requirements of the natural systems within which social life must operate. His prescription for cognitive adjustments necessary to assure survival and adaptation follow from this conceptual hierarchy. He argues that while inferences about actual conduct cannot be made from deterministic systemic assertions, normatively desirable inferences about conduct can be made.

12 Hubbard, Earl W., “The Need for New Worlds,” New Worlds, (09 1971), p. 25. Hubbard is described as a space philosopher. New Worlds is the journal of The Committee for the Future, Inc., Lakeville, Connecticut.

13 This point is well made in Thorsen, Thomas L., Biopolitics (New York: Holt, Reinhart, Winston, 1970), ch. 6. Thorsen also equates the most recent period of human-scientific consciousness with the use of print as the most common medium of communication. He relates this consciousness to non-naturalistic forms of logic and epistemology culminating in Logical Positivism. See pp. 170–72, 176–77.

14 The rebirth of naturalistic logic hardly requires emphasis. It is being reintroduced into studies of international relations by works stressing ecological-humanistic perspectives, even though a specifically evolutionary thrust of the argument is lacking in these works. See for instance, Falk, Richard A., This Endangered Planet (New York: Random House, 1971); Brown, Lester R., World Without Borders (New York: Random House, 1972); Harold, and Sprout, Margaret, Toward a Politics of the Planet Earth (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1971). See Ferkiss, Victor, The Future of Technological Civilization (New York: Braziller, 1974) for an extended argument merging the evolutionary and ecological perspectives in a program of Ecological Humanism designed to reintegrate man with nature through a political act. I am grateful to Professor Ferkiss for permitting me to read the manuscript before publication.

15 Kenneth A. Dahlberg, in a critique of the currently “dominant paradigm” of international relations studies, argues for an ecological-contextual perspective along the lines suggested by Thorsen and Ferkiss. He justifies this, among other things, as warranted by the need to push materialistic-technological determinism into the background and to afford non-Western cultures and modes of thought a niche in evolving global consciousness. Such a holistic perspective would then permit the evolution of a universal ethic. The Technological Ethic and the Spirit of International Relations,” International Studies Quarterly, vol. 17, no. 1 (03 1973), pp.5585. While his purpose is to limit the Western content of a universal ethic, this perspective actually has the effect of extending the organic-naturalistic-scientific view in the Third World.

16 Corning, Peter A., “The Biological Bases of Behavior and Some Implications for Political Science,” World Politics, vol. 23, no. 3 (04 1971), pp. 356–57. Emphasis is in original. I have found Coming's work the most useful and sweeping in summarizing, analyzing and projecting the implications of an evolutionary view of politics and rely on it here. I am indebted to Professor Corning for having given me the manuscripts of several additional articles on this theme.

17 Ibid., p. 357.

18 Corning appropriately relies on Karl W. Deutsch for a marriage of cybernetic with biological perspectives for this point. The Nerves of Government (New York: The Free Press, 1966), pp. 92–3. For a similar viewpoint see Simpson, G. G., Biology and Man (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1969), p. 147.

19 Corning, pp. 359, 364–66.

20 Waddington, C. H., The Ethical Animal (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967). Simpson, George G. claims “there is no real doubt, and neither Julian Huxley nor Waddington has doubted, that the capacity or, one can say, the necessity for ethisizing is in fact a biological characteristic of the human species developed by natural selection because it is adaptive for the species…” Simpson, p. 134. It might be remembered what some implications for international programs might be when this viewpoint is “officially” accepted: Julian Huxley was the first Director-General of UNESCO.

21 I am indebted to Ervin Laszlo for this formulation. See his Systems Philosophy of World Order,” (Princeton University: Center for International Studies [mimeo], 05 25, 1973). Laszlo argues the systems construct in a self-consciously heuristic manner and warns against a reified application of these concepts. He urges it simply as a way of ordering concrete trend data involving territorial and non-territorial units to be studied in international politics. The terms are borrowed from Buckley, Walter, Sociology and Modern Systems Theory (Englewood CUffs: Prentice-Hall, 1967) and Taylor, Alastair M..

22 Corning makes an effort to link the two systems by using the notion of an organism's “needs” as the crucial element. Any cultural system which facilitates the satisfaction of needs is adaptive. Cultural systems which permit restructuring in line with changing needs are also adaptive. The list of needs themselves, however, remains a problem for such analysis. “Politics and the Evolutionary Process” (mimeo), pp. 44–9.

23 As quoted in Victor Ferkiss, p. 118.

24 For details on this typology, see Skolnikoff, Eugene, The International Imperatives of Technology (Berkeley: Institute of International Studies, University of California, 1972), pp. 1315, 100–16.

25 See the pioneering work of Friedheim, Robert on this subject: “The ‘Satisfied’ and ‘Dissatisfied’ States Negotiate International Law: A Case Study,” World Politics, vol. 18, no. 1 (10 1965); and Friedheim, R., Kadane, J. B. with Gable, J. K. Jr, “Quantitative Content Analysis of the United Nations Seabed Debate,” International Organization, vol. 24, no. 3 (Summer 1970).

26 I am much influenced by Dahl's, Robert A. discussion of this in After the Revolution (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970). See also Rourke, Francis E., Bureaucracy, Politics and Public Policy (Boston: Little, Brown, 1969), ch. 6.

27 Available case studies on internationally-relevant decision processes are inconclusive with respect to the validity of this assumption. In the ABM and CBW debates in the US, the range of controversy was not narrowed by the use of adversary science. But the type of adversary procedures then used are not the only or the best available. The mode of advancing analyses and arguments pitted group against group, the executive against the legislature, party against party instead of using a more quiet and deliberate in-house adversary process free from the need to defend and attack decisions already made. See Kahn, Anne Hessing, Eggheads and Warheads: Scientists and the ABM (Cambridge, Mass.: Science and Public Policy Program, Center forInternational Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1971). Ruttenberg, Charles L., Political Behavior of American Scientists: The Movement Against Chemical and Biological Warfare (Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 1972).

28 “Structuralism” as a special form of systems theory deserves a word of comment in this connection. Piaget defines “structures” as follows: “As a first approximation, we may say that a structure is a system of transformations. Inasmuch as it is a system and not a mere collection of elements and their properties, these transformations involve laws: the structure is preserved or enriched by the interplay of its transformation laws, which never yield results external to the system nor employ elements that are external to it. In short, the notion of structure is comprised of three ideas: the idea of wholeness, the idea of transformation, and the idea of self-regulation.” Structuralism (New York: Basic Books, 1970) p. 5. Emphasis is mine. Structuralist social scientists, such as Lévy-Strauss, arrive at their notions of the whole on the basis of empirical studies; they induce the whole from the parts. But having done so, they then proceed to postulate general laws on the basis of the structures discovered and to talk about end-states in terms of the needs (functions) served by the structures. In short, they present us with another variety of deductive/deterministic systems theory. Piaget warns of not confusing structures with aggregates, “the former being wholes, the latter composites formed of elements that are independent of the complexes into which they enter.” (Ibid., p. 7). The entities of interest in the construction of international regimes are aggregates.

29 Johan Galtung seeks to provide a self-consciously “structural” theory of international order. See Entropy and the General Theory of Peace,” 2nd General Conference of the International Peace Research Association, Stockholm, 1967 (mimeo); A Structural Theory of Integration,” Journal of Peace Research, no. 4 (1968); “A Structural Theory of Imperialism,” ibid., no. 2 (1971). The point of the enterprise is to arrive at transformation rules which predict how the “old” structures can evolve into “new” and better ones. Galtung is not interested in the perceived interests of actors. The “structures” he identifies are his formalizations of something “real out there,” subordinated to his teleology, viz., propelling the international system to a greater state of equality. Since the methods employed depend on the teleology they are not appropriate for the enterprise which preoccupies me. For an attempt at structural analysis avoiding teleological fixes but employing aspects of the structural methodology see Ruggie, John Gerard, “The Structure of International Organization: Contingency, Complexity and post-Modern Form.” Peace Research Society (International), Papers, vol. 18 (1971), pp. 7391.

30 The Sprouts, p. 3.

31 Brown, p. 11.

32 Ibid., pp. 350–51. Brown's suggestions for new international regimes and organizations are extremely modest, involving no more than a gradual expansion of economic and social planning activities already practiced to some extent by the United Nations system, and through bilateral programs.

33 Porte, Todd La (ed.), Organized Social Complexity: Challenge to Politics and Policy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, forthcoming). I am most grateful to Professor La Porte and his associates for permitting me to quote from the manuscript. The quotation is from La Porte's own chapter, p. 5. Emphasis in original.

34 Students of complexity juxtapose the terms “interrelatedness” (also “connectedness” or “connectivity”) and “interdependence.” La Porte suggests that interdependence is more important because it implies self-conscious recognition of the state of interrelatedness on the part of the actors. Interrelatedness, then, is unperceived interdependence. The Sprouts (pp. 15–19, 26–27) are concerned with sketching the nature and effect of man-environment exchanges in systematic terms in order to set the scene for suggesting the choices which ought to be made in order to preserve ecological balance. Interdependence follows interrelatedness.

35 The inspiration comes from Simon, Herbert, “The Architecture of Complexity,” General Systems Yearbook, 10 (1965); Ando, A., Fisher, F. and Simon, H., Essays on the Structure of Social Science Models (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1963); Simon, H. and Ando, A., “Aggregation of Variables in Dynamic Systems,” Econometrica, vol. 29 (04 1961). It is worth noting that the evolutionary concept of “adaptation” has made its appearance in international relations theory and that its application confirms Simon's thoughts on decomposing complex systems. Adaptation is used to investigate and illustrate how states seek to limit their dependence on others, on how to decouple, to reassert control over their national destinies against exogenous systemic forces. Adaptation is a concept to describe resistance to penetration, especially in the realm of international science, technology and multinational corporate activity. For the general point, see Rosenau, James N., “Theorizing Across Systems: Linkage Politics Revisited” (mimeo, paper delivered at 1971 American Political Science Association meetings), pp. 911. For data, see Gilpin, Robert, France in the Age of the Scientific State (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1968). Nau, Henry R., “The Practice of Interdependence in the Research and Development Sector: Fast Reactor Cooperation in Western Europe,” International Organization, vol. 26, no. 3 (Summer 1972).

36 For the sake of clarity I stress that these organizational forms are not new jargon for the familiar forms: unitary, federal and confederate constitutions. A “tree” is a hierarchy so arranged that the performance of separate tasks is subordinated to a pyramidal and symmetrical downward flow of authority; Pardo's design for an ocean regime is a tree. A “matrix” is an organization lacking a clear center of authority; not all members need participate in all activities; the activities are largely self-administered, though interrelated in terms of their consequences. Brown's and Wenk's visions are compatible with a matrix-form of organization. The United Nations can be more or less accurately portrayed in these terms. However, the European Community resembles a semi-lattice. There is a clear center of authority for some activities and decisions, but not for all. Lines of authority duplicate and overlap; tasks are performed in fragments by many subsystems; sometimes authority flows sideways and upwards, at other times the flow is downward.

37 Two essays on simulation give some support to my reasoning. See Daniel Metlay, “On Studying the Future Behavior of Complex Systems”; Garry D. Brewer, “Analysis of Complex Systems: An Experiment and Its Implications for Policy-Making”: chapters 6 and 7 in La Porte.

38 Løvald, Johan Ludvik, Planning the Future of Ocean Space: A Case Study of the United Nations Sea-Bed Committee 1968–70. (Unpublished Ph.d. dissertation, Northwestern University, 1973). See especially pp. 90–104, 144–56, 166–92. International negotiations on the future of the seabed illustrate this theme. The discussions of the General Assembly's Ad Hoc Committee on the Seabed (1968–70) show no clear trend toward a definable structure. Issues to be negotiated about were widely dispersed and poorly linked in 1968, coalesced and merged considerably in 1969, only to disperse once more in 1970. Single issues which are functionally specific tended to remain so over time. But the significant functionally diffuse issue of the “common heritage of mankind” over the seabed remained tightly linked to other issues throughout. On the other hand, the equally central diffuse issue of the set of general principles to be adopted for the seabed sank from high association with other issues in 1968 to low association in 1970; in short, the most important negotiating issue moved toward decomposition from the bundle of issues. Moreover, the delegations on the Committee remained extremely divided as to whether the proper negotiating strategy was to merge or to separate issues. For additional data on this point see the contributions of Brenner, Nau, Scheinman and Pendley, Weiss, and Levy to this volume.

39 Young, Oran R., “Interdependencies in World Politics,” International Journal, vol. 24, no. 4 (Autumn 1969), p. 726.

40 My ideas on interdependence represent an unfaithful synthesis of these works: Lanyi, Anthony, “Political Aspects of Exchange Rate Systems,” in Merritt, Richard L., Communication in International Politics (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1972); Morse, Edward L., “The Transformation of Foreign Policies: Modernization, Interdependence, and Externalization,” World Politics, vol. 22, no. 3 (04 1970); Transnational Economic Processes,” International Organization, vol 25, no. 3 (Summer 1971); Cooper, Richard N., The Economics of Interdependence: Economic Policy in the Atlantic Community (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968); Waltz, Kenneth N., “The Myth of National Interdependence” in Kindelberger, Charles P. (ed.), The International Corporation (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1970); Keohane, Robert O. and Nye, Joseph S., “International Interdependence and Integration,” in Greenstein, Fred and Polsby, Nelson (eds.), The Handbook of Political Science, vol. 7 (forthcoming). I am greatly indebted to Professors Keohane and Nye for sharing the manuscript with me. The authors show the congruence and lack of congruence between the concepts of integration, transnational communication and interdependence and skillfully use interdependence to subsume and illuminate the other two.

The organizational and management hypotheses interwoven with the notions of interdependence owe a great deal to Martin Landau. See his “Linkage, Coding and Intermediacy: A Strategy for Institution Building,” in Eaton, J. W. (ed.), Institution Building and Development (Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1972), pp. 91 ff.

41 “The typology rests upon an assumption which has to do with why states respond in certain ways to one kind of issue, but differently to others. The assumption is that issues are not responded to because of their inherent substantive characteristics (trade, technology, labor policy), nor because of their inherent merit or virtue (public health, human rights, clean air), nor due to their inherent logic (planning and coordination follows differentiation). Rather, states, visualized as complex organizational systems, are assumed to respond to issues in terms their predicament issues pose for states qua complex organizational systems.” John G. Ruggie, memorandum from Geneva, Switzerland, 1972.

42 A rapid exercise in doing this resulted in the following scores: high/high and high/medium clusters = 54%; medium/medium and low/medium clusters = 25%; the high/low cluster = 21% and cannot be interpreted as either favoring or hindering the negotiation of a package deal implying a comprehensive multi-issue regime. The overall score favoring such an outcome also remain weak. The exercise is a much simplified form of the type of analysis pioneered by Robert Friedheim.

43 That is what Ruggie shows in Collective Goods and Future International Collaboration,” American Political Science Review, vol. 66, no. 3 (09 1972).

44 Thompson, J. D., Organizations in Action (New York: M82 cGraw-Hill, 1967), especially pp. 1421, 54 ff.

45 The classification and subsequent characterization of national positions is based on the situation prior to the meeting at Caracas. Some significant shifts in national position took place at the meeting. Moreover, the classification here presented reflects shifts in position which occurred after the initial confrontation of views in the UN General Assembly Seabed Committee deliberations.

46 I am at some pains to make this argument in order to show that “pure incrementalism” is a counsel of despair in human rationality. Pure inciementalists, citing the difficulty of finding the right information at the right time and feeding it to the right policy maker, come to the conclusion that pooling is the “best” one can ever realistically expect. Hence elaborate planning organizations are considered useless. Thompson's scheme, and the more formal but cognate arguments of Simon, show clearly that, depending on one's objective, pure incrementalism is not necessarily the most rational course of action (no matter how prevalent in practice). They show that the more elaborate objectives subsumed under the notion of “reciprocal interdependence” might be more efficiently achieved through a set of semi-lattice-like arrangements which must be planned, and not be based on an attitude of “we do the best we can on the basis of what we know.”

47 Note that the identification of the likely organizational form depends on our specifying the boundaries of the system in which all this is likely to take place. My specification takes the global network of international and transnational relations as the system; hence the semi-lattices and matrices are forms of slicing the system into parts. But if the system were specified in regional or functional terms, a different mode of decomposition would prevail. What would appear as a semi-lattice in a global perspective might, for example, be a tree in its own functional setting.

48 Emery, Fred E., “Concepts, Methods and Anticipations,” in Young, Michael (ed.), Forecasting and the Social Sciences (London: Heinemann, 1968), p. 45.

49 Ibid., pp. 45–6. Emery used the metaphor of the mouth serving simultaneously as a part in the subsystems for eating, breathing, speaking, each of which can be studied separately for certain purposes, even though each also–at another level of thought–is part of the whole body.

50 For an extremely evocative argument elaborating this viewpoint and its indeterminate implications for the structure of control and political authority, see SirVickers, Geoffrey, “The Management of Conflict,” Futures (06 1972), and “Values, Norms and Policies,” Policy Sciences (March 1973).

51 Berlin, Isaiah, “The Bent Twig,” Foreign Affairs, vol. 51, no. 1 (10 1972), p. 26.

Ernst B. Hass Robson Research Professor of Government at the University of California (Berkeley). He was principal investigator of “Studies in International Integration” in the university's Institute of International Studies until 1973. Since that time he has co-directed with John Gerard Ruggie “Studies on International Scientific and Technological Regimes,” funded by the Institute of International Studies and the Rockefeller Foundation. A companion essay including some of the same material, “On Systems and International Regimes,” was published in World Politics (January 1975). A monograph containing data on the experiences and impressions of internationally active scientists with respect to the issues raised here is in preparation.


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