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The Technological Dimension of Decision Making: The Case of the Aswan High Dam

  • Robert W. Rycroft (a1) and Joseph S. Szyliowicz (a1)


This study examines the role of technological variables in the decisions by Egypt, the World Bank, and the United States regarding the selection and financing of the Aswan High Dam project. Three major decision-making models-rational choice, incremental, and organizational process-are assessed according to their appropriateness for and applicability to the “technological dimension.” This dimension is defined in terms of three major components-design, impact, and management issues. Despite a tendency of the literature to associate the rational-choice model with highly technical decisions, this study illustrates the dominance of “satisficing,” “muddling through,” and “bounded rationality” behavior for each of the major participants. The technological dimension is found to be important, but clearly secondary to the primacy of politics.



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1 See Nelkin, Dorothy, Technological Decisions and Democracy: European Experiments in Public Participation (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage, 1977), and Nelkin, , ed., Controversy: The Politics of Technical Decisions (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage, 1979), for works that explicitly address the internal dynamics of decisions with significant technological components.

2 See Basiuk, Victor, Technology, World Politics and American Policy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977), for an exception to this rule.

3 Zeckhauser, Richard and Schaefer, Elmer, “Public Policy and Normative Economic Theory,” in Bauer, Raymond A. and Gergen, Kenneth J., eds., The Study of Policy Formation (New York: Free Press, 1968), 27101.

4 See Conrad, Thomas, “Rationality and Political Science: A Critical Analysis of the Consumer-Choice Model,” Polity, 11 (Summer 1970), 479–93.

5 Simon, , Administrative Behavior, 2d ed. (New York: Free Press, 1957), xxiii–xxvii.

6 March, James G. and Simon, Herbert A., Organizations (New York: Wiley, 1958); Cyert, Richard M. and March, James G., A Behavioral Theory of the Firm (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1963).

7 Lindblom, , “The Science of Muddling Through,” Public Administration Review, XIX (Spring 1959), 7988. In our discussion of models of decision making, we have avoided the use of the term “bureaucratic model” as a distinct approach because the works of such theorists as Simon and Lindblom often are included within a bureaucratic politics category. And, as this discussion illustrates, these are clearly different approaches to decision making. For a good case study in which different labels are attached to these models, see Allison, Graham T., Essence of Decision (Boston: Little, Brown, 1971).

8 Lindblom, Charles E., The Intelligence of Democracy: Decision-Making Through Mutual Adjustment (New York: Free Press, 1965), and Lindblom, , The Policy Making Process (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968).

9 See Dror, Yehezkel, “Muddling Through—‘Science’ or Inertia?Public Administration Review, XXIV (September 1964), 153–57.

10 See Baker, Robert F., Michaels, Richard M., and Preston, Everett S., Public Policy Development: Linking the Technical and Political Processes (New York: Wiley, 1975).

11 See Lindsay, Robert B., The Role of Science in Civilization (New York: Harper & Row, 1963). 224–34.

1 Waterbury, , Hydropolitics of the Nile Valley (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1979), 4.

13 Braybrooke, David and Lindblom, Charles E., A Strategy of Decision (New York: Free Press, 1963), 78.

14 Bereano, Philip L., Technology as a Social and Political Phenomenon (New York: Wiley, 1976), 441.

15 Braybrooke and Lindblom (fn. 13), 126.

16 See Nelkin, Dorothy, “Technology and Public Policy,” in Spiegel-Rosing, Ina and Price, Derek de Solla, eds., Science, Technology and Society: A Cross-Disciplinary Perspective (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage, 1977), 417–30.

17 Little, Tom, High Dam at Aswan: The Subjugation of the Nile (New York: John Day, 1965), 71. For details of the Hochtief-Egyptian relationship, we have relied upon data supplied by Mr. H. Graefe, Chief Engineer, Overseas Department, Hochtief Aktiengesellschaft, August 30, 1978, September 28, 1978, and November 8, 1978. We have supplemented these data with information contained in Wheelock, Keith, Nasser's New Egypt (London: Stevens and Sons, 1960), 179–80.

18 See Guarizon, Giorgio and others, “Management of the Aswan High Dam: Operational Considerations,” mimeo (Egyptian Academy of Science and Technology, 1978), 10; and Wheelock, (fn. 17), 179.

19 Little (fn. 17), 73.

20 This discussion relies on the correspondence with Hochtief, and on Little (fn. 17), 69–92, who emphasizes the role of the P.C.D.N.P. and Egyptian experts. See also Hatem, M. A., The High Dam and Its Effects (Cairo: Al Ahram al-Iktisadi, 1976), 78.

21 Mason, Edward S. and Asher, Robert E., The World Bank Since Bretton Woods (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1973), 629.

22 Ibid., 629–30.

23 Ibid., 632.

24 International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, “Preliminary Report on the Sadd El-Aali Project,” I.B.R.D. Restricted Document, February 28, 1956, p. i. See also International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, “Egypt—Sadd El-Aali (High Dam) Project,” I.B.R.D. Confidential Document, December 16, 1955, p. 2.

25 International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Policies and Operations: The World Bank, IDA and IFC (Washington, D.C.: World Bank Headquarters, 1971), 33. See also King, John R. Jr,, Economic Development Projects and Their Appraisal: Cases and Principles from the Experience of the World Bank (Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1967), 45.

26 “Preliminary Report …” (fn. 24), 72.

27 Little (fn. 17), 77–78.

28 “Preliminary Report …” (fn. 24), i–iii.

29 Brown, Waldo G., “Construction Begins on Aswan—Russian Style,” Engineering News-Record, Vol. 166 (February 23, 1961), 3234. See also Selim, Mohamed A., “A Basic Step Towards Full Utilization of the River Nile,” Civil Engineering, XXVIII (August 1958), 5657.

30 Personal communication from H. Graefe, November 8, 1978.

31 These benefits are based on data contained in Shibl, Yusuf A., The Aswan High Dam: Benefit and Cost Analysis (Beirut: Arab Institute for Research and Publishing, 1971), 4850; Waterbury, John, “The Nile Stops at Aswan, Part III: Domestic Hydro-politics,” American Universities Field Staff, North African Series, XXII (No. 3, 1977), 23; Le Haut Barrage (Cairo: Ministère de la Culture, 1972), 46–49. See also Sabban, Gamil El, “The Aswan High Dam,” Middle Eastern Affairs, VI (December 1955), 383–89.

32 Mabro, Robert, The Egyptian Economy, 1952–1972 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974), 101; Waterbury, (fn. 31), 18; Shibl (fn. 31), 5366.

33 See al-Barawy, Rashed, Economic Development in the United Arab Republic (Egypt) (Cairo: Anglo-Egyptian Bookshop, 1970), 8790.

34 Waterbury, John, “The Nile Stops at Aswan, Part II: International Hydropolitics,” American Universities Field Staff, North African Series, XXII (No. 2, 1977), 11. See also Mabro (fn. 32), 88.

35 “Preliminary Report …” (fn. 24), 38–42.

36 Ibid., 66.

37 Mason, and Asher, (fn. 21), 235–59; King, (fn. 25), 58.

38 Mason, and Asher, (fn. 21), 259. See also Hirschman, Albert O., Development Projects Observed (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1967), 1517.

39 Kinawy, Ibrahim Z. and Shenouda, William K., “Ecological, Social and Economic Impacts of Damming the Nile at Aswan,” paper presented at a Special Session on Environmental Control for Irrigation, Drainage, and Flood Control Projects of the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (Moscow, 1975), 291. See also Benedick, Richard E., “The High Dam and the Transformation of the Nile,” Middle East Journal, XXXIII (Spring 1979), 136–37.

40 Waterbury, (fn. 31), 812.

41 Waterbury, (fn. 31), 22; Benedick, (fn. 39), 138; Kinawy, and Shenouda, (fn. 39), 289.

42 Kinawy, and Shenouda, (fn. 39), 279.

43 Benedick, (fn. 39), 135.

44 Waterbury, (fn. 31), 14.

45 “The High Dam or the Final Round,” Egyptian Economic and Political Review. IV (January 1956), 33–45, and “The High Dam,” Egyptian Economic and Political Review, VI (October 1958), 24–30.

46 Kinawy, and Shenouda, (fn. 39), 279–81.

47 Rabie, Mohammed A., “The Impact of the Aswan High Dam on the Economic Development of the UAR,” Ph.D. diss. (Department of Economics, University of Houston, 1970), 110–12.

48 Mason and Asher (fn. 21), 635.

49 On Nasser's reaction to the Western offer and his subsequent discussions with Black, see “Nasser's Narrow Path,” The Economist, Vol. 178 (February 18, 1956), 455.

50 International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, The Economic Development of Egypt, I.B.R.D. Restricted Document, August 25, 1955, ii–iv.

51 “Preliminary Report …” (fn. 24), 66.

52 Dougherty, James E., “The Aswan Decision in Perspective,” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 74 (March 1959), 38.

53 Berkowitz, Morton, Bock, P. G., and Fuccillo, Vincent J., The Politics of American Foreign Policy: The Social Context of Decisions (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1977), 88.

54 Alix Fathy, quoted in Waterbury, John, “The Nile Stops at Aswan, Part I: The Development of the Nile River System,” American Universities Field Staff, North African Series, XXII (No. 1, 1977), 1.

55 See Baldwin, David A., “The International Bank in Political Perspective,” World Politics, XVIII (October 1965), 69.

56 See Allison (fn. 7).

57 Mason, and Asher, (fn. 21), 641–42.

58 Barber, James D., The Presidential Character: Predicting Performance in the White House (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1972), 13, and Barber, , “The Interplay of Presidential Character and Style: A Paradigm and Five Illustrations,” in Wildavsky, Aaron, ed., Perspectives on the Presidency (Boston: Little, Brown, 1975), 80.

59 See Holsti, Ole R., “Cognitive Dynamics and Images of the Enemy,” Journal of International Affairs, XXI (No. 1, 1967), 1639; Finer, Herman, Dulles Over Suez (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1964).

60 Waterbury, (fn. 12), 119–25.

61 Hirschman, (fn. 38), 18.

* Funding for a more extensive study of this topic was provided by the Duke-Rand Graduate Institute Public Policy Curricular Materials Development Program.

The Technological Dimension of Decision Making: The Case of the Aswan High Dam

  • Robert W. Rycroft (a1) and Joseph S. Szyliowicz (a1)


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