September 25, 2002
By Brett D. Schaefer
In his remarkably frank and persuasive speech
to the United Nations on September 12, President George W. Bush
earned applause only once. It erupted when he stated, "As a symbol
of our commitment to human dignity, the United State will return to
UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization]. This organization has been reformed and America will
participate fully in its mission to advance human rights,
tolerance, and learning."
But as the
applause fades, the question arises, "Why UNESCO?" or even "What is
UNESCO?" since many Americans have not heard of the organization
since the U.S. withdrew in 1984. UNESCO was created in 1946 to:
to peace and security by promoting collaboration among nations
through education, science and culture in order to further
universal respect for justice, for the rule of law and for the
human rights and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for the
peoples of the world.
As a founding member, the United States
supported UNESCO for three decades when its activities closely
adhered to the goals outlined in its charter-for example, promoting
literacy and education and furthering the exchange of scientific
The United States withdrew from UNESCO to
protest the organization's growing politicization and anti-Western
bias, rampant budgetary mismanagement, and advocacy of policies
that undermine freedom of the press and free markets. A
particularly divisive issue was UNESCO's advocacy of a "new world
information order" to counter an alleged pro-Western bias in global
news agencies. Specifically, the organization sought to license
journalists, create an international code of press ethics, and
increase government control over the media.
It is true that today's UNESCO is
substantially improved from the deplorable state that spurred
America to leave the organization. Many of the problems that
prompted the U.S. to withdraw in 1984 have been addressed-if not
outright rectified-under the leadership of UNESCO's new
Director-General, Koichiro Matsuura of Japan. And Matsuura has
promised to address the many remaining problems, admitting that
UNESCO's mission and programs are too broad and that many duplicate
those of other international organizations. Matsuura also has cut
some top-level posts and initiated greater budget oversight.
But do these changes merit U.S. membership?
The number of director-level positions has fallen from 110 to 103
over the past four years according to UNESCO budgets. It has
trimmed just 40 of the 782 positions it budgeted in 1998. And even
today, some 60 percent of the $544 million biennial budget goes to
personnel, while programs receive only 40 percent.
And UNESCO still suffers from a lack of
focus-the question is not "what does UNESCO do?" as much as "what
doesn't UNESCO claim to do?" The broad listing of activities
(education, communications and information, culture, natural
sciences, and social and human sciences) does not adequately
demonstrate the organizations scattershot approach. Its educational
mission alone has programs to: promote early childhood/family
education; educational facilities; "e-learning"; emergency
assistance; girls/women in Africa; higher education; inclusive
education; non-violence; poverty eradication; primary education;
secondary education; science and technology; street/working
children; studying abroad; sustainable development; and
technical/vocational education. Much of this programming overlaps
that of other U.N. organizations and private-sector
What does the United States sacrifice by
not being a member of UNESCO? Very little. Even though the U.S.
voice in UNESCO is slight, few UNESCO declarations are given
credence internationally without U.S. support or concurrence.
America has no say in the agency's budgetary decisions, but even
when the U.S. was a member, it enjoyed only marginal influence
being merely one of over 150 votes.
There is some appeal to the argument that
UNESCO could help in the long-term strategy to fight terrorism by
promoting freedom, democracy, and understanding. But these goals
could be bolstered at a much lower price through voluntary
contributions to UNESCO and complementary support through bilateral
efforts of America's aid and public diplomacy programs and other
international institutions like the World Bank.
Based on its merits, the U.S. should not
rejoin UNESCO-certainly not at an annual cost of approximately $60
million (22 percent of the $544 million biennial budget). But, like
so many other political decisions, the issue of rejoining UNESCO
does not exist in a vacuum. The announcement was made immediately
prior to the President's presentation of evidence for action in
Iraq. This timing cannot be accidental. The Administration must
have determined that such an action would help diffuse accusations
of "unilateralism" or was part of a deal for support of America's
position in the United Nations.
This is unlikely. If Saddam Hussein's
record is insufficient to convince UN member states of the need for
action, rejoining UNESCO is unlikely to tip the balance. Already
France, where UNESCO is headquartered, seems to be moderating its
support of the United State following Iraq's announcement that it
would allow weapons inspectors to return.
If rejoining UNESCO is the price of UN
support for ending the threat Saddam Hussein poses to international
peace and security, $60 million is a bargain. But hoping that
membership in UNESCO will tip the scales in favor of America's
position is a poor bet at long odds. Far better for the U.S. make
such a decision on the merits of membership rather than as an
ineffective sweetener for a higher priority.
D. Schaefer is the Jay Kingham Fellow in International
Regulatory Affairs at The Heritage Foundation.
Originally published by The American Enterprise at http://www.theamericanenterprise.org/hotflash020925.htm
Why UNESCO? The Case Against Rejoining
Brett D. Schaefer
Jay Kingham Senior Research Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs
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