W. Bush's monumental decision to rejoin the United Nations
Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2003
caught both conservatives and liberals by surprise. After all, the
U.S. had pulled out of that organization in 1984 because it had
become bloated and grossly over-politicized. At every turn, it
espoused policies that ran contrary to UNESCO's founding mission to
advance freedom, such as advocating a "new world information order"
that in the end would curtail freedom of expression and of the
UNESCO had reformed considerably under Director-General Matsuura,
President Bush argued upon rejoining, and it could be a vital forum
for helping the U.S. combat the global tide of intolerance and
oppression embodied by the Taliban. Many Americans swallowed their
residual distaste for the organization to give it the benefit of
doubt. Indeed, the Heritage Foundation and more than 50 other
organizations accepted spots on the reconstituted U.S.-UNESCO
National Commission to become more engaged in UNESCO's efforts to
spread freedom, understanding, education for all, and
however, all that hope and all that multilateral goodwill-not to
mention all the millions that the U.S. pays each year as UNESCO's
biggest benefactor-could be rebuffed. Despite the Bush
Administration's best efforts, other member states are expected to
adopt a "cultural diversity" convention that regrettably is more
about trade protectionism and cultural prejudice than cultural
diversity and understanding.
promoting the right of people to learn about other cultures-the
"free exchange of ideas and knowledge" called for in UNESCO's
constitution-the draft convention actually will make it possible
for countries to limit their citizens' access to foreign goods,
foods, services, art, and traditions that express different
cultures so well.
Article 8 of the
current draft, for example, would allow parties to the convention
to take "all appropriate measures to protect and preserve
cultural expressions," which is defined in Article 3 as
"expressions that result from the
creativity of individuals, groups and societies, and that have
Department rightly argues that such definitions are so vague that
theycould be misinterpreted to enable "impermissible new barriers
to trade in goods, services, or agricultural products."
Such vagueness, combined with an authority to "protect," invites
abuse, particularly when it comes to trade. It is easy to imagine
certain countries citing the convention to justify trade
restrictions against certain books written in foreign languages, or
even foreign wines, because they pose a threat to local
Imagine how much
bolder such a convention will make countries like Burma, China,
Iran, or Cuba, all of which are notorious for restricting freedoms,
especially freedom of speech and of the press. China already forces
Internet providers like Microsoft's MSN to restrict access to the
words "freedom" and "democracy" if they want to do business
Islamic regimes that reject Western values, arts, and humanities
could use the convention to restrict all sorts of goods that they
consider perverse. In Iran, teens have
been arrested for dancing,
and recently, the regime announced that women wearing their veils
"improperly" would be "treated" like those who have no veil at all
Iran already goes to great lengths to "protect and preserve" its
oppressive definition of Iranian cultural expressions.
Those who work
diligently to bring attention to human rights abuses and trade
protectionism should be concerned.
There already are
concerns in Washington that some countries are trying to rush this
convention through to use it against the United States at the
upcoming World Trade Organization summit in Doha. That could
explain why the U.S. is finding it difficult to modify Article 21,
which obligates countries to "promote the principles and objectives
of the Convention in other international forums." And it could
explain why the convention also mandates that countries not
subordinate it to other treaties.
The draft also
calls for establishing an "International Fund for Cultural
Diversity." Never mind that that is what UNESCO was supposed to be
in the first place. The fund would be financed in part by
contributions taken from the general UNESCO budget-of which the
United States pays 22 percent. If all these countries are so
enamored with this convention, don't they expect there to be enough
voluntary contributions to cover whatever this fund is supposed to
do? No nation should be required to support a treaty that it has
not ratified. If the draft convention is not reworded to remove all
objectionable language, the U.S. should withhold the portion of its
UNESCO dues that would go to support this fund.
Sadly, even our
democratic allies support this deceptive convention that is likely
to result in the suppression of free trade and political rights.
France, UNESCO's host country, sees the convention as a way to
protect its wine and film industries from Californian competition.
No surprises there. What is surprising is that Britain-which had
pulled out of UNESCO back in 1984 over such misguided
policies-appears ready to sign on, most likely because it now holds
the rotating presidency of the European Union and wants to go along
to get along. It also views the convention as merely a political
is right to fight this, and it will be right to walk away from the
convention next week if others adopt it. Once such language is a
part of the body of international law, it will be abused by
those opposed to free markets, free speech, and freedom. The United
States should not be willing to take that risk.
Janice A. Smith is
Special Assistant to the Vice President in, and Helle
Dale is Deputy Director of, the Kathryn and Shelby Collum Davis
Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
Mure Dickie, "Don't mention democracy,
Microsoft tells China web users," Financial Times, June 11,
2005, p. 8.