On October 12, 2017, the United States announced that it would withdraw from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (“UNESCO”) effective December 21, 2018. The United States cited anti-Israel bias at UNESCO as a reason for the decision, similar to President Reagan’s decision to exit UNESCO in late 1983. The recent decision proves a trend with United States involvement with UNESCO – that it views its purpose as purely political, serving its strategic vision of liberalizing trade and spreading Western thought. However, the view within the membership that UNESCO is a political tool may not be unique to the United States.
The first and original strategic vision when the United States and thirty-six other nations created UNESCO as a human rights organization promoting education, science and cultural causes in November 1945, was the effort to “de-nazify” Europe and write history books. Second, UNESCO was used to combat Communism during the Cold War, but anti-western criticism led to the first withdrawal of the United States. One reason was because UNESCO was advocating a “new information order” as a means of countering the power of the Western media.
Once the Cold War ended, the U.S. did not rejoin UNESCO until the need came about in the post-9/11 era. President Bush stated that the “…organization has been reformed and America will participate fully in its mission to advance human rights, tolerance, and learning.” On the point of the Reagan-era concerns, Bush also cited “dramatic reform of UNESCO’s management structure, and a new dedication to freedom of the press.”
In 2011, President Obama drastically cut funding for UNESCO as reprisal for the acceptance of Palestine as a member. These cuts directly resulted in our current debt to the organization surpassing $500 million – yet another reason for President Trump’s decision. In 2016, Israel recalled its ambassador to UNESCO in protest after Arab nations secured support for a resolution denouncing Israel’s policies regarding religious sites in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. This July, UNESCO declared the old city in Hebron a Palestinian World Heritage Site, contrary to Israel’s claim to all of Jerusalem, but consistent with Palestinians’ claims for a two-state solution.
From a pure policy perspective, the United States may need to reconsider its exit from UNESCO because the best way to foster a stronger voting block is to work from within. Coupled with the increasing need for science and education to combat social media propaganda, the United States has compelling reasons to remain an active member. A contribution of roughly $500 million to UNESCO is very little for its $3.8 trillion annual expenditures. The Denver Journal of Internal Law and Policy will continue to monitor the hyper-politicization of UNESCO.
- The United States Withdraws From UNESCO, U.S. Department of State, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2017/10/274748.htm (last visited Oct 26, 2017).↑
- Olivia B. Waxman, The U.S. Has Left UNESCO Before. Here’s Why Time, http://time.com/4980034/unesco-trump-us-leaving-history/ (last visited Oct 27, 2017).↑
- Israel recalls UNESCO ambassador in protest at Jerusalem resolutions, Reuters, October 26, 2016, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-palestinians-unesco/israel-recalls-unesco-ambassador-in-protest-at-jerusalem-resolutions-idUSKCN12Q2HM (last visited Oct 27, 2017) (declaring UNESCO as hostile to Israelis because Arab members and their supporters frequently condemn Israel).↑
- United States’ Return to UNESCO, 97 Am. J. Int’l L. 977, 978 (2003).↑
- Susan Tifft, Waving Goodbye to UNESCO, Time, http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,952288,00.html (last visited Oct 31, 2017).↑
- Address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, 38 Weekly Comp. Pres. Doc. 1529 (Sept. 16, 2002).↑
- United States’ Return to UNESCO, supra note 4, at 978.↑
- U.S. to Pull Out of UNESCO, Again, Foreign Policy, https://foreignpolicy.com/2017/10/11/u-s-to-pull-out-of-unesco-again/ (last visited Oct 27, 2017).↑
- Israel recalls UNESCO ambassador in protest at Jerusalem resolutions, supra note 3.↑
- Federal Spending: Where Does the Money Go National Priorities Project, National Priorities Project, https://www.nationalpriorities.org/budget-basics/federal-budget-101/spending/ (last visited Oct 31, 2017).↑