In October 2011, the United States cut off funding for UNESCO because the agency had just admitted Palestine as its newest member.
Whether the funding cut was wise didn’t matter; two U.S. laws, one from 1990 and another from 1994, required the United States to halt funding for an international organization that grants Palestine full membership. Thus, despite the fact that the world had changed a lot since those laws went into effect, Washington stopped its roughly $80 million annual contributions to UNESCO — the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Fortunately, however, our participation otherwise continued on many levels, including voting rights.
Those voting rights will almost certainly be lost unless the United States restores funding. A country delinquent in its dues loses voting rights after three years. And although UNESCO’s General Conference knows the agency benefits from America’s active involvement, it will have no choice but to suspend the United States until its dues are paid. That decision is expected this week.
The United States should not let that happen. Although severing ties with the United States would doubtless diminish UNESCO, it also would hurt the United States. If our nation isn’t involved in setting UNESCO policies, they will be set by others whose interests not only don’t align with ours but can be in direct conflict with ours.
Esther Brimmer, who was an assistant secretary of state for international organizations from 2009 to 2013, argues that UNESCO is a respected force for peace. “When the Bush administration rejoined UNESCO in 2003, reversing a Cold War-era departure, it recognized that the organization could help fight extremism in the post-9/11 world,.” she wrote.
She is correct in noting that UNESCO provided literacy classes for police in Afghanistan and “leads the global fight against illiteracy.” Former First Lady Laura Bush was UNESCO’s honorary ambassador for its “Decade of Literacy.” More recently, when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, she pushed a UNESCO program promoting education for women and girls.
Congress should support without delay President Barack Obama’s request for a waiver to allow dues payments to UNESCO to resume. It can be part of the budget process.
Although many conservatives considered the withdrawal of U.S. funding for UNESCO an appropriate response to the admission of Palestine, punishing the agency, which helps advance tolerance and education, is counterproductive. President Obama is right that America’s ability to continue its involvement in UNESCO “is essential to advancing U.S. interests worldwide…”
Let’s not allow other nations to make decisions that have a direct bearing on our nation and its interests.