The US Should Pay its Unesco Dues
The US refuses to pay up because of Palestinian membership in Unesco. It's a horribly misguided approach
By Nigel Cameron
October 27, 2013 "Information Clearing House - "The Guardian" - As Halloween approaches and Washington's dance macabre, that three-step of sequester, shutdown, and debt, grinds to a temporary halt, the dead hand of Yasir Arafat is reaching out from the grave to yank the United States into a foreign policy disaster hardly anyone has heard of.
Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, is about to give the United States a dishonorable discharge (the US could lose its vote at the Unesco general conference). Why? Because America has failed to pay its membership dues. The world's top power is effectively being booted out of the world's top soft power network at a time when soft power is key to global influence in the 21st century.
Notice how America's leaders are not making speeches, the press are not editorializing about this, and even the think tank community has given it a pass despite the fact that we are now well into the final act of the tragedy.
Here's the full play.
Act 1: President Clinton signs the bipartisan 1994 foreign aid bill, with a provision aimed at containing Arafat – requiring an end to US funding of any international institution that might accept the PLO as a member.
Act 2: in 2003, President George W Bush leads us back into Unesco, after two decades of boycott. In the post-9/11 world, the United States recognizes that the spread of freedom and democracy are as crucial in the struggle against extremism and terror as what can be achieved by the force of arms. Since then, under ambassadors appointed by presidents of both parties the US has become a major player in every realm of Unesco.
Act 3: in 2011, the Palestinian Authority – now a quasi-state – decides to assert itself and applies for Unesco membership. The nations who make up Unesco's membersvote yes, over American protests; and the 1994 US law kicks in.
When the State Department immediately halted the annual US contribution, it was disastrous for Unesco. It meant not merely an instant 22% cut in income, but since the US pays in arrears, a sinkhole under their budget at the time.
Final Act: thus was the stage set for the finale in Paris next month, unless America ponies up its dues by then. Should that not happen, by sleight of hand from beyond the grave, Arafat will have shifted the United States into the observer role previously occupied by Palestine.
Partly because it is headquartered in Europe and not New York City, Unesco has never commanded much attention from the American public. It's easy for us to forget, especially in the 21st century, that UN institutions were essentially an American project – forged in the days following the second world war, to aid in securing a new global order. Side by side with the UN's political institutions, and the financial and economic effort of Bretton Woods, the United States pushed to solidify the peace by building a foundational network for science, education, and culture.
Few realize their economic value to host nations and localities of Unesco's world heritage sites. One study suggests that merely adding the San Antonio missions as a site would generate well over one year's annual US Unesco dues – more than $100m in economic development. Soft power and economic heft go hand in hand. This goes way, way beyond "kumbaya".
But there's also a lot more to Unesco than world heritage sites, science research centers, and world press freedom day. Unesco has been training the Afghan police in literacy to help facilitate US withdrawal. It hosts the global tsunami early warning system, and the key international network on water policy.
On global Internet policy, a core US interest, Unesco has stood with America and other advocates of internet freedom against a perceived power grab by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). And corporate America has weighed in with partnerships, including Pepsico, Procter & Gamble, Cisco, Google, and Microsoft.
The current US administration is reported to have sought a waiver from Congress that would make good on our dues. As the days tick past, it's worth pondering the lapidary words of American poet and diplomat Archibald MacLeish, a former Librarian of Congress and one of Unesco's founders, which have become the organization's motto – words that can give us goosebumps:
Let's hope America can not only avoid the potential humiliation of being labeled a deadbeat, and even more importantly, that the US will renew its commitment to international cooperation in the defense of peace.
© 2013 Guardian News