Tuesday, November 12, 2002

The United States should rejoin UNESCO, and should encourage UNESCO to expand its program, and hire more U.S. citizens on UNESCO’s for its professional.

President Bush has announced that the United States will rejoin the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The U.S. quit UNESCO some 18 years ago, citing a number of problems the Government saw with UNESCO at that time, including poor leadership, excessive bureaucracy, and (a Cold War inflated) concern with UNESCO’s communication program. The leadership issues have long been resolved, the Cold War ended, and UNESCO has lived within budget limitations caused by the withdrawal of its largest contributor(s).

The U.S. is scheduled to resume membership October 1, 2003. However, the current discussions call for no increase in UNESCO’s budget. The U.S. pays more than one-fifth of UN Agency regular budgets, and is expected to contribute about $60 million per year to UNESCO. If UNESCO’s budget does not increase with the return of the U.S. then our return will simply substitute U.S. funds for those which other donors have already been providing. UNESCO had to cut its budget when we left, and its program merits expansion as we return.

The U.N. family of organizations, in addition to UNESCO, includes: the UNDP, WHO, FAO, UNIDO, UNEP. UNICEF, ILO, etc. These organizations are technical in nature, providing technical standards and information, as well as technical assistance to developing nations. Together they have a very strong professional staff and a fundamental role to play in development. Note particularly, that while the international financial institutions (IFIs, such as the World Bank) continue to play a key role in financing, they depend heavily on the technical leadership and services provided by the UN agencies. Similarly, bilateral aid agencies, such as USAID also depend on UN agency programs, information and support.

UNESCO of course is the primary UN agency dealing with education, with science, and with culture. Its five programmatic areas are: Education, Communication and Information, Culture, Natural Sciences, and Human and Social Sciences. Thus UNESCO is the a key player in the UN system in terms of promoting Knowledge for Development. Since K4D is increasingly recognized as important, then UNESCO’s K4D program should be growing.

I have been following UNESCO for decades, first focusing on its science programs, and then on its communication and information programs. These programs are important, and have contributed importantly to development. Increasingly it is recognized that culture is an important determinant of development success, and that cultural products offer potential for development projects – and UNESCO is the only agency with culture specifically in its charter. UNESCO clearly plays a critical role in the international community in education~

The U.S. is of course dead last among developed nations in the portion of its GDP devoted to international development, providing much less than we have pledged in the past, much less than our allies would prefer, and much less than our foreign policy needs. The Bush Administration has pledged to increase development assistance. Doing so by allowing a needed increase in UNESCO (as one among many initiatives) seems most appropriate.

Moreover, support for UNESCO’s program and an enhanced U.S. role in UNESCO seem very appropriate to U.S. science policy. There seems to be a growing consensus that the NSF and other U.S. Agencies should do more in international scientific cooperation, including with developing nations. Support and a strengthened presence in UNESCO could contribute to this end. And of course, if UNESCO increases its budget, the U.S. pays only about one-fifth of the tab.

U.N. Agencies are under pressure to employ nationals of the countries that contribute to them. Since the U.S. has not contributed to UNESCO for 18 years, the organization has responded to the pressures of its continuing donors, and the proportion of U.S. citizens on the staff is reported to have dropped significantly. Given U.S. leadership in the areas of UNESCO programs, we should encourage UNESCO to employ more Americans. Paying the salaries of some added staff (by approving an increase in the UNESCO regular program budget) would help to encourage UNESCO to hire Americans quickly.

My last couple of posting have been about engineering sustainable development. Engineers should play a major role in the UN family, and in fact they do. Biomedical engineering as well as civil engineering of potable water and sanitation infrastructure are included within WHO, agricultural engineering within FAO, industrial and chemical engineering within UNIDO, etc. UNESCO has also played a role, dealing with engineering education as part of its higher education program, with telecommunications and parts of electronics engineering in its Communications and Information Program, and with various aspects of engineering in its Natural Science program. But areas such transportation and energy infrastructure, engineering science, and water resource management there is no lead UN agency supporting engineering. Moreover, there is no central Agency that provides support for the cross-cutting and interdisciplinary areas of engineering.

UNESCO could play a central role with regard to the engineering profession, much as the World Health Organization does with the professions dealing with health technology, the Food and Agricultural Organization with the professions dealing with agricultural technologies, or as UNESCO itself does with the scientific professions. A U.S. initiative to encourage UNESCO to take on the task of promoting engineering in the UN system in should be considered, and such an initiative might very well justify an increase in the UNESCO budget.

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