Thursday, December 17, 2009

On the meeting of the UNESCO National Commission

I just listened to a three hour long teleconference of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO. The Commission had been inactive for more than a year as a result of the change over from the Bush to the Obama administration.

Those listening were treated to a talk by David Killion, the U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO speaking from Paris, and from Esther Brimmer, the Assistant Secretary of State. Elizabeth Kannick, the new caretaker of the National Commission did a great job of keeping the process going. It seems clear that the Obama appointees are going to allow the National Commission a much broader and more active role than did their predecessors.

As constituted, one-third of the Commissioners are rotated each year, with terms of office ending at the end of December. The outgoing administration had not made new appointments to replace the people leaving at the end of last year, and so the Obama folk are going to have to appoint 2/3rds of the 100 members.

One thing I found of concern. The recent General Conference created a number of new UNESCO initiatives and the United States is clearly interested in UNESCO doing more in some of its key areas of responsibility. However, the Organization is being held to a minimal-growth budget. I realize that we are in a period of budgetary restraint, but doing more with less is not always possible. While the United States is the largest contributor to UNESCO, getting UNESCO to do something that we would otherwise have to do bilaterally gives us four-to-one leverage of our contribution. And for some purposes, UNESCO does things better than we could do bilaterally.

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