Sunday, March 04, 2012

On UNESCO Funding

The member states of UNESCO voted to grant membership to Palestine at the General Conference last Fall. The United States, under a special provision of the appropriations authorization is withholding funds from UNESCO as a result. The basis for withholding the funding in theory is that Palestine does not meet the generally accepted criteria for a "state"; the real reason is that the recognition of Palestine threatens Israel's positions in the negotiation of a peace treaty. The Obama administration has indicated it will ask for authority to waive the prohibition, a power usually given to the president in similar legislation.

A number of people have written opinion pieces in opposition to the admission of Palestine as a member state of UNESCO. Here are links to some:

These are all very conservative writers writing for conservative media. Their opposition to funding of UNESCO is part of the culture wars. Indeed, UNESCO has been an especially violent battleground, since conservatives not only tend to dislike the internationalism of the United Nations system, but are especially concerned with the content of education, the cultural activities of UNESCO, and aspects of its science program. It did not help the organization in their view that its first Director General was the most famous theorist of evolution in the first half of the 20th century, the grandson of "Darwin's Bulldog".

Other writers have supported UNESCO, U.S. funding of UNESCO, and legislation to allow presidential waiver of the prohibition. Here are some:
Here is another link to some of that discussion (see the entries in November and December 2011).

A lot of the discourse on the topic might seem reasonable for those unacquainted with the history of membership in United Nations family organizations,

Did you realize that Belarus and the Ukraine were both parts of the Soviet Union when the they and the USSR were accepted for membership in the United Nations in 1945 and when the three were accepted for membership in UNESCO in 1954? They did not attain independence until the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. I believe that the United States accepted both situations as part of a compromise. As I recall, the State Department had earlier argued that if republics of the USSR were to be accepted individually in the UN organizations, then so too should the states of the United States.

I suppose that over the years there have been many member states for which governance issues were not clear. The Republic of China represented China in the United Nations until 1971 although its real authority was limited to Taiwan after 1949. There are of course many member states that currently have territorial disputes, Argentina and the UK over the islands (which are obviously not contiguous to either).

Recognition of foreign states is obviously a political act. The United States did not recognize Haiti until 1862, nor the Soviet Union until 1933. The United States recognized the state of Israel 11 minutes after its formal creation, before the war was fought for the territory it was to occupy.

It seems obvious to me that if 107 nations of the United Nations vote to accept Palestine as a member state, it is likely to have " the internationally recognized attributes of statehood". Indeed, very few member states voted against membership as they presumably would have done had they perceived Palestine not to be a state.

Incidentally, the United States withheld funds from UNESCO for some time in the 1970s. It is my understanding that the arrears were paid, but that a court contest was considered under the theory that the payment of assessed contributions to the Organization was a treaty obligation.

1 comment:

John Daly said...

"The Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature runs the risk of losing connections with its international partners if the United States does not pay its membership fees to the greater organization by 2013, officials say."