Sunday, September 02, 2012

The Continuity of UNESCO's Mission

UNESCO is 67 years old. Its program has experienced the winds of international change for decades and is very different in detail today than it was on the founding of the Organization. When it was founded, UNESCO was one of very few intergovernmental organization, and today there is a plethora of international organizations. Yet I think that those who participated in the founding of the Organization would easily perceive today's UNESCO as a realization of their original ideas.

Of course the Organization responds to its member nations. The General Conference of UNESCO could change UNESCO programmatic directions, and has done so. However, the member states have honored UNESCO's original mission, its charter if you will, and the changes that they have made have conserved its original purpose.

The purpose of UNESCO is defined in its Constitution, and more specifically in the preamble to that constitution. The states party to this Constitution
create(d) the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization for the purpose of advancing, through the educational and scientific and cultural relations of the peoples of the world, the objectives of international peace and of the common welfare of mankind for which the United Nations Organization was established and which its Charter proclaims. 
Further, the preamble indicated that:
the States Parties to this Constitution, believing in full and equal opportunities for education for all, in the unrestricted pursuit of objective truth, and in the free exchange of ideas and knowledge, are agreed and determined to develop and to increase the means of communication between their peoples and to employ these means for the purposes of mutual understanding and a truer and more perfect knowledge of each other’s lives
Underlying the purpose, the signatories declared:
That since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed;  
That ignorance of each other’s ways and lives has been a common cause, throughout the history of mankind, of that suspicion and mistrust between the peoples of the world through which their differences have all too often broken into war;  
That the great and terrible war which has now ended was a war made possible by the denial of the democratic principles of the dignity, equality and mutual respect of men, and by the propagation, in their place, through ignorance and prejudice, of the doctrine of the inequality of men and races;  
That the wide diffusion of culture, and the education of humanity for justice and liberty and peace are indispensable to the dignity of man and constitute a sacred duty which all the nations must fulfill in a spirit of mutual assistance and concern;  
That a peace based exclusively upon the political and economic arrangements of governments would not be a peace which could secure the unanimous, lasting and sincere support of the peoples of the world, and that the peace must therefore be founded, if it is not to fail, upon the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind. 
Today UNESCO provides the following:

UNESCO’s mission is to contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information. The Organization focuses, in particular, on two global priorities:
  • Africa
  • Gender equality
And on a number of overarching objectives:
  • Attaining quality education for all and lifelong learning
  • Mobilizing science knowledge and policy for sustainable development
  • Addressing emerging social and ethical challenges
  • Fostering cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue and a culture of peace
  • Building inclusive knowledge societies through information and communication
 UNESCO was conceptualized primarily by the western victors of World War II, and naturally focused initially on the purging of propaganda from European textbooks and concerns relevant to the rebuilding of societies damaged by the war. With the entry of the USSR as a member state, the organization came to reflect the tensions of the Cold War and did so for decades. After the massive decolonization that occurred in the 1950s and 60s, many new nations joined UNESCO and the organization added a strong concern for nation building. These and other changes have occurred, but UNESCO always continued to act within the purposes and their rationale expressed in its Constitution. Even the increased emphasis on building educational, scientific, cultural and communications institutions in developing nations can be seen as inherent in the beliefs that underlie UNESCO's purpose.

Comparison with the U.S. National Commission

Other organizations experience "mission creep" that is far more extensive that UNESCO has shown. For example, the legislation that authorized the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO in 1946 simply does so "In fulfillment of article VII of the constitution of the Organization". The relevant portion of that article states:
1. Each Member State shall make such arrangements as suit its particular conditions for the purpose of associating its principal bodies interested in educational, scientific and cultural matters with the work of the Organization, preferably by the formation of a National Commission broadly representative of the government and such bodies.  
2. National Commissions or National Cooperating Bodies, where they exist, shall act in an advisory capacity to their respective delegations to the General Conference, to the representatives and alternates of their countries on the Executive Board and to their Governments in matters relating to the Organization and shall function as agencies of liaison in all matters of interest to it. 
The current charter of the U.S. National Commission defines the purpose as follows:
The purpose of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO (the Commission) shall be to serve the Department of State in an advisory capacity with respect to the consideration of issues related to education, science, communications culture, and the formulation and implementation of U.S. policy towards UNESCO.
Thus the purpose of the National Commission has been narrowed to completely eliminate the first purpose defined in the legislation -- associating the U.S. intellectual community with the work of UNESCO. Moreover, the current charter eliminates the role of the National Commission of advising the U.S. delegations to the General Conference and the Executive Board. It further limits the role of the National Commission from "advising the U.S. Government" to "advising the Department of State" (thereby eliminating its ability to advise the Congress, other Departments of Government or the White House).

Note that later legislation also stated that
The National Commission shall call general conferences for the discussion of matters relating to the activities of the Organization, to which conferences organized bodies actively interested in such matters shall be invited to send representatives..........Such general conferences shall be held annually or biennially, as the National Commission may determine, and in such places as it may designate. They shall be attended so far as possible by the members of the National Commission and by the delegates of the United States to the General Conference of the Organization. The National Commission is further authorized to call special conferences of experts for the consideration of specific matters relating to the Organization by persons of specialized competences.
Under the current charter, the National Commission has no such power.

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