‘Too little cash, too much politics, leave UNESCO fighting for life.’ Discuss the statement in the light of US’ withdrawal and its accusation of the cultural body as being ‘anti-Israel bias’. (10 marks)

Mentors Comments:

  • In the intro, link the issue of current events with the mandate of UNESCO and how it has been affected in recent times due to the politics of member nations.
  • In the 1st part, discuss the mandate and importance of UNESCO.
  • In the 2nd part, mention why the US left and what are those allegations of UNESCO being anti-Israel.
  • Briefly mention what are the issues of politicization of UNESCO mandates by various member countries that have also affected the world boy.
  • In the next part, mention the effect of US withdrawal and too much politicization on the overall working of UNESCO.
  • In conclusion, discuss what lies ahead for the world body.

Answer:

The U.S. stopped paying dues to the U.N. Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization after it recognized a Palestinian state in 2011. The U.S. eventually left the group in 2018. It had major implications on the world body, especially financially. The fact is that UNESCO was all about solidarity and creating a climate for peace between countries, but nations now use their dues to influence programs

UNESCO:

The UN Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization was founded in 1945 and is a catalyst for far-reaching and important environmental and sustainable development initiatives. 

Today it’s the only UN organization with a clear science mandate, and it works on a broad scope of environmental issues, directing projects from a scientific, cultural, social and educational perspective.

Its activities deal with the ecological sciences (Man and the Biosphere Programme and World Network of Biosphere Reserves), water security (International Hydrological Programme and World Water Assessment Programme), and earth sciences (International Geoparks and Geoscience Programme, and disaster risk reduction).

Why the US left UNESCO?

  • The United States helped found the UNESCO after World War II but has been at odds with it in recent years. 
  • The US cited a 2012 decision not to expel Syria from its human rights committee after the civil war in that country began, and repeated resolutions that refer to Israel as an occupying power.
  • At the heart of its recent problems is a financing crisis since 2011, when UNESCO voted to admit Palestine as a full member state and Washington responded by halting payment of its annual $80 million in dues.
  • The United States and Israel were among just 14 of 194 members to vote against Palestine’s membership. 
  • Washington says it favors an independent Palestinian state someday, but it must arise from negotiations, and admitting the Palestinians to international bodies beforehand hurts the peace process.
  • The recent major issue which made the US leave the UNESCO was when UNESCO designated the old city of Hebron in the West Bank, with its Tomb of the Patriarchs, a Palestinian World Heritage site.
  • According to the US when UNESCO voted to recognize the Palestinians as full members, it undermined an important U.S. policy goal.
  • Israel has regularly complained over resolutions about cultural sites in the West Bank and Jerusalem, arguing that they are worded to delegitimize Israel.

Impact of US withdrawal from UNESCO:

  • While the U.S. will remain engaged in many of these programs, the absence of U.S. funding makes it increasingly difficult to meet the challenges that are so vital to the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.
  • The U.S. has played an important role in many Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) programs critical to ocean health and wellbeing of coastal communities. 
  • Without U.S. money, UNESCO, which employs around 2,000 people worldwide, has been forced to cut programs, freeze hiring and fill gaps with voluntary contributions. Its 2017 budget was about $326 million, almost half its 2012 budget.
  • As a result, the number of permanent science positions has decreased, while less funding has meant a sharp refocusing of the Organization’s work. 
  • For example, UNESCO’s Basic Sciences efforts were severely impacted, and the organization is no longer directly involved in earth observation and remote sensing projects, with few exceptions. 
  • That’s a serious problem when one considers the rapid natural changes underway due to climate change. 
  • Furthermore, UNESCO no longer spends a regular budget on renewable energy activities, and its engineering activities have been strongly curtailed.
  • UNESCO has failed to persuade member states to pay their dues and stop politicizing UNESCO’s work.

At the time when the fight against violent extremism calls for renewed investment in education, in dialogue among cultures to prevent hatred, it is deeply regrettable that the nations use the platform of UNESCO to put forward their domestic politics. It is a loss for multilateralism. All the members of UNESCO should come together for grassroots reforms and efforts to de-politicize the institution. They need to find ways of getting nations to talk these issues through, but if they can’t, then the global body should be able to say ‘no’ and kill these controversial texts.

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