Foreign Policy Watch: United Nations

US re-entry into UNESCO


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: UNESCO

Mains level: Not Much

Central Idea

  • The US first lady held a flag-raising ceremony at UNESCO in Paris, marking Washington’s official re-entry.

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization)

Established November 16, 1945
Headquarters Paris, France
Membership 195 member states and 10 associate members
Mandate Promoting international cooperation in education, science, culture, and communication
  • Ensuring an inclusive and equitable quality education for all
  •  Safeguarding cultural heritage
  •  Advancing scientific research and collaboration
  •  Promoting freedom of expression
  •  Fostering intercultural dialogue
Notable Programs and Activities
  1.  World Heritage Program: Designates and preserves sites of outstanding universal value
  2.  Education for All Program: Ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for all
  3.  International Hydrological Program: Promoting sustainable water management and cooperation
  4.  Man and the Biosphere Program: Promoting sustainable development and Conservation of natural resources
  5.  Intangible Cultural Heritage Program: Safeguarding and promoting intangible cultural heritage


A quick recap

  • US and Israel’s withdrawal: Last December, the United States and Israel decided to leave UNESCO.
  • Historical trajectory of engagement: The decisions should be viewed within a longer historical context.

Reasons for Withdrawal

  • Anti-Semitic resolutions: The US and Israel cited several resolutions that they perceived as biased against Israel.
  • Disdain for multilateralism and ‘America First’ policy: The US demonstrated a lack of interest in multilateral organizations and prioritized its own interests.
  • Mounting arrears: The decision was based on mounting arrears, the need for reform, and perceived anti-Israel bias.
  • Lack of interest in paying UNESCO debts: The Trump administration had little incentive to pay off debts accumulated since the Obama administration froze contributions.

Implications of the withdrawal

  • Impact on UNESCO’s daily workings: The departure of the US and Israel impaired the organization’s operations.
  • Limited consequence for Palestinians: The diplomatic victory for the Palestinian Authority was of little political or economic significance for Palestinians living under occupation.

Why is the US now joining back?

  • Counterbalance China’s influence: The US aims to counterbalance China’s growing influence in shaping global policies on artificial intelligence and technology education.
  • Protect and promote US interests: Rejoining allows the US to protect and advance its interests in cultural heritage preservation, climate change initiatives, and girls’ education.
  • Reforms and diplomatic efforts: UNESCO’s management reforms and efforts to address concerns have contributed to the US decision to rejoin.
  • Bipartisan support for engagement: The decision to rejoin UNESCO has received bipartisan support within the US, ensuring long-term engagement regardless of future political changes.
  • Financial considerations and commitment: The US plans to fulfill financial obligations to UNESCO, including paying dues and arrears, demonstrating a commitment to supporting key initiatives within the organization.


  • The decision of the United States to rejoin UNESCO reflects a strategic effort to counterbalance China’s influence, protect and promote American interests, and engage in international efforts for cultural preservation, climate change, and education.

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