Not Yet Time to Rejoin UNESCO.(COMMENTARY)

Article excerpt


Should the United States rejoin the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)?

Its supporters say we should. They claim many of the problems that led to our withdrawal in 1984 have been addressed if not outright rectified under the leadership of Director-General Koichiro Matsuura. The top-heavy organization has cut its senior-level staff by half, they say. It has rejected the plan that prompted both the United States and Great Britain to resign - a Soviet Union-led effort, backed by Third World authoritarians, to create a "new world information and communication order" - in other words, U.N.-sanctioned censorship of the world's press.

Advocates say that since September 11 UNESCO's policy goals have come to resemble America's in UNESCO's areas of expertise. They say the United States needs UNESCO and its educational outreach programs to counteract the hatred of Western ideals that take root where ignorance prevails. America can't rely on military might alone to secure its future, they add: We also should focus on shaping school curricula, working for tolerance and correcting cultural misperceptions.

So these advocates have mounted a full-court press to persuade Congress to approve the $60 million in dues the United States would have to pay if it rejoins UNESCO.

But while the organization has made some progress, it has a long way to go before it again becomes worthy of U.S. membership.

For one thing, UNESCO has trimmed senior-level staff, but hardly by half. According to approved budgets for 1998-1999 and 2002-2003, the number of director-level positions has fallen from 110 to 103. It has trimmed just 40 of the 782 positions it had in 1998. And even today, 60 percent of the $272 million annual budget - a figure that has remained the same for at least six years - goes to personnel and only 40 percent to programs.

And UNESCO still suffers from a lack of focus. Its educational mission alone runs programs to promote early childhood/family education, educational facilities, "e-learning," emergency assistance, girls/women in Africa, higher education, inclusive education, nonviolence, poverty eradication, primary education, secondary education, science and technology, street/working children, studying abroad, sustainable development and technical/vocational education. …