Waving Goodbye to UNESCO

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Angry at its leftist tilt, the U.S. pulls out

It was mid-afternoon when Jean Gerard, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and Richard Ahern, deputy chief of the U.S. delegation, left the U.S. mission in Paris for a short limousine ride to UNESCO's concrete-and-glass headquarters. They took an elevator to the fifth floor, where UNESCO'S Senegalese Director-General, Amadou Mahtar M'Bow, has his office. There they gave him a three-page letter, typed on U.S. delegation stationery. M'Bow barely glanced at it. "I will read this with great interest," he said, smiling stiffly. Gerard and Ahern turned and left.

The absence of diplomatic niceties was appropriate. The letter, signed by Secretary of State George Shultz and authorized by President Reagan, held no surprises. After three years of discontent and six months of intensive review, the Administration last week formally withdrew the U.S. from UNESCO. Declared Gregory Newell, Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs: "UNESCO has extraneously politicized virtually every subject it deals with. It has exhibited hostility toward a free society, especially a free market and a free press, and it has demonstrated unrestrained budgetary expansion."

Despite its high-decibel pullout, the Administration left the door open for reentry. UNESCO requires a member to give at least a year's notice before resigning, so the U.S. withdrawal does not take effect until Dec. 31,1984. The U.S. would consider rescinding its action, wrote Shultz, given "indications of significant improvement" in the way UNESCO operates.

That is unlikely. When UNESCO was founded in 1945, the agency's goals were high-minded enough: fostering literacy and education, preserving mankind's cultural heritage, promoting the exchange of scientific ideas. But as Third World nations became a more potent force in the U.N., the organization took a leftward turn. The first real scuffle came in 1974, when UNESCO voted to exclude Israel from a regional working group because it allegedly altered "the historical features of Jerusalem" during archaeological excavations and "brainwashed" Arabs in the occupied territories. Congress promptly suspended UNESCO's appropriations, which forced the agency to soften its sanctions. In 1976 Israel was readmitted; in 1977 U.S. funding resumed.

In 1980, at the UNESCO general conference in Belgrade, a majority of Communist and Third World nations called for a "new world information order" to compensate for the alleged pro-Western bias of global news organizations. The goals were the licensing of journalists, an international code of press ethics and increased government control over media content. Although UNESCO backed off under pressure from the West, it still allocated $16 million for a two-year program to study "media reforms."

The U.S. also chafed at UNESCO's increasingly collectivist outlook. The agency's charter, like that of the U.N., commits its members to support basic human rights. In the past five years, however, the "rights of peoples"—in other words, the state—have taken priority over "individual" rights.

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