Events

U.K. and U.S.: United in UNESCO?

July 23, 2002 // 12:00am

While noting the United Kingdom places high priority on U.S. re-entry to UNESCO, Ambassador Stanton said he would not focus his remarks on the potential re-entry of the United States into UNESCO. [The United States withdrew from UNESCO in 1984, citing ineffectiveness and organizational abuses. In May 2001, the House of Representatives adopted language that authorized U.S. re-entry into UNESCO and the $59.8 million necessary for U.S. membership dues. Whether this language becomes law depends on a pending House-Senate conference of the FY02-03 State Department Authorization bill.] Rather, Stanton discussed the British experience of UNESCO since its return to the organization in 1997, the reforms under Director General Koichiro Matsuura, and the role that UNESCO can play in today’s uncertain world. [The Conflict Prevention Project and the Better World Campaign hosted Mr. Matsuura at the Wilson Center in February of this year.] Currently, UNESCO has a $544 million budget funded by contributions primarily from its 188 member nations.

Britain’s decision to rejoin UNESCO was premised on the belief that while UNESCO’s reforms are incomplete, reforms from within would encourage more effectiveness and efficiency. UNESCO’s work focuses on five program areas: education; communication and information; culture; natural sciences; and social and human sciences. Stanton noted that in Afghanistan UNESCO serves an umbrella-like coordinating function for education groups and relaunched Kabul Weekly, the first independent publication since the fall of the Taliban. Other education programs include preventive education projects to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, and promoting literacy. The United Kingdom is also very involved in UNESCO programs in the sciences, including research on freshwater and oceanographic resources, and bioethics. Supporting cultural activities, “UNESCO is the only show in town,” he said. In particular, 2002 is the United Nations Year for Cultural Heritage, resulting in party from the attention raised by UNESCOs ill-fated efforts to save the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan.

UNESCO's constitution has an “uncanny relevance now,” Stanton said. Stressing the need for information and communication within and between nations, UNESCO attempts to link the free flow of ideas to the broader objective of preventing wars and “constructing the defenses of peace” by “advancing the mutual knowledge and understanding of peoples” so that “ignorance of each other's ways and lives suspicion and mistrust between the peoples of the world” no longer be a direct cause of conflict.

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