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The UNESCO Effect

In the early 1990s, the U.S. Congress passed two laws stating that any UN agency that grants full membership as a state to the Palestinians would automatically lose U.S. funding. In early October 2011, the law was implemented for the first time when members of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, better known as UNESCO, voted to admit the Palestinians as a full member of the organization.

This means that the U.S. must now cut all funding to UNESCO. The consequences were immediate. Shortly after the vote, the State Department announced they would withhold $60 million that was due to go to UNESCO in November, amounting to 22% of the organization's operational budget.

It is unclear whether any additional UN agencies will take up the question of full membership for the Palestinians, but if it were to happen, UN organizations that fight famine and disease, educate women and girls, and monitor nuclear activities in countries like Iran and North Korea, will be brutally hit with cuts if we stop funding them. To make things worse, the U.S. will lose its role as a global leader and the ability to engage on issues that directly impact our national security and our continuing fight against terrorism.

Take a look at some of the benefits the U.S. receives from engaging with these UN organizations and what could be lost due to these laws:

  • The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) helps create jobs for Americans by connecting high-tech companies with third world markets, supports U.S. national security interests in Iraq and Afghanistan, and protects American lives by supporting the Pacific tsunami warning center.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) works closely with the U.S. on all matters related to global public health, leading the response to public health emergencies (including prevention of H1N1), spearheading global vaccination efforts, and developing campaigns to eradicate life threatening diseases like polio and malaria.
  • The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) plays a crucial role in encouraging American innovation and economic growth by setting global standards for patents, copyrights and other forms of intellectual property, as well as through the adjudication of cross-border disputes on intellectual property. In the last year alone, dozens of U.S. companies brought cases before WIPO.

Withdrawing funding from these organizations have real and serious implications for our economy and national security.

The solutions? Right now the Obama Administration has no flexibility to waive the law. Congress has the power to grant the President waiver authority, and with a groundswell of support, it could push them to act. The far-reaching ramifications of withdrawal from these UN organizations means it is imperative that Congress amend or repeal these flawed laws, and give the President the flexibility needed to protect our national security and economic interests. The U.S. must not forfeit our leadership by giving up our place at the global decision making table.

Learn more about about U.S. - UNESCO relations.

Bokava UNESCO video