Great Britain Out of UNESCO

The Times’ editorial supporting British withdrawal from the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, (Dec. 11) failed to address many key facts.

The decision to withdraw had strong opposition within Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s own Conservative Party. The Tory-dominated House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs recommended against it unanimously. Her party predecessor as Prime Minister, Edward Heath, denounced it. Even Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe argued in Cabinet meeting for staying in.

Japan (which contributes twice to UNESCO what Britain does), Canada, and the European Community appealed to Britain to stay in.

In a House of Commons debate on November 22, Overseas Development Minister Timothy Raison reported that at the recent UNESCO General Conference at Sofia, Bulgaria, Great Britain and the Western nations get a zero-growth budget, held the line on media issues despite strong Soviet bloc pressure, moderated resolutions on the Middle East, defeated a number of political Soviet-bloc resolutions, and strengthened individual human rights and de-emphasized, somewhat, disarmament in UNESCO programs. A leaked report by the U.S. observer mission said the British delegation was “generally satisfied,” and that the conference results “could enable the British government to argue the case for continued membership--or alternatively, require it to advance other reasons for a decision to withdraw.”

The Times hopes “Britain’s withdrawal may add to the pressure needed to bring true reform. Then both the United States and the United Kingdom could return.” But the last U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO had declared: “If all the management, personnel and budget reforms were agreed to, if UNESCO suddenly became the perfect model of administrative efficiency, management effectiveness and staff productivity, that still would not be enough.” For the United States, at least, withdrawal had less to do with press freedom, budgets, etc.(the State Department’s February, 1983, reports to Congress showed that the United States was winning on most issues) than with the extreme right wing’s long-standing hatred of the United Nations system in general, and UNESCO in particular.



Santa Ana