Over the years, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, commonly known as UNESCO, has done a great deal of good. More recently, it also has done a great deal of mischief. Until that situation is redressed, the Bush Administration is wholly correct in its refusal to rejoin the troubled international agency.
As its name implies, UNESCO is the agency through which the United Nations funds literacy campaigns, various forms of scientific research, the preservation of historically, religiously and environmentally significant sites and a host of other worthy endeavors. Unfortunately, during the early 1980s, under its then-director, Amadou-Mahtar M'Bow, UNESCO became synonymous with wasteful spending, bloated bureaucracy and a reflexive hostility to the United States and the other developed nations, particularly Israel. In 1984, when the agency moved to adopt an international charter of press censorship--euphemistically called the "New Information Order"--America and the United Kingdom walked out.
Since then, both countries have attempted to nudge UNESCO toward the sort of responsible change that would allow them to rejoin and once again begin paying dues. In the case of the United States, that would amount to $50 million per year, or slightly less than a third of the agency's $181-million annual budget .
As the State Department reported Tuesday, however, UNESCO persists in its most objectionable initiatives. While it has dropped the label "New Information Order," according to the report, its approach to the world press "remains one in which freedom of the press and freedom of expression are 'balanced' against the desires of governments to control the flow of information to and from their citizens."
Similarly, UNESCO's obsession with the Palestine Liberation Organization reflects less a concern for the rights of the unhappy Palestinians than it does a habitual hostility to the Jewish state. The agency's wasteful spending--about 70% of its budget goes to overhead--and bureaucratic expansion continues under new director Federico Mayor Zaragoza.
Under these circumstances, the only honorable and constructive thing for the United States to do is remain outside UNESCO and continue to urge clearly attainable reforms.