The UNESCO budget is divided into two parts. The regular budget, which is approved every two years by the General Conference, implements the six year mid term strategy of the organization, and is just over US$ 300 million per year. That budget is funded through assessed contributions from the member states, and the United States funds 22 percent. The other part of the budget consists of voluntary contributions from the member states, and is estimated at some US$200 million per year. The United States contributes less than one million dollars a year in voluntary contributions, or less than one half of one percent.
Think about the voluntary contributions. They are not added to the general fund, but rather fund things that the contributing country negotiates with the UNESCO secretariat. Thus they do not represent the consensus budget of the 193 member states, but rather are modifications of that consensual budget desired by a single country.
I can only suppose that the secretariat is likely to feel that the regular budget is cash in hand, but inadequate to their needs, and is likely to bend over backward to make the government offering voluntary contributions happy.
The budget of UNESCO is far too small as compared with the challenges before it. From the point of view of the United States, there are many things we want done that UNESCO can better accomplish than could our bilateral programs. Moreover, UNESCO leverages U.S. contributions with funding from other donors as well as from host countries. The U.S. contribution, less than US$70 million per year seems quite a bit, unless you compare it with other figures; my local school board has a budget of $2.2 billion per year for public schools in this one county. UNESCO seeks to improve primary, secondary and tertiary education worldwide. Or compare that budget with the one-trillion dollars that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost. Could those wars have been avoided had the educational systems and communications been more supportive of Western values over the past several decades? I think it would have been worth the bet.
So, were the United States to add say $30 million in voluntary contributions per year to UNESCO's budget, that sum would be affordable and would make UNESCO a much more effective multilateral tool of U.S. foreign policy. Such a contribution would more than pay for itself in terms of security for this country, economic benefits from better development of our economic partners, accomplishment of our humanitarian objectives, improved opinions of the United States abroad, and progress on global environmental problems.
(The opinion expressed above is mine, and does not necessarily represent that of Americans for UNESCO or any other organization.)