UNESCO exercises no sovereign control over its member states. Each member state continues to exercise full sovereign control over its own people, territory and actions. UNESCO can not tell any state what to do, nor does it have any power to enforce the decisions of its governing bodies on its member states.
How then does it manage to achieve so much worldwide?
Examination of three networks of sites that have been created under UNESCO sponsorship provides one answer. They are:
- The World Heritage network of 851 natural and cultural sites of such importance as to justify the appelation;
- The World Network of 531 Biosphere Reserves which serve to develop and demonstrate landscape management systems and to serve as reservoirs of biodiversity;
- The Ramsar Convention network of 1755 wetland sites of international importance, totaling 161 million hectares.
In each case, UNESCO manages a review process to assure that nominees qualify for inclusion in the network and reviews the status of members of the network to assure that they still qualify. In each case, there is a subset of member states elected by the overall group of member states which is delegated oversight of the network, and a small bureau or secretariat to manage the networking functions.
In each case the member states have decided that the benefits of participation in the network more than justify the costs of participation. Decades of experience indicates that each network really works to promote cooperation among the sites included and to showcase important sites within the member nations to world attention.
The United States has been critically important in the creation of each of these networks, and Americans have provided intellectual leadership over the lifetime of each of them. Indeed, participation in each of these networks has provided a vehicle for cultural diplomacy, enabling the United States to achieve cultural and environmental objectives of its foreign policy in collaboration with other states. Through the collaborating networks these goals have not only been achieved more economically than would otherwise be possible, but indeed the goals might not have been at all possible without the collaboration of other sovereign states.
Finally, the networks provide the community of nations with an assurance of globally coordinated efforts to accomplish programs of global importance that would be beyond the capabilities of any member state alone.