Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Dick and Ray Show

Last week, Dick Arndt and Ray Wanner led our UNESCO class discussing the history of the organization and the role played by Americans in its founding, and in this country's withdrawal from UNESCO.
Frank Method, co-coordinator of the course
introduces Dick Arndt

Ray Wanner, having described the central role of the United States delegations in the creation of UNESCO and the important role of people from the United States in encouraging UNESCO to create some of its key programs, such as those of the World Heritage program and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, ended saying the United States has much to be proud of about UNESCO.

Ray Wanner checking his notes

I will allow myself to wonder whether the United States also has much to be ashamed of in its role with respect to UNESCO.
  • The Organization functions under a complex governance system which sometimes hampers its efficiency and effectiveness. The United States delegates to UNESCO's planning and governing bodies bear more responsibility than most countries for UNESCO's governance structures and processes.
  • The United States representatives to UNESCO and our Civil Society organizations have encouraged the Organization to embark on new and often ambitious undertakings. On the other hand, the U.S. Government has sought to limit the rate of growth of UNESCO's budget. The withdrawal of the United States and the U.K. created a financial crisis for UNESCO. Now UNESCO fails to play the ambitious role that its constitution and the majority of its members demand because its resources fail to meet its responsibilities.
I could go on, but perhaps the proper position is not to assign blame or credit, but to consider the role that UNESCO could play internationally, and helping it to achieve the excellence we require in assuming that role. There are remarkable successes within the UNESCO program such as the creation of CERN (which in turn hosted the creation of the World Wide Web) and the World Heritage network of protected cultural and natural sites. The creation of the SESAME project which is showing the way towards international cooperation in the Mid East or the work to create a global tsunami warning system may be equally valuable in the future. How do we make sure that UNESCO remains capable of such important initiatives?

John Daly
(The opinions expressed in this posting do not necessarily represent those of Americans for UNESCO.)

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