Wednesday, February 27, 2013

DfID and AusAID reviews of UNESCO and responses.

UNESCO has published some facts and figures on the Organization's reforms. The graph above is from that publication. It shows the budget for UNESCO by biennium (the 36th biennium is 2012 and 2013). The graph shows the considerable reduction in the current biennium, in part due to the United States withholding its assessed contributions to UNESCO.

The Department for International Development (DfID) of the United Kingdom did a multilateral aid review in 2011. It is currently updating that review. Here is a page with the 2011 judgments for UNESCO. UNESCO has provided an update on its operations for the 2013 exercise.

Similarly, the Australian AID organization (AusAID) developed scorecards for multilateral organizations in 2012. Here is the scorecard for UNESCO. Here are UNESCO's comments on the scorecard.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

International Mother Language Day

Theme 2013:
Books for mother tongue education

International Mother Language Day was proclaimed by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in November 1999 (30C/62).

A Civics Lesson: Restoring funding to UNESCO.

The United States is withholding funds from UNESCO since the Organization's General Conference voted to allow Palestine membership. It is doing so because of provisions of the Foreign Relations and Intercourse Authorization passed in 1990 and 1994.

In order to restore funding
  • The authorization law will have to be changed either to eliminate the provisions or to allow the President to waive them if he finds doing so to be in the national interest. In the latter case, the president would have to issue a waiver in the specific case of UNESCO.
  • Funds would have to be included for UNESCO in the foreign affairs appropriations.
Last year the Obama administration requested the waiver authority and it has also requested the appropriation of funds for UNESCO.

The authorization legislation defines policy -- what the program is to do. It is the province of:
  • The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and
  • The House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs.
The appropriations legislation is the province of:
  • The House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations and
  • The Senate Committee on Appropriations,
The 113th Congress convened in January 2013. The response to the administration's requests will depend on the members of this session. In the Senate key committee members are likely to be:

In the House of Representatives the key committee members are likely to be:
  • Kay Granger, Republican, chairwoman of the relevant subcommittee of the Appropriations committee
  • Nita Lowey, Democrat, ranking member of that subcommittee and ranking member of the Appropruations committee itself. She is a strong supporter of Israel.
  • Harold Rogers, Republican, chairman of the Appropriations committee
  • Christopher Smith, Republican, chairman of the relevant subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs committee
  • Karen Bass, Democrat, ranking member of that subcommittee
  • Ed Royce, Republican, chairman of the Foreign Affairs committee
  • Eliot Engel, Democrat, ranking member of the Foreign Affairs committee

The Senate, with a Democratic majority, is likely to be more responsive to the Obama administration's requests; the House, with a Republican majority, is likely to be less responsive. The last session of hte Congress was marked by contentious debates and gridlock. It remains to be seen how this session will evolve.

The economic priorities of this Congress should be:

  • in the short term, to create jobs and prevent an immediate return to recession
  • in the medium term to reduce the federal deficit and improve the debt to GDP ratio
  • in the long term to invest in education, technology and infrastructure to promote long term growth.
The foreign policy priorities of the U.S. government are generally to protect the security of the United States and to promote its economy internationally. The immediate concerns will probably be the Middle East and Asia.

It seems probable that in these circumstances there will be a tendency to press for reductions in expenditures on international organizations, including UNESCO. 

The immediate concern of the Congress will be to deal with "sequestration" and the "fiscal cliff". The willingness of the members to compromise now may give some indication of their willingness to compromise during the rest of this year's legislative agenda.

In terms of the broad range of issues before the United States government, funding for UNESCO seems likely to be of low priority. The issues of Israeli policy, peace between Israel, Palestine, and their neighbor countries, and U.S. participation in international organizations will probably be seen as more urgent, and the UNESCO funding issue will probably be resolved in terms of these related issues. Still, there are a number of people working very hard to restore U.S. funding to UNESCO and they may be successful. Restoration of funding to UNESCO before the General Conference this fall is necessary to assure that the U.S. vote will be retained, and this may give some urgency to Congressional action.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Update on the previous post

Here are a couple of articles relating to the last post:
  1. "Leading Senator Calls for Change in Self-Defeating US Policy on UNESCO", UN Dispatch, February 8, 2013
  2. "Obama’s budget’s surprise: Restore UNESCO funding!" The Washington Post, 02/16/2012
Recall that the executive branch makes a budget request, but it is the Congress that actually appropriates funds. The House of Representatives has a major role, and the Obama administration may face an uphill battle getting funding for UNESCO. Last year it also requested funding for UNESCO, and it was not appropriated.

In terms of foreign policy, I agree with Senator Leahy that U.S. funding for UNESCO enables it to do more to achieve our objectives than would an alternative use of the funds. I don't think that restoration of funding to UNESCO would significantly damage our relations with Israel, and it might help a little with opinion about the USA in the Arab and Islamic worlds.

In terms of domestic policy, the lobby that pushed through the 1990 legislation still exists and will probably oppose any change in that legislation.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Senator Leahy supports U.S. renewal of funding for UNESCO

I just received an email with the following:

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy


The Rescue and Reconstruction of Cultural Antiquities in Timbuktu

 United States Senate Floor

February 7, 2013

 Mr. LEAHY.  Mr. President, there was a lot of attention recently on the French military’s operation to repel Islamic extremists and Tuareg nationalist rebels who had terrorized the local population of northern Mali, including in the ancient city of Timbuktu.  That operation was widely welcomed by local Malian citizens and the international community.  Many of the rebels are believed to be hiding out among the local population until the French soldiers leave, so whether they are ultimately vanquished remains to be seen.  It will depend in large measure on the longer term capability of a multinational force of African troops supported by the United States and others.

Besides terrorizing, torturing, mutilating, and slaughtering innocent people, the rebels destroyed ancient tombs, shrines, and manuscripts dating to a period many centuries ago when Timbuktu was a crossroads for commerce and a center of intellectual pursuits in northern Africa.  I mention this not only to inform those who may be unaware of Mali’s ongoing cultural importance, but also to call attention to the fact that Irina Bokova, director general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, commonly known as UNESCO, has already pledged to reconstruct the damaged mausoleums.  As she was quoted in The New York Times on February 4, 2013, “This is the record of the golden ages of the Malian empire.  If you let this disappear, it would be a crime against humanity.”

There are also little known heroes in this otherwise humanitarian and cultural disaster.  Malian residents, particularly Ali Iman Ben Essayouti, who knew the importance of priceless manuscripts preserved in a library funded by international donors including the Library of Congress and Department of State, managed to carefully move some of them to another location where the rebels did not find them.  As a result, although the rebels burned the library, only a small portion of the manuscripts were destroyed.

The other point of this is that, as many Senators are aware, the United States, once the largest contributor to UNESCO including under President George W. Bush, was forced to sever its support last year due to a 1990s law that prohibits U.S. funding to any United Nations-affiliated agency in which the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) obtains the same standing as a member state.  After UNESCO’s members voted, against the advice of Ms. Bokova, to grant the PLO that standing, the law was triggered and U.S. funding abruptly ended.

This is illogical and self-defeating.  First, although the PLO was a terrorist organization in the 1990s, it is no longer.  Second, by cutting off our contribution to UNESCO we not only empower its other members, including Russia, Iran, and Syria, we also make it impossible to assist the organization in the kind of cultural preservation activities it is now undertaking in Mali, which are clearly in the national interest of the United States.  There are many other examples, including World Heritage Sites like the Great Barrier Reef, which UNESCO designates and protects, today without the support of the United States.  And finally, if U.S. funding is not restored before the end of this fiscal year, we will lose our vote in the organization.  Ironically, despite PLO membership in UNESCO, Israel has paid its dues through 2014.  Presumably, Israeli officials recognize, as we should, that their interests are far better served by participating in a UN agency, not by watching from the sidelines.

Mr. President, regardless of what one may think about Palestinian President Abbas’ effort to obtain UN membership for the PLO, and I am among those who regard it as an unhelpful distraction, cutting off U.S. funding to UNESCO and thereby weakening our influence and empowering our adversaries makes no sense.  It is time we recognize that a law that might have seemed sensible to some people years ago has had unintended consequences that run directly counter to our interests, and should be amended or repealed.