USA to Rejoin UNESCO after Five Years
The USA will rejoin the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) after a five-year absence. The decision appears to be due to geopolitical reasons, according to officials. UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay called the US government’s move a “strong act of confidence” in UNESCO and multilateralism. This result came from a policy of détente that has been in place for five years, specifically regarding the Middle East, Azoulay explained as she informed the organization’s 193 members about the US decision.
Background of the Absence
The USA’s return to the UNESCO primarily represents a significant improvement in its financial position. The US suspended its contribution in 2011, representing 22% of UNESCO’s budget, due to a dispute over the recognition of Palestine as a full member of the cultural organization. Former President Donald Trump took this a step further, deciding to withdraw the USA from UNESCO, which came into effect in 2018. Azoulay made the resumption of the USA’s membership one of her priorities.
Geopolitical Reasons for Rejoining
From US government circles, sources state that the decision has geopolitical reasons. There are concerns in Washington that China would fill the void left by the USA and thus influence important decisions at the UNESCO. Topics such as AI standards and worldwide technology education are at the forefront of this.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken cited UNESCO’s ongoing discussion of rules and standards for AI when he explained the USA’s wish to return in March. “We should return to UNESCO not to do UNESCO a favor, but because some essential things are happening there,” he explained to the US Senate.
The US government has already informed Congress that $150 million (€139 million) will be available to UNESCO next year. This sum will be paid in the following years to pay off the USA’s debts to the organization. Between 2011 and 2018, when the USA withdrew, it had accumulated debts of approximately $619 million (€574 million).
Voting in July
A member vote is required before resuming the USA’s membership, which is expected to take place in July. Approval seems likely.
The USA also withdrew from UNESCO in 1984 under President Ronald Reagan’s administration, citing waste, corruption, and the agency’s pro-Soviet stance. The USA did not rejoin until 2003.