[Solved] ‘Too little cash, too much politics, leaves UNESCO fighting for life.’ Discuss the statement inthe light of US’ withdrawal and its accusation of the cultural body as being ‘anti-Israel bias’. ( UPSC GS-2 Mains 2019)

UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. It seeks to build peace through international cooperation in Education, Sciences, and Culture.

 Function of UNESCO

 • Its declared purpose is to contribute to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through educational, scientific, and cultural reforms in order to increase universal respect for justice, the rule of law, and human rights along with fundamental freedom proclaimed in the United Nations Charter.

 • UNESCO pursues its objectives through five major programs: education, natural sciences, social/ human sciences, culture and communication/information.

 • UNESCO’s aim is “to contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information”.

 • Other priorities of the organization include attaining quality Education For All and lifelong learning, addressing emerging social and ethical challenges, fostering cultural diversity, a culture of peace and building inclusive knowledge societies through information and communication.

 Challenges faced by UNESCO:

 Globalization has had contrasting effects on UNESCO. On the one hand, the cultural planetary landscape in which the Organization operates, once shaped primarily by State policies, is now structured by markets and networks, entities that are not known for the transparency of their operations nor their concern for general interests.

 Shoestring budget: United States has been withholding its contribution to punish the global body for admitting Palestine as its 195th Member State.

 One-dimensional hyper politicization: Increasingly obvious attempt by certain States to take it hostage and divert it into the field of politics.

 Staff demoralization: there was a time when quintessential UNESCO officials were distinguishable from their peers in the United Nations system by certain characteristics. Highly specialized expertise in their chosen fields, which was taken for granted, was allied with sound general knowledge in the international sphere as well as a strong sense of ethics, an acute awareness of the state of the world and its suffering and commitment to doing something about it.

 It is sad to see that UNESCO is losing this type of official by the day. The situation is explained in large part by the surreptitious recruitment of nationals of “rich” countries for more than one decade and a failure to respect – if not systematically violate – the principle of geographical distribution, as well as favoritism and inconsistencies in the promotion policy

 The US and Israel angle:

 The US has long used UNESCO as a stage for political gestures: In 1984, the Ronald Reagan withdrew the US from UNESCO, accusing it of being pro-Soviet, anti-Israel, and anti-free market. In 2002, George W Bush joined UNESCO again, and in 2011, Barack Obama cut most US funding to UNESCO due to the organization’s recognition of Palestine. The US has not paid its dues to the organization since then, raking up a bill of over $500 million in debt to the organization. In 2013, the US lost voting power due to its non-payment.

 Low finance base and high political angle will impact UNESCO

 The US withdrawal will weaken its finances and central policy focus. The impact of future cultural interventions by the US in other countries may also be weakened, and it will open itself to criticism that they are merely exercises in American soft power.

 • Since 2011 when both Israel and the U.S. stopped paying dues after Palestine was voted in as a member state. Officials estimate that the U.S. — which accounted for around 22 percent of the total budget — has accrued $600 million in unpaid dues, which was one of the reasons for President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw. Israel owes an estimated $10 million.

 • When 37 nations created UNESCO as a human rights organization promoting education, science and cultural causes in November 1945, “it was essentially a western entity, dominated by western funding,But, as more members joined the group — about 160 members by July 1983 — U.S. policy makers grew worried their voices would be drowned out. The newest members were “largely the decolonized new independent states of Africa and Asia who tended to be less supportive of American policies, and more supportive of the Soviet bloc’s position, • The first real scuffle came in 1974, when UNESCO voted to exclude Israel from a regional working group because it allegedly altered “the historical features of Jerusalem” during archaeological excavations and “brainwashed” Arabs in the occupied territories. Congress promptly suspended UNESCO‘s appropriations, which forced the agency to soften its sanctions.

 In 1976 Israel was readmitted; in 1977 U.S. funding resumed.

 • In 1980, at the UNESCO general conference in Belgrade, a majority of Communist and Third World nations called for a “new world information order” to compensate for the alleged proWestern bias of global news organizations. The goals were the licensing of journalists, an international code of press ethics and increased government control over media content.

 Although UNESCO backed off under pressure from the West, it still allocated $16 million for a two-year program to study “media reforms.

Way forward

 • It is unfortunate that such productive works have taken a backseat due to politicization of UNESCO with nations now using their financial dues to influence UNESCOS’ programs .

 • Hence efforts should be made to ensure grassroot reforms in the institution and to depoliticize the institution so that the intended aims of the founding fathers of UNESCO are realized.


 Despite its limits, UNESCO has demonstrated throughout its history a real capacity to adapt and to bring creative responses to the challenges of its time. The example of world heritage, an acknowledged flagship activity, is a convincing illustration of this synthesis of conceptual development and application in the field. Let us also remember the importance of the Organization’s standard-setting work over the last 15 years, in particular the adoption of the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights in 1997, the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity in 2001, then the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions in 2005, and the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2003.

 UNESCO must also resist the temptation to have its finger in too many pies and instead concentrate on what is essential. It should stop accumulating micro-programmes to satisfy immediate needs, to the detriment of the long term. Choosing priorities means being able to intervene in key areas, which determine the evolution of the world. It means applying one’s strength where there is the best chance of obtaining a tangible result

 Further reading..

 UNESCO was founded on the ashes of the 2nd World War seeking to build peace through international cooperation in Education, Science and Culture.


 It aims “to contribute to the building of peace, eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue” through international circulation of ideas.

 Crisis , Politics and Anti- Israel bias:

 • The institution has been in crisis recently because of USA’s decision to withhold funding and withdraw its membership from the organization.

 • The recent crisis has its origin in 2011, when UNESCO voted to admit Palestine as a full member state.

 • Since then US has significantly reduced its contribution to the institution, owing over $500 million.

 • UNESCO’s actions like

 o criticizing Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem,

 o naming ancient Jewish sites as Palestinian heritage sites (UNESCO declared a

 contested shrine in Hebron city as an endangered Palestinian heritage site).

 • Considering the fact that Israel is USA’s closest ally, USA chose to express its discontentment against UNESCO’s alleged ISRAEL bias by quitting the institution, thereby attempting to reassert its geopolitical influence in West Asia.

 • This is not the first time that US has used UNESCO as a stage for political gestures. In 1984, the Ronald Reagan withdrew the US from UNESCO, accusing it of being pro-Soviet, anti-Israel, and anti-free market.

 How this affects the organization and its work?

 • UNESCO employs 2,000 people worldwide, has been forced to cut programs, freeze hiring and fill gaps with voluntary contributions.

 • Its current budget is now almost half of what it was half a decade back .

 • UNESCO protects cultural heritage around the world, from Great Wall of China to Filete porteño in Buenos Aires, from Procession of the Holy Blood in Bruges to India’s yoga tradition.

 • It also has been playing a vital role in environmental conservation with initiatives like UNESCO MAN and BIOSPHERE Programme which will be affected.

 • In the cultural sphere protection of endangered languages and cultures will be negatively affected.

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