The United States has officially rejoined UNESCO, the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The country had announced its intention to rejoin the organization in June and, on 11 July, UNESCO’s Director General Audrey Azoulay confirmed the procedures were finalised.
This is a historic moment. Our organization is once again moving towards universality.Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General
Besides the mandatory funding and paying its arrears, for which a yearly budget of $150 million will be allocated, starting in 2024, until the US pays its full debt of $619, the country will also provide a $10 million voluntary budget to support UNESCO’s programming for Holocaust education, journalist safety, the preservation of cultural heritage in Ukraine and science, technology, engineering and math education in Africa.
“The return of the United States, and the additional resources that go with that, will help us to provide even better support for everyone around the world: pupils and students, researchers, academics, artists, educators, journalists – all those on whom our daily work is focused. UNESCO will also have more resources for its two strategic priorities, Africa and gender equality”, said Azoulay.
1. Political decision
The Trump administration decided to leave UNESCO in 2018, citing bias against Israel. Both the US and Israel had stopped financing the organization after the latter formally recognised Palestine as a member state in 2011.
Five years later, the United States is now praising the way in which UNESCO had succeeded in modernizing itself in recent years. Among the reasons for its return, it highlighted the launch of new initiatives to tackle contemporary challenges (including a global ethical framework for artificial intelligence and ocean protection programmes), the implementation of management reforms that have made the organization more efficient and the mediation efforts that have eased internal political tensions, particularly over the Middle East.
The Biden administration has always made it clear that it is suspicious of China’s rising influence in the UN.Richard Gowan, UN Director for the International Crisis Group
More than that however, according to AP news, the decision to rejoin was “based mainly on concerns that China has filled a leadership gap” in the absence of the US. “The Biden administration has always made it clear that it is suspicious of China’s rising influence in the UN”, Richard Gowan, UN Director for the International Crisis Group, told CBS News. “Biden’s team believes that Trump ceded a lot of ground to China with its anti-UN attitude. The decision to rejoin UNESCO is just the latest example of the US deciding it can do more to counter China by actively engaging in UN institutions than sitting on the sidelines.”
2. On-again off-again membership
The Unites States joined UNESCO at its founding in 1945, but withdrew from the organization in 1984, under the Reagan administration, because, according to media reports, it found “the agency as mismanaged, corrupt and used to advance Soviet interests”. The US Department of State more diplomatically simply cites “growing disparity between US foreign policy and UNESCO goals” for the reason behind the withdrawal.
Rejoining UNESCO in 2002, President George W Bush said the “organization has been reformed and America will participate fully in its mission to advance human rights and tolerance and learning”.
In 2011, President Barack Obama stopped funding the organization in protest of the acceptance of Palestine as a member state and in 2018 Donald Trump completely withdrew the US’ membership again.