A closer look at UNESCO

The way now exists that could permit a drawing together of the United States and UNESCO. If there is accommodation on both sides, it would be possible for the US to change its December decision and agree to remain after all in the controversial United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. We hope this will occur. Despite its problems UNESCO is too valuable an organization for the US to want to leave, unless its inner failings are truly egregious.

Over the next few months three separate panels will study UNESCO and its workings: one from Congress (which reports first), another named by the State Department, and the regular triennial audit team. Broad aim of all three is to assess how well UNESCO is functioning, including the frequently aired charges of an unnecessarily high budget, inefficiency, promotions based on favoritism rather than merit, and even of corruption.

These are some of the reasons why the Reagan administration has announced that it will pull out of UNESCO at the end of 1984; at least equally important is what often is described as the politicizing of UNESCO along lines that frequently are anti-American. Best-known example is the strong effort by third world and communist-bloc members, ultimately rejected after much Western pressure, to license journalists through establishment of a New World Information Order, which could have opened the way to press censorship.

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If the panels find that the charges are overblown, or that UNESCO (as some reports have it) has made considerable headway in improving its efficiency under the pressure of the US decision, then the Reagan administration ought to consider reversing course and remaining in UNESCO.

The organization has done much good over the years: It has established successful literacy programs in the third world, distributed cultural and scientific information through conferences and its many publications, and played a major role in preserving artistic and historic treasures (including the Egyptian temples at Abu Simbal).

Much of that work continues. Many Americans in the scientific and cultural communities have protested that US withdrawal from UNESCO would be shortsighted and harmful to long-term US interests - in scientific, economic, and foreign policy matters.

As an example, they note that some existing UNESCO projects are aimed at promoting economic development in the third world, which is in line with US foreign policy.

No one should be naive about the workings of this organization, and it is important that it adhere to standards of efficiency and fairness, especially inasmuch as America finances one-quarter of its budget.

Yet it is important that the ultimate US decision be based on sound information rather than an ideological stance, and that it carefully weigh negative and positive aspects of UNESCO membership. Reports from the three groups that are studying UNESCO operations should lead the Reagan administration to an informed judgment.

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