A better UNESCO

It is not difficult to understand why the patience of the Reagan administration has worn so thin regarding continuing US membership in UNESCO - the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. UNESCO's secretariat has repeatedly shown itself to be ideologically hostile to Western values in general and the United States in particular. Its financial management is considered inefficient. The US should insist on a strict reform of UNESCO. If the agency refuses to consider such changes, the US should pull out of the organization.

Withdrawing from UNESCO, it must be underscored, is not the same as pulling out of the United Nations.

The Carter administration pulled the US out of the International Labor Organization in 1977, following complaints that the ILO had become politicized by, for example, condemning Israel as a ''racist'' nation, yet applying a double standard to other countries. US delegates were outraged that the agency buried a report condemning unjust labor practices in the Soviet Union and third-world nations. Following major reforms within the agency, the US rejoined the ILO in early 1980.

Back in 1977 the Monitor regretted having to withdraw from the ILO. We would feel the same way about a US withdrawal from UNESCO. We believe that there is far more to be gained by the United States seeking to reform UNESCO by working within the agency than by attempting to do so by leaving the agency. Moreover, the increasing impression abroad of a resurgence of isolationism within the US is worrisome. So is the tendency among many Americans toward impatience with world organizations, including the United Nations. The UN, for all its shortcomings, represents a vital channel for mutuality, accommodation, and discourse between nations. The world would be the worse without the United Nations.

That is why the need to reform UNESCO becomes so crucial. The world citizenry has the right to expect the same efficient and impartial management of international agencies that it rightfully demands from national governments.

The United States contributes 25 percent of UNESCO's budget.

UNESCO has shown signs of moderation recently, including backing away from some guidelines that might have restricted the press in the third world. The agency has trained thousands of teachers in poor nations. It has undertaken extensive literacy programs. It seeks to save ancient monuments. In short, UNESCO has filled a vital role in world affairs. Its mandate, written in its own constitution, is a demanding one, namely, to ''contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among the nations through education, science and culture.'' UNESCO surely has an obligation to fulfill that high standard in a way that promotes vigorous debate between nations yet preserves the sense of fairness and impartiality required for the successful conduct of any international institution.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.