US and UNESCO: fork in the road

IN reaffirming its decision to pull out of UNESCO at year's end - a move we find disappointing - the United States has properly declared its hope that the UN agency will make sufficient reforms that the US will feel able to rejoin it. In its nearly 40 years of existence, UNESCO - the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization - has produced many programs that have greatly aided international understanding, as well as assisting scientists and educators in many areas of the world, including the US. Despite its clear need for reform, UNESCO still sponsors many useful activities; thus it is important that the US point toward an ultimately renewed membership.

There is a precedent for such reentry. Under the Carter administration, the United States pulled out of the International Labor Organization for several years, until that agency reformed.

It is questionable whether the US will have more leverage as outsider in obtaining reform of UNESCO, however, than it would have had as a continuing member. Yet that part of the debate is over: It is time to focus on the path the United States should take now.

It is widely agreed that UNESCO has too large a staff in its Paris headquarters and spends far too much money there - 80 percent of its annual budget. (The US provides one-fourth of UNESCO's budget.) This requires considerable trimming. UNESCO's management needs improving; it is run too much like the discredited American political machines of another era.

There is some question as to how politicized UNESCO has become and to what degree it automatically tilts toward the third world and the Soviet Union. While no international agency should be politicized, in fact some are. In any case, it is inappropriate for UNESCO to be as clearly politicized as the US has charged, and to provide a haven through staff appointments to considerable numbers of espionage agents, as has been charged. Further, it is important for the US to discern whether UNESCO in fact has dropped its earlier idea of licensing the press, which would pose such restrictions on the press in many parts of the world as to greatly impede the flow of important information to the public.

In reaffirming last week its decision to withdraw, the Reagan administration said it would name observers to watch UNESCO's reform efforts, now under way, to see if they turn out to be sufficient to permit the US to rejoin. This is a good step.

Also important was the announcement that Washington would continue to aid efforts in educational, scientific, and cultural fields through other international agencies. This, too, should be done.

We agree with the position articulated earlier last week on these pages by Elliot L. Richardson, chairman of the United Nations Association of the USA, that other American actions are warranted at this time. As he noted, the US should tell UNESCO precisely what changes it must make as a condition to American reentry. Efforts at reform within UNESCO were hampered this year because the US did not provide the agency with a specific list of demands until July; there should be no similar delay.

Further, the President should name a high-level special ambassador to head the observer team scrutinizing UNESCO's reform efforts. And a broad panel should be established to monitor not only reform but the effectiveness of alternative efforts to carry out UNESCO programs without American participation. This panel should consist of State Department officials and representatives of private and public agencies that deal with aspects of UNESCO activities.

Finally, as Mr. Richardson notes, some specialized scientific, education, and cultural groups in the United States now gain considerable benefit from UNESCO activities. If they cannot find alternative means of gaining the same information, a way should be found to provide US financing of these specific activities and to permit participation of Americans.

It is important that Washington recognize that its pullout should not be the end of American participation in UNESCO but the beginning of the next chapter: a renewed US effort, although from outside the organization, to effect its reform and permit American reentry into a stronger and more effective organization.

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