UNESCO exodus: reform next?

WITH the withdrawal of a second major developed nation, the pressure has intensified on UNESCO to carry through with the major reforms hinted at in its general conference this fall in Sofia, Bulgaria. Britain now has officially announced that at year's end it will leave UNESCO -- the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization; its departure comes a year after that of the United States. Singapore also is pulling out at the end of this month. It is unfortunate that all three have felt the agency's deficiencies outweighed the benefits of membership.

Some Western participants in the Sofia meeting concluded that UNESCO this year is paying more attention than in the past to Western concerns about the agency's priorities, high expenditures at Paris headquarters, and political stances that seem repeatedly anti-Western. It is up to UNESCO to follow through on indications that it will deal with those concerns.

We would hope appropriate reforms will be made so that the United States, Britain, and Singapore feel able to rejoin UNESCO, contribute their ideas and funds to it, and again gain scientific and other information through its programs.

UNESCO has taken a progressive step in adopting a budget 25 percent lower than last year's. What remains to be seen is precisely where UNESCO will pare its expenditures and staff. The agency now spends far too much money -- three-quarters of its budget -- at its Paris headquarters. Staff and expenses there should be sharply curtailed. More money ought to be spent where it is most required -- in the impoverished nations that need UNESCO's many programs aimed at economic development.

In recent months the agency has soft-pedaled the push, led by third-world nations, for a system of licensing journalists, a step the West believes would lead to restricting freedom of the press. UNESCO actions in this regard should be watched carefully over the next few months to see whether the agency gives evidence of being less antipathetic to Western views in this and other areas.

It can be argued that nations could cause more reform by remaining members. For Britain as for the United States, that is moot. To regain their moral support and active participation and the funding they provided, UNESCO must demonstrate through major reforms that it does want to meet Western objections.

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