The Magazine

The UNESCO Follies Are Back

The Obama administration bungles the Palestinians’ membership vote.

Nov 14, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 09 • By JOHN R. BOLTON
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The State Department’s prompt announcement last week that it was cutting off funding to UNESCO was its savviest action in this affair to date. State thus followed the Bush 41 administration’s Plan B, namely, to cauterize the wound within the U.N. system caused by the PA’s victory. Our theory in 1989 was that, even had we failed to stop the PLO from joining WHO, the traumatic prospect of a systemwide funding cutoff would bring the rest of the U.N. entities to their senses, minimizing the damage.

We will now see whether the Obama administration, having failed to implement Plan A effectively, can handle Plan B. Every indication is that the PA will continue its membership campaign throughout the U.N. system; precedent is a powerful tool in U.N. circles, and the Palestinians will fully exploit it. Perhaps they hope to run the table in as many U.N. agencies as possible before their application for membership in the U.N. itself comes back before the Security Council in a few months, thus pressuring Obama not to use his veto. 

One thing is certain after the administration cutoff of UNESCO funding: We are at least $80,000,000 closer to solving this year’s federal deficit problem. In fact, the entire episode provides strong arguments for moving toward voluntary funding, rather than assessed or mandatory contributions, across the entire U.N. system. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has introduced legislation, recently reported to the House floor, to do just that. Her timing couldn’t be better.

John R. Bolton is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 2005-06.

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