The US decision to withdraw from UNESCO, the UN cultural agency, has triggered worldwide calls for supporting multilateralism amid world challenges.
After the United States informed UNESCO on Thursday about its withdrawal on Dec. 31, 2018, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said it would be a loss to the United Nations and “a loss to multilateralism.”
She said that UNESCO needs the leadership of all states “at the time when the fight against violent extremism calls for renewed investment in education, in dialogue among cultures to prevent hatred.”
According to the US State Department, one of the reasons for its withdrawal is the “continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO.”
The United States stopped funding UNESCO after the organization voted to include Palestine as a member in 2011, but has maintained a UNESCO office at the organization’s headquarters in Paris to weigh in on policy.
“It is unfortunate when international organizations that serve useful humanitarian purposes become politicized,” said an American expert on international relations, referring to the prolonged Israel-Palestine conflict.
Avery Goldstein, David M. Knott Professor of Global Politics and International Relations at the University of Pennsylvania, said the decision of withdrawal continues a trend in US policy towards UNESCO put in place under former US President Barack Obama.
“It is more a matter of continuity than change,” he told Xinhua in an email interview.
Unfortunately, suspicion of the effectiveness of multilateral organizations prevails in Washington, Sourabh Gupta, resident senior fellow at the Institute for China-America Studies, told Xinhua.
Gupta said that membership in UNESCO, “given its soft educational and cultural mandate,” is considered to be a waste of money.
Statistics show that the United States is in arrears of over 500 million US dollars to UNESCO as a consequence of its funding cuts to the organization.
However, analysts have said pulling out of UNESCO would not benefit the United States but have adverse impacts upon the country as well as the world.
As for the broader impact, Gupta said, the already-diminishing respect for the United States in the community of nations will diminish even further.
“As it slowly dismantles the order that the US itself had laboriously constructed from the ashes of World War II, the US will belatedly come to realize it has been its own worst enemy,” Gupta noted.
UN General Assembly President Miroslav Lajcak has voiced concerns that the US move could affect the important work of UNESCO.
Lajcak said the United States has a crucial role to play in multilateral cooperation and need to continue to engage with the work of UNESCO.
Echoing the appeal, French Ambassador to the United Nations Francois Delattre has asked the United States not to leave the Paris-based UNESCO.
“UNESCO is about promoting our ideals and values through culture, education and science. These values and ideals are very much part of France‘s DNA, but also (part of) America’s DNA,” said Delattre.