Complying with U.S. laws dating back more than a decade, the administration in late 2011 reluctantly cut funding to the U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), depriving the Paris-based agency of 22 percent of its operating budget.
UNESCO head Irina Bokova described the resulting financial crisis as the “worst ever” in the agency’s history, but rather than urge member-states to reconsider the decision to admit “Palestine,” she launched an appeal for alternative funding sources, while urging U.S. decision-makers to relent.
Her campaign was supported by the administration, which in its fiscal year 2013 budget request asked for $79 million for UNESCO and asked Congress to pass legislation providing authority for it to waive the defunding requirement.
That appeal did not meet with success, and on Wednesday the administration renewed the attempt, including in its FY2014 State and Foreign Operations budget proposal a request for $77.7 million for UNESCO.
It explained that if the waiver legislation was passed, the $77.7 million would cover UNESCO funding for FY2014, while separate “contingency requirements” requests would cover the two years of arrears.
Conservative lawmakers viewed the defunding as an appropriate response to a politicized decision by UNESCO to grant membership to non-sovereign entity, and when the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) abruptly suspended plans to apply to join other U.N. bodies, saw this as evidence that the move had worked.
In its FY2014 budget proposal, however, the administration characterized the funding cutoff not as an effective deterrent to the P.A. – or to other U.N. agencies considering following UNESCO’s example – but as a setback to U.S. interests.
“The ability to make such contributions is essential to advancing U.S. interests worldwide and strengthening U.S. global leadership, influence, and credibility,” it asserted.
“While the administration remains committed to heading off any new efforts by the Palestinians to seek such membership in organizations across the U.N. system, these moves may well continue,” the document acknowledged.
The administration argued that the defunding legislation “runs counter to U.S. national security interests by allowing the Palestinians to isolate the United States and prevent the active U.S. engagement necessary to pursue U.S. policy objectives in international organizations.”
“In turn, the United States would lose influence and eventually voting rights in international organizations,” it added.
The UNESCO funding request falls under the State and Foreign Operations budget request for $1,573 billion for contributions to international organizations, an increase of $22.4 million over the FY2012 appropriation.
The $1,573 billion includes $617.6 million for the United Nations operating budget, $48.8 million more than the FY2012 figure.
Legislation passed in 1990 (by a Democratic-controlled Congress) bars funding to “the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof which accords the Palestine Liberation Organization the same standing as member states.”
A subsequent law, passed in 2004, prohibits “voluntary or assessed contribution to any affiliated organization of the United Nations which grants full membership as a state to any organization or group that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood.”