You are here: Surprising and disappointing: US decision to withdraw from UNESCO

12 October 2017

Today the United States announced its intention to leave the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).  UNA-UK's reaction:

UNA-UK was surprised to hear that the United States, which owes UNESCO over $500 million, was withdrawing from the organisation citing, among other concerns, “mounting arrears”.

Given that the US withdrew financial support for UNESCO six years ago, and lost its UNESCO assembly voting rights four years ago, the effect of this announcement is likely to be limited.

Nevertheless, the decision is disappointing and illustrates the current US administration’s failure to comprehend the long-term benefits of multilateralism and soft power – vital components of an effective strategy to counter mounting global threats.

The US decision also referenced concerns of an "anti-Israel bias" at UNESCO. The US will remain a member until the end of 2018, and so will be able to vote in the ongoing process to select UNESCO's next Director General. Starting in 2019 the US intends to become a non-member observer state at the organisation.

Following the US decision, Israel announced that it too intends to withdraw from UNESCO. Israel also stopped funding UNESCO in 2011 in response to UNESCO's acceptance of Palestine as a full member, and recently cut its contributions to the UN's regular budget in response to UNESCO's decision to award world heritage status to the Palestinian city of Hebron.