The United States is leaving UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, which preserves world heritage sites and customs and works to insure the free flow of information and ideas. The U.S. made the announcement on Thursday morning, citing financial reasons for the withdrawal, but also claiming that UNESCO had an anti-Israel bias, which last year led to Israel recalling its ambassador to UNESCO.
Here are some things to know about the U.S. government’s relationship with the organization:
- This isn’t the first time that the U.S. has withdrawn from UNESCO. It also withdrew back in 1984 under the Reagan Administration, because of what it saw as corruption and a perceived pro-Soviet Union bias. The U.S. rejoined the organization in 2002, thanks to George W. Bush’s interest in international cooperation.
- The strained relationship continued during the Obama years: According to Foreign Policy, after the group accepted Palestine as a member, the Obama administration was required to cut off more than $80 million a year in funding due to a 1990s-era law that prohibits U.S. funding for any U.N. agencies recognizing Palestine as a state.
- The U.S. owes UNESCO lots of money: Despite refusing to contribute to the organization, the U.S. is still a member of UNESCO and even has a vote on the executive board, which is a bit like refusing to pay rent even though you’re still loitering around the place. As a result, the U.S. owes more than $500 million to UNESCO, according to Foreign Policy. Now the U.S. government apparently wants to cut its losses.
Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO, expressed “profound regret” after the State Department’s announcement, calling it a “loss for multilateralism” in a statement. “Together, we have worked to protect humanity’s shared cultural heritage in the face of terrorist attacks and to prevent violent extremism through education and media literacy.”
That might be worth investing in.