PARIS — Soon after the U.S. announced cancellation of its contribution to UNESCO on Oct. 31, China stepped up with a first-time $8 million funding for the U.N. agency’s education program, while Qatar chipped in $20 million, a UNESCO diplomat said.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is seen by the Obama administration as a piece of strategic real estate to further U.S. national and security interests in the world, based on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s smart power approach.
The Chinese and Qatari contributions were seen in some circles as seizing an opportunity to increase influence after the U.S. cancellation slashed the U.N. agency’s annual budget by 22 percent.
A loss of U.S. clout is the price for axing funding, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said in March 20 testimony to a congressional subcommittee.
Rice pointed out UNESCO’s role as an anti-extremist organization, as its grassroots activities help nation-building efforts. Rice was an early advocate of the “responsibility to protect” concept, which endorses foreign military intervention to protect civilians threatened by their own government.
UNESCO operations in “front-line states” will be weakened or cut, raising potential security fears. Such programs include a $3 million literacy program for the 3,000-strong Afghan police force, disarming and reintegrating child soldiers in South Sudan, and water management in Iraq.
Afghan officials have made public concerns over the impact of U.S. funding cuts on UNESCO programs in their country, including the police literacy program. The planned U.S. and allied withdrawal of armed forces from Afghanistan in 2014 has raised grave concerns of a takeover by the Taliban in the wake of their retreat.
The Obama administration is seeking a waiver on U.S. laws adopted in the 1990s aimed at excluding the defunct Palestinian Liberation Organization from joining U.N. agencies. The laws forced cancellation of the 2011-2012 contribution of $160 million.
Determined testimony by Clinton and Rice before Congress on the importance of the U.S. presence in UNESCO is backed by the administration, which has funded the agency in its 2012 budget.
The UNESCO general assembly approved the Palestinian Authority as a member last year, which triggered the U.S. funding cut. UNESCO members, however, voted to keep the U.S. on the executive board despite the loss of financing. The agency is slashing programs because of the shortfall of funds.