Unesco Under Fire

While attacking UNESCO’S shortcomings, the Reagan Administration has ignored its many strengths


LAST DECEMBER, WHEN THE REAGAN ADMINISTRAtion announced that the United States was withdrawing from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), its decision was promptly endorsed by many prominent Americans, and not just ones on the right. James Michener and Barbara Tuchman praised the decision. So did Walter Mondale, in the first Democratic candidates’ debate, in New Hampshire. With few exceptions the nation’s most important newspapers, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, concurred with the Administration’s view that UNESCO is the most poorly managed and anti-American body in the whole United Nations system.

At the same time, the decision was denounced by other prominent Americans, and not just on the left. Congressman Jim Leach, an Iowa Republican, accused the State Department of behaving like “poor losers.”Leonard Sussman, a longtime critic of UNESCO who is the executive director of Freedom House, a group that monitors political rights around the world, called on the Administration to stay and fight. Edmund P. Hennelly, a Mobil Oil executive, a Reagan campaign supporter, and the chairman of the U.S. delegation to the UNESCO general conference last fall, described the gathering as “among the least politicized and the most constructive from the U.S. point of view in recent memory.” The U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, a body of private citizens that supervises U.S. participation in the organization, voted 41 to 8 in favor of remaining in UNESCO.

The debate, then, has been spirited. Unfortunately, it has often been ill informed as well. Many of the Reagan Administration’s charges have been exaggerated, motivated less by UNESCO’s actual faults than by political objectives unrelated to them. And the press, which has a direct stake in UNESCO’s debates about communications, has often conveyed an image of the organization that suits its own purposes. UNESCO has real problems. But they must be sifted out from the indiscriminate attacks launched against it. Only then will it be possible to evaluate whether the Administration should make the withdrawal final, a decision due by December 31.

UNESCO is one of the largest of the forty UN agencies, serving in effect as the UN’s educational and cultural arm. Its “Approved Programme and Budget for 1984-1985” is a 753-page document detailing the agency’s hundreds of programs, which extend from the abstract and grandiose (studies on “the social and cultural dimensions of world problems”) to the specific and mundane (studies concerning “hydrological processes and parameters for water projects”).

One theme runs throughout: development. While certain UNESCO activities directly benefit the West—administering the international copyright convention, for instance, or coordinating regional scientific programs—the organization serves principally as a huge consulting firm for the Third World. Many of its programs seek to apply science and technology to the problems of underdevelopment. For example, UNESCO is studying how micro-organisms might help increase food production and is experimenting with novel uses for agricultural and urban wastes. It provides advice on building low-cost housing and on using computers in economic planning. It has helped set up geological institutes in Africa to locate mineral resources and is funding pilot projects to condense water from mist.

In the field of culture, too, UNESCO is slanted toward the Third World. It is translating little-known literary works from India and Korea into English and French. It is transcribing ancient manuscripts and recording oral traditions on cassettes. UNESCO finances historical research on Slavic and Islamic cultures and publishes dictionaries and grammars for obscure languages. Perhaps its best-known projects are its international campaigns to preserve two dozen historical monuments stretching from Carthage to Katmandu.

Above all, UNESCO is the developing world’s chief educational center, and it has been instrumental in combating illiteracy. The agency funds regional educational institutes, holds national teacher-training workshops, and advises governments on setting educational policies. It examines why students drop out of school and how they might find jobs. UNESCO is helping to strengthen educational radio in Thailand, to fund postgraduate engineering courses in India, to send mobile teaching teams to the Maldives, and to teach English as a second language in Sri Lanka. It even offers suggestions on how to make school buildings more resistant to earthquakes.

UNESCO has 161 members, more than any other UN agency; an annual budget of almost $200 million; and a staff of 3,344. More than 2,400 employees work at the majestic headquarters in Paris, which displays works by Picasso, Miro, and Noguchi, and is a regular stop for tourists. UNESCO has held offices in thirty-one countries and liaison offices in New York, Washington, Venice, and Geneva. It sponsors approximately 100 conferences, seminars, and workshops a year and coordinates thousands of fellowships for Third World scholars. The agency publishes twentyfive periodicals and it issues on average a book a day, making it perhaps the largest book publisher in the world.

All of this is a long way from the days when UNESCO employed a dozen people in a Hat near London’s Grosvenor Square. At the time of its founding, in 1946, the organization had only twenty-eight members—half of them from the West—and a budget of not quite $7 million. UNESCO was created out of a desire on the part of the United States and its wartime allies to reconstruct European society and culture and thereby to help banish war. Its constitution, drafted by intellectuals like Archibald MaeLeish, Stephen Spender, and Julian Huxley, was a distillation of postwar idealism. It declared a belief in “the unrestricted pursuit of objective truth" and “the free exchange of ideas and knowledge” as means for promoting “mutual understanding and a truer and more perfect knowledge of each other’s lives.”

Such lofty ideals have made UNESCO an easy target. The same is true of the organization’s studies in culture and development, which are often nebulous and filled with terms like “endogenous,” “multidimensional,” and “interdevelopment” (examples of a jargon that has been dubbed “UNESCO-ese”). UNESCO’s image is also not helped by its general conferences, which every two years provide a pulpit and a captive audience to member states large and small.

UNESCO gets its share of appraisals like the following, from the Spring, 1983, issue of Policy Review, a Heritage Foundation publication:

For the permanent, bureaucratic staff in Paris, Unesco is a nice little tax-free enclave, and most employees would like to keep it that way without too much political boat-rocking. They turn out their studies—booklets such as “Cultural Policy in Bulgaria”—which no one, really, is in any danger of reading, and they collect their post adjustment and their tax-free emoluments, they come in at nine and disappear at twelve for their twohour lunches in the cozy cafes of the seventh arrondissement, so why should they complain?

The daily press has been no less acerbic. The Chicago Tribune, for instance, recently asserted that if UNESCO “disappeared tomorrow, nobody would miss it except the army of drones who soak up its bloated budget with high salaries and trips to comfy conferences held in such pleasant places as Paris.”UNESCO, declared the Tribune, is a “100 percent dead loss.”

State Department officials behind the decision to withdraw agree. “UNESCO was founded to foster cooperation and development in education, science, culture, and, later, communications,” says Gregory Newell, the assistant secretary of state for international-organization affairs. “But,”he says, “the organization has been getting away from its mandate and has really become more of a political forum” in which “the real purposes of a specialized technical agency are threatened.” Rather than sticking to basics like literacy programs, Newell says, UNESCO spends much ot its time meddling in such irrelevant matters as southern Africa, human rights, and peace and disarmament. Jean Gerard, the U.S. permanent delegate to UNESCO, discerns a “radical, confrontational” philosophy at UNESCO whose “collectivist, statist” orientation serves Soviet ends. “It’s always the values of a free press and free enterprise that are under attack,” she says, “and not the values of the collectivist, Marxist point of view.”

IN ADDITION TO POLITICIZATION, THE STATE DEPARTment charges UNESCO with appalling mismanagement and an insatiable appetite for money. Its current budget—of which the United States pays one fourth—represents an increase of 2.5 or 4 percent over the previous one, depending on who is estimating. The Reagan Administration maintains that this not only violates its standard of zero net growth for international organizations that receive U.S. financial support but also is greater than the increases at most other UN agencies. Most of UNESCO’s funds don’t even reach the people who need them, according to Elliott Abrams, the assistant secretary’ of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs and another strong advocate of withdrawal. “It’s questionable if UNESCO’s programs have any real-world existence,” he says. “One third of them never get done at all. The money goes to support a huge bureaucracy in Paris that lives very well. Most of these people haven’t seen the economy class of an airplane for decades.” Abrams says that UNESCO is “run like a ‘Third World dictatorship,” ruled by fear and wallowing in patronage. The Administration had made demands for change, he says, but since these were ignored, the State Department decided that it had no choice but withdrawal. “How can we make the UN system effective without taking a stand against its worst member?” he asks.

Just how bloated is UNESCO’s bureaucracy? Abrams cites as evidence that about 75 percent of the agency’s budget is spent in Paris rather than in the field. In fact, according to UNESCO’s own figures, the proportion is about 78 percent. But UNESCO is not designed to carry out most of its work in the field. Rather, says Herschelle Challenor, director of UNESCO’s liaison office in Washington, it is a “catalytic agency” that provides intellectual tools for people who do work in the field. Thus UNESCO does not fight illiteracy by sending brigades of teachers into villages, which it could hardly afford to do. Instead it prepares manuals for teachers, studies ways to improve teaching techniques, and suggests changes in curricula. Similarly, UNESCO does not build TV transmitters, but it does advise governments on how TV might be used for educational purposes. It does not construct water systems, but it does test experimental cisterns for collecting rainwater. UNESCO’s chief activities—research, publishing, sponsoring meetings—are, Challenor says, “best performed by a centralized staff.”

UNESCO will spend $187 million this year. Its budget has grown remarkably fast. As recently as 1975 it spent only $90 million. The increase reflects a scramble to meet a flood of demands for help from UNESCO’s member states. Paul Baker, the head of the anthropology department at Pennsylvania State University and the chairman of the U.S. division of “Man and the Biosphere,” a highly successful UNESCO environmental program, points out that the agency actually spends less each year than a big American university: Penn State, for instance, has an annual budget of more than $600 million. “While it might seem like a fairly large budget,” Baker says, “when you consider that the group is trying to treat the world’s scientific and social problems, it doesn’t seem like that much.” This year UNESCO will spend slightly more money than the Ford Foundation.

Furthermore, the difference between UNESCO’s 19841985 budget and the no-growth budget demanded by the United States was not very great—about $10 million a year. The UNESCO Secretariat originally requested $386 million for two years, in contrast with $354 million recommended by the United States. At the general conference last year, however, UNESCO accepted a compromise of $374 million, which was generally regarded as a good-faith effort to accommodate the Reagan Administration. In the end, the United States was the only one of UNESCO’s 161 members to vote against the budget.

It is hard to say how much return UNESCO gets on its money. Because of the nature of its work, the agency cannot, for instance, report how many people it inoculates each year, as the World Health Organization can. But there are indications that the quality of its work has suffered as a result of a management crisis that has developed at the Secretariat over the past two or three years. “UNESCO is not a very happy place to work,” says Judson Gooding, who until recently served as counselor to the U.S. delegation in Paris. “I’ve never seen so many gloomy-iooking people in my life.”According to a recent poll, only three percent of all staff members believe that hirings and promotions are based on merit. Recently several high-ranking staff members have fled the agency, complaining of intolerable working conditions. One such refugee, from Switzerland, referred in his resignation letter to a “climate of suspicion, prejudice, intolerance, incoherence, arbitrariness, fear, and servility.”

Charges of mismanagement inevitably focus on one man—Director-General Amadou Mahtar M’Bow. The head of the organization for the past decade, M’Bow unfailingly provokes strong feelings in those who work with him. He is variously described as proud, temperamental, arrogant, charming, vain, manipulative, and brilliant. In many ways M’Bow is UNESCO, and his traits show up in one form or another in the organization he rules. “I have reservations about the whole UN system, but what makes UNESCO particularly pernicious is M’Bow,” says Owen Harries, a former Australian ambassador to UNESCO who, since joining the Heritage Foundation last fall, has been the most outspoken critic of UNESCO. He has written that M’Bow is “confrontational and combative” and “has created an atmosphere in which conflict is maximized.”Judson flooding says,“M’Bow is very tyrannical. He governs the place by fear. It’s a one-man show.”

UNESCO is said to function like a court, with an inner circle tending to the king’s needs; loyalty is often valued over competence. Most employment contracts are limited to one or two years, allegedly to keep employees on a short leash. M’Bow has been accused of keeping a fleet of six official cars, maintaining a luxurious rent-free apartment, and traveling with an entourage three times as big as the UN secretary-general’s. Worse, M’Bow has been accused of rewarding friends and relatives with jobs, keeping posts vacant and using the money thus saved for his own projects, and obscuring bookkeeping practices to the extent that only he knows how funds are actually spent. The U.S. Congress has commissioned a team of experts to review management practices at UNESCO; its findings are due by the fall.

M’Bow dismisses charges of tyranny as attempts to discredit him made by resentful people who have left the organization. “Working at UNESCO is hard work for everybody,” he says. “I do acknowledge that I’m demanding of the work of my colleagues. When I spot inefficiencies, I’m in the habit of talking about them.” Only those who “don’t do their job properly,” he adds, “have reason to be afraid.”He says that UNESCO’s staff has been “remarkably stable,” and that only a handful of the people who work in Paris have been critical.

To be fair, any review of UNESCO’s activities must take into account the special nature of the institution. Consider this description of the Director-General’s performance:

His style was that of a little Napoleon ... he could be a quite dreadful autocrat. At the height of his regime, bossing and bullying had become part of the normal order within UNESCO. He could fly into violent rages with senior men, threaten to send them home the moment their present contracts expired, demand immediate improvements and leave them literally shaking with the violence of his assault and fear for their own futures.

The vignette describes not M’Bow but his predecessor, Rene Maheu, a Frenchman who held the job for eleven years before retiring in 1974. The passage comes from a book titled An Idea and Its Servants: UNESCO From Within, by Richard Hoggart, a British educator who served as an assistant director-general in the early 1970s. As he observes, UNESCO’s suffocating centralization began under Maheu and in part reflected an effort to control a monstrously unwieldy bureaucracy.

Clearly, the centralization has increased under M’Bow. According to some UNESCO observers, it has stifled creativity. M’Bow gets high marks, however, for his ability to draw order from UNESCO’s chaos, even if he must resort to high-handed tactics to do it. Leonard Sussman, of Freedom House, says that the serious charges against M’Bow notwithstanding, he is “a very astute politician” who has to satisfy the Soviets, the Americans, and fifty-one African countries, among others. “He has a lot of balls to juggle— and has managed to keep them all in the air.” Edmund Hennclly, of the U.S. delegation to UNESCO, says that M’Bow is “a man of unsurpassed talent—the Horatio Alger of the emerging world.” He continues, “From my vantage point, he’s a very intelligent, sincere person who nevertheless makes use of the perquisites his body bestows on him. At no time did I or any of my delegation have reason to believe that he was a man of bad character.”

M’Bow is so controversial not only because of his managerial style but also because he is unequivocally a man of the Third World. The son of a Senegalese shepherd, he studied at the Sorbonne and eventually became Senegal’s minister of education and culture. In 1968 he resigned, because of growing repression in the country, and two years later he was appointed the head of UNESCO’s education division. In 1974 M’Bow was elected the first (and only) black African head of a UN specialized agency. He was unanimously re-elected for a second term in 1980, and if he survives the current furor he will serve until 1987.

M’Bow’s rise to the top of UNESCO reflects the postcolonial influx of newly independent nations into the organization over the past two decades, a change that has shifted UNESCO’s locus of control from the West to the developing countries. M’Bow’s unabashed championing of the Third World has made him unpalatable to most of those who advocate an American withdrawal. Owen Harries, for instance, has written that M’Bow is “openly and militantlv a spokesman for the radical wing of the Third World” who works hand in hand with the Soviet Union to make UNESCO “the most virulently anti-American member of the UN system.”

Others disagree. “UNESCO is seen in East—West terms only because we prefer to see the East in everything that happens,” says Samuel De Palma, a former assistant secretary of state and a senior adviser to several U.S. delegations. In fact, he says, “the division is largely NorthSouth. UNESCO is a place where the Third World is struggling for a way to get on with itself.” De Palma adds, “Of course the Russians make hay where they can, but they are not a great factor in UNESCO as such. They get a free ride.”

THE QUESTION OF IDEOLOGICAL TILT GETS TO THE heart of the Reagan Administration’s objections to UNESCO. Has the organization “extraneously politicized virtually every subject it deals with,” in a way hostile to American interests, as the State Department claims?

Israel is a good place to begin. UNESCO’s attacks on Israel are frequently cited as an example of its thorough politicization; for instance, William Satire, the New York Times columnist, recently described the agency as “a center of attempts to de-legitimize Israel.” That perception largely dates from the 1974 general conference, when UNESCO censured Israel for alleged misbehavior in the occupied territories, denied it funds, and refused to admit it to a regional subgroup of European nations. The West condemned these measures, and the United States withheld its contribution to UNESCO for two years. It resumed funding UNESCO in 1977, when UNESCO lifted the sanctions against Israel and permitted it to join the European subgroup. Since then UNESCO has maintained a program to monitor Israel’s activities in the occupied territories; it also provides several hundred thousand dollars a year to assist Palestinian refugees and to support PLO educational activities. (The United States withholds from its contribution to UNESCO an amount proportionate to UNESCO’s support of such projects.)

In the past few years, however, many observers have been impressed by how muted UNESCO’s rhetoric against Israel has become—owing in no small part to pressure from the Reagan Administration. At a congressional hearing in February, Assistant Secretary Newell himself acknowledged that Israel did not present a major problem for the United States at UNESCO and was not a reason for the decision to withdraw. In fact, during the general conference last fall Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO informed the U.S. delegation that his nation strongly opposed American withdrawal, on the grounds that it might invite renewed attacks.

UNESCO has also come under fire for its peace and disarmament activities. The Soviets and their allies are forever introducing resolutions like “Textbooks must become instruments of peace.” Some of these are approved and incorporated into UNESCO’s programs. The State Department claims that such programs amount to little more than Soviet propaganda and divert funds from more urgent needs. Newell says that UNESCO spends more on disarmament programs than on eradicating illiteracy among refugees. The 1984—1985 budget bears him out: it allots $949,000 for peace studies and $76,400 for educating refugees. However, UNESCO is spending more than $14 million on literacy programs, as well as $3.7 million on adult education, $2.9 million on rural education, and $2.5 million on promoting educational opportunities for girls and women. Overall, education accounts for 38 percent of UNESCO’s expenditures, and peace and disarmament programs account for less than one percent.

Newell asks, “Why should UNESCO be involved with peace and disarmament? It’s an appropriate subject, but for different forums,”such as, he says, the UN General Assembly and the Conference on Disarmament, in Geneva. However, UNESCO was founded expressly to educate the world in the ways of peace. The most widely quoted line from its constitution reads, “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses must be constructed.” Moreover, the 1978 United Nations special session on disarmament specifically called on UNESCO to promote disarmament in its area of competence: education. Most of UNESCO’s work in disarmament—producing textbooks, conducting research, and the like—falls within that mandate.

UNESCO’s peace programs do often seem to have an antiWestern orientation. For instance, the Medium-Term Plan for 1984-1989 calls for studies on “the connections between peace and the elimination of structures of domination, dependence, and exploitation.” UNESCO’s critics interpret these terms as code words connoting Western imperialism—and they are probably right. But this is only one aspect of UNESCO’s work in peace and disarmament. Here, as in other areas, the emphasis is on development. Thus the Medium-Term Plan also says, “The arms race . . . leads to an enormous squandering of human and material resources. It is pursued regardless of the pressing need, in all countries, for investment and expenditure with a view to economic progress and an increase in welfare and social justice.” Joseph Coffey, a strategic analyst at the University of Pittsburgh who is familiar with UNESCO’s studies, says, “UNESCO’s work on peace and disarmament proceeds from a particular base of values and perceptions which look on arms expenditures as costly and better put to alternative uses.” Although such work is “frequently critical of the West,” which is seen as a major offender, Coffey says, “it’s sure as hell not pro-Soviet.” More to the point, it is pro-Third World.

NOTHING HAS BROUGHT UNESCO MORE CENSURE THAN the debate on a “new world information order.” As reported in the American press, this concept is nothing more or less than an instrument for limiting press freedom. The New York Times, for instance, described it in a news account last December as “a code inimical to Western concepts of a free press that would acknowledge governments’ right to control the press and set up an international licensing system for journalists as well as a code of press conduct, both administered by the UNESCO Secretariat.”

The irony is that most American journalists have gradually accepted many of the assumptions underlying the new information order. Few would dispute its central premise—that a vast imbalance in the global distribution of communications resources exists and must be corrected. As Third World countries have begun to recognize that effective communications are as critical to economic development as roads and dams, they have pressed for even rudimentary infrastructure and training. Most of what they need is in the West, and the West has increasingly shown its willingness to help.

More sensitive have been the charges leveled at the Western press. Critics from Third World countries at UNESCO contend that the big wire services monopolize world news coverage, creating a one-way flow of information from North to South. These critics argue that Western reporters present sensationalized accounts of the developing world, preferring stories about coups and earthquakes to analyses of social and economic conditions. They complain further that the Third World rarely has an opportunity to talk back to the West and give its side of the story.

Western news executives have challenged these assertions as exaggerated and polemical. Nonetheless, the debate has had an undeniable effect—an “enormous impact,” in the words of Joseph Rawley, who is the American Newspaper Publishers Association representative to the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO and is a veteran participant in UNESCO’s communications debates. “Often when a conference takes place that talks of inequalities, imbalances, and North—South one-way flow,” he says, “top representatives of AP and UPI are present—and they’re listening.”

UNESCO’s reputation as an enemy of press freedom comes from its attempts to define social uses for the media and, above all, from its intermittent involvement in the contentious area of protecting—or, to use the more emotive term, licensing—journalists. The protection issue is a real one, going back to the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Indochina was becoming a graveyard for journalists: seventeen disappeared in Cambodia in 1970 alone. Journalists’ associations appealed to several international organizations, including the UN, to draft a safety convention, but nothing came of these efforts. In 1976, after Western journalists had expressed their continuing concern to him, M’Bow announced that UNESCO would help look for solutions. He made his announcement just as Third World nations were beginning to push for a new world information order, and the protection issue was soon joined to the broader debate.

At UNESCO member states eagerly took up the question of the protection of journalists; however, many seemed more concerned with shielding governments from journalists than the other way around. Most protection schemes called for correspondents to receive internationally recognized cards that would identify them in dangerous areas. The problem was that if governments were involved in issuing the cards, they could also revoke them when they felt that reporters had abused their privileges. In short, the cards could easily turn into a licensing system.

That’s certainly how it sounded when the issue was discussed by Mustapha Masmoudi, Tunisia’s delegate to UNESCO in the late 1970s and the enfant terrible of the Third World communications movement. In one paper Masmoudi proclaimed that the protection of journalists was a “key element” in the new information order and called for the drafting of an international convention that would list “precisely defined infringements” and protect “both the organs of the State and the Nation as such, insofar as its prestige, culture, and values are involved.” Should such infringements occur, governments could compel news organizations to run retractions through recourse to an international “right of correction.” Furthermore, Masmoudi declared, “each nation should be in a position to choose its information in accordance with its realities and requirements”—a seeming demand for the right of censorship.

Masmoudi’s ominous pronouncements caused alarm in the West, and the lines were quickly drawn. A number of influential media organizations in the United States and abroad came together to form the World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), which declared itself ready to provide “a strong global voice against those who advocate a state-controlled media.” The WPFC and its allies soon scored some notable victories. At the 1978 general conference they succeeded in beating back Soviet-led efforts to gain UNESCO’s endorsement of government control of the media; the final declaration that emerged from the meeting was adopted unanimously and embraced the principles of a free press.

But the tough stance taken by Western press representatives had some unanticipated side effects. In the first place, it helped polarize the debate. For instance, the insistence on the superiority of the American press model, including an emphasis on the importance of advertising, probably put off some representatives of nonaligned Third World countries who might otherwise have become allies. In addition, the alarmist pronouncements about what was taking place at UNESCO set the tone for press coverage of the organization’s activities. After the 1980 general conference, held in Belgrade, A. H. Raskin, the associate director of the National News Council and a former New York Times correspondent, wrote a report examining press accounts of the event. “Not one story emanating from the conference,” Raskin wrote, “dealt with any of the reports, speeches, or resolutions on UNESCO’s basic activities in combating illiteracy, developing alternate energy sources, protecting historic monuments,” and so on. Instead, the report stated, coverage “concentrated almost exclusively on Western worries about the UNESCO [communications] initiative, with little presentation of opposing viewpoints.” Such an “imbalance,” Raskin pointedly concluded, “set a poor example for Third World journalists and other skeptics on what they should find admirable as a mode! of press freedom.”

It was in this atmosphere of mutual suspicion that UNESCO, in February of 1981, made the move that most upset the United States. Governments throughout Latin America and in much of Africa and Asia were stepping up their attacks on journalists—arresting, abducting, and murdering them. At the request of two major journalists’ federations, based in Brussels and Prague, UNESCO invited a number of regional press organizations from around the world to meet in Paris to discuss possible solutions. In anticipation of the meeting, UNESCO commissioned a French law professor to draft a paper recommending concrete measures.

No groups from the United States were invited. When the World Press Freedom Committee got wind of the meeting, it expressed outrage; eventually it and other Western groups were allowed to attend. When the American representatives arrived in Paris, they were dismayed by what they found. The French professor proposed setting tip a commission that would initially be composed only of professionals but that would ultimately include government representatives. He also called for the establishment of an international code of ethics. A bitter stalemate developed, and the meeting broke up inconclusively.

UNESCO officials denied that the meeting had any sinister purpose, pointing out that UNESCO had merely acted as a sponsor, as it does for scores of meetings held by nongovernmental organizations each year. They also said that the proposal submitted had been just that, a basis for discussion, and furthermore that it made no mention of licensing or even of ID cards. But the WPFC insisted that the meeting had confirmed its worst fears about UNESCO’s true intentions in “protecting” journalists.

The West reacted sharply. The WPFC convened a meeting in May of 1981 of more than sixty press representatives, at Talloires, France, to plot a counterstrategy; they issued a stern declaration calling on UNESCO to “abandon attempts to regulate news content and formulate rules for the press.”In addition, the State Department subtly and successfully pressured the Tunisian government to recall Mustapha Masmoudi. Finally, in August of 1982, President Reagan signed the so-ealled Beard Amendment, which mandated a cutoff of U.S. funds to UNESCO should it do anything in the future to inhibit press freedom. The United States was clearly prepared to make life uncomfortable for UNESCO.

At the same time, Washington pledged to increase its support of UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communications (IPDC). The United States had proposed that the IPDC be established, in 1978, as a way to channel Western money into communications projects in the Third World. The United States hoped thereby to move the debate from the rhetorical to the practical plane and in the process to demonstrate the West’s good faith in meeting the needs of developing nations. The first meeting of the IPDC took place in 1981, and Third World delegates were hopeful.

The combination of threat and promise worked, and a mood of reconciliation set in. The State Department took note of the improved climate in its annual report to Congress in February of 1983. “Since the February 1981 meeting,”it said, “the subject of protection of journalists has disappeared from UNESCO agendas. Moreover, the Secretariat appears to be taking much greater care over a range of issues to avoid initiatives which might lead to confrontations with the U.S. and its free-press allies.” Concluding that UNESCO “has debated but has not implemented policies or procedures of an anti-free-press nature,”the State Department report said that there were no grounds for withholding funds from the organization.

The calm became, if anything, more noticeable in the months just before the U.S. decision to withdraw. Last September, in Innsbruck, Austria, a UNESCO-sponsored meeting to discuss implementation of a new information order was almost completely devoid of rhetoric. The meeting concentrated on practical matters such as lowering tariffs on the use of satellites in order to provide greater access for poor nations. The advocates of press freedom also fared relatively well at the general conference last October and November. “There was a very real effort to meet us— if not halfway, at least to meet us,” Leonard Sussman says.

Problems remain. The IPDC has yet to fulfill its potential. The Third World has accused the West of reneging on financial pledges to it, and philosophical differences have developed over whether the program should sponsor publicor private-sector projects. Furthermore, the State Department, together with groups like the WPFC, remains concerned because UNESCO’s 1984-1985 plan includes programs to study the working conditions of journalists, codes of journalistic conduct, and the “democratization of communication.” Such programs, the department claims, pose a continuing potential threat to press freedom. Antifree-press forces still exist at UNESCO, and it is clear that a withdrawal by the United States would make their job that much easier.

THE LAST GENERAL CONFERENCE IN PARIS CAME AS A surprise to many who participated in it. “I went to Paris with a negative tilt,” says Edmund Hennelly, who has long been active in Republican politics in New York State. “But when I saw the progress that was made at the conference and the attempt by the Director-General to listen to U.S. principles, I realized the organization was attempting to accommodate U.S. views.” The debate on the invasion of Grenada ended favorably for the United States, and Jean Gerard, the U.S. permanent delegate, was elected vice-president of the executive board.

Most of the United States’ allies were similarly heartened. Although they share many of the concerns America has about UNESCO, they object—some strongly—to its leaving. West Germany’s representative called the decision “incomprehensible,” Spain accused Washington of throwing a “tantrum,” and Canada, Holland, Japan, France, and Australia all affirmed their intention to remain in UNESCO. Britain undertook a review of its participation last fall but decided to remain at least through the end of this year, when it will again review its membership. In March a group of twenty-four nations, most of them Western, submitted proposals to M’Bow for reforms in UNESCO, partly with an eye to keeping the United States from departing.

Given the marked improvement in UNESCO’s climate, given the opinion of many longtime critics of UNESCO that America should remain in the organization, and given the problems that could emerge in America’s absence, what pushed the Reagan Administration to its decision? Elliott Abrams disagrees that the recent general conference represented any real progress. He says, “It seems to me, on the contrary, that this was the best you could expect from UNESCO. Three years of labor had produced a teeny-weeny move. It required an enormous political effort to produce next to nothing. Why do we have to fight to stand still?”

UNESCO’s programs, Gregory New’ell says, continue to betray the “statist” orientation of the new world economic and information orders. These, he says, hold that “governments can control and best manage the economy, education, culture, and science.” As a corollary, Newell adds, there is a continuing campaign to “criticize the free-model economics that has proved workable and effective.”

The State Department, then, is not only concerned with such ostensibly politicized programs as peace and disarmament or aid to national liberation movements; it believes that the very role allotted to governments by UNESCO programs constitutes politicization. This view is not universally held. “The Administration claims that UNESCO has politicized virtually every subject,” says John Fobes, a former UNESCO deputy director and the former chairman of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO. “This is nonsense.” Fobes estimates that no more than five percent of UNESCO programs are subject to politicization. These, he says, are far outweighed by the many programs that are “highly favorable” to the United States.

Some important political elements of the U.S. decision to withdraw have received little attention. The United States is relatively isolated at UNESCO. “One of the greatest problems is that we have practically no liaison activities,”says Samuel De Palma, who advised the U.S. delegation at the general conference last year. “We don’t work effectively with our allies, and hardly at all with anyone else.”That is partly because of a long American tradition—carried on by the Reagan Administration—of using UNESCO as a place to hand out political plums. For instance, Jean Gerard, who was appointed in late 1981, is a lawyer with no previous experience in international organizations; she has served as president of the Women’s National Republican Club and was a Reagan delegate to the 1980 Republican Convention. “I think our effectiveness at UNESCO has been vitiated by the fact that we don’t have a professional diplomat doing the job,” says Judson Gooding, who served on the U.S. delegation to the general conference.

In particular, Gerard had a very strained relationship with M’Bow, as became apparent last June 20, when she and Gregory Newell met with M’Bow in Paris and presented him with American demands for financial stringency. The meeting was tense. At one point M’Bow exploded and tacitly accused Gerard of talking down to him as if he were an American black. Gerard and Newell were shocked by the outburst. Several weeks later the review process began.

That process took place in the context of grow ing pressure from the Administration’s right-wing supporters as an election year approached. Ever since President Reagan took office they have clamored for some action against the UN system, which they detest. UNESCO offered an easy target. The pressure came principally from the Heritage Foundation. “They’re the key to everything,” says one person close to the State Department. Since 1982, when the foundation launched its United Nations Assessment Project, Heritage has attacked many UN agencies, but few as relentlessly as UNESCO. To Heritage, no sector has been immune to politicization—not even education, long considered UNESCO’s most effective and least controversial area. In characteristically abrasive language Heritage claimed in a 1982 report that “since UNESCO’s birth in 1946, its education programs have been biased increasingly toward socialist economies and a utopian strain of internationalism that is unsympathetic (often hostile) to the free enterprise system.”

Many dispute this assessment. For example, a study by the U.S. Department of Education prepared as part of the State Department’s review of UNESCO activities reported, “UNESCO has done some of its best work in [the education] sector, particularly in its illiteracy and teacher-training programs. The United States has supported a majority of UNESCO’s education activities since its creation and the U.S. education community has authored many important UNESCO education programs.” In its 1983 report to Congress, issued before the review of UNESCO began, the State Department said that “the majority of UNESCO education projects are based on Western values and methods and are a potential vehicle for the spread of democratic ideals.”

That report reached similar conclusions about UNESCO’s work in general: “U.S. interests are generally well served by UNESCO programs which are, for the most part, non-political and which can most effectively be pursued through international cooperation.” The State Department estimated that 40 percent of the U.S. contribution to UNESCO returns to this country in the form of fellowships, sales of equipment, and fees to consultants. It found that Soviet-bloc countries, by contrast, receive much less return.

UNESCO’s supporters are deeply troubled by the management crisis that has developed under M’Bow, by the poor morale at the Secretariat, and by the departure of capable personnel. They agree that many of UNESCO’s programs are haphazardly planned and poorly supervised. But they believe that the answer is to remain, not to run. “I think the organization needs help—reorganizing and strengthening,” says Cassandra Pyle, a vice president of the American Council on Education and a member of the National Commission, “it is our responsibility to help it do that.”

In the process, Pyle says, “it’s important not to lose sight of the good UNESCO has done. All things considered, it’s remarkable it has accomplished what it has. There are literate people who wouldn’t be able to read without UNESCO and teachers who wouldn’t have training or manuals. Unfortunately, we never hear testimony from them.”

UNESCO, says M’Bow, has helped “sensitize" the international community to the “conditions prevalent in the Third World.” That world, he points out, has 800 million illiterates and 123 million school-aged children who have no access to schools; it includes countries suffering from famine and disease. “These countries have a very strong, deeply felt desire to see UNESCO do something to help them overcome such conditions,” he says. “UNESCO helps expose these problems and provides assistance in the fields of science, education, and technology, so that these countries can create the conditions necessary to foster their own development.”

The Reagan Administration has left open the possibility of staying in UNESCO. Some observers, aware of the successes that Administration pressure has had at UNESCO to date, suspect that the announced decision to withdraw is a tactic to win more reforms.

But the dissatisfaction with UNESCO runs deep: when the Administration looks at the organization, it sees the hand of the state everywhere, and equates this with politicization and anti-Americanism. In fact, the State Department’s displeasure seems directed less at UNESCO itself than at the very process of development as it has unfolded throughout the Third World. If that is the ease, no amount of reform at UNESCO wall satisfy the Administration, and the United States might remain outside the organization for a long, long time.