When UNESCO voted to admit Palestine as the agency’s newest member late last month, the State Department announced that the move “trigger[ed] longstanding legislative restrictions which will compel the United States to refrain from making contributions to UNESCO.” The United States annually pays 22% of the budget for all UN agencies. For UNESCO, the UN’s chief body for the promotion of education, the sciences and culture, this means that the organization will lose $80 million annually in assessment contributions—$60 million of which were scheduled to be delivered in November and have now been cancelled.
The vague reference to “longstanding legislative restrictions” got BFAD wondering about the specifics of the funding rules and led us to do a little legislative digging. Our research found two distinct US laws—both about a decade old—that deal with the particular caveats attached to United States contributions to the UN that are involved in this case:
“No funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or any other Act shall be available for the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof which accords the Palestine Liberation Organization the same standing as member states. … [Such funds] may be reprogrammed or transferred to any other account of the Department of State or the Agency for International Development to carry out the general purposes for which such funds were authorized.” (Pub.L.101-246)
“The United States shall not make any 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.”(Pub.L.103-236)
Once we knew what the laws were, we realized that the restrictions didn’t stop at $80 million. The US provides roughly $3 million in voluntary funding for extra-budgetary UNESCO activities each year. On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that much of these voluntary contributions go to support US missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, including a $1 million multiyear training project to promote transparency in Iraq’s judiciary, as well as literacy and education programs for Afghan police.
Provided informal work-arounds don’t allow the funds to move forward, it will be interesting to see how the State Department handles getting 10% of its UN funding back. Will State keep the funding focused on education, science and culture programs? Will it shift voluntary funding to security assistance in Iraq and Afghanistan, or will it stay focused on UN activities? Will the money go somewhere else, or alternatively, simply go away under the guise of savings?