USA’s Re-entry into UNESCO- Background, Recent Developments & Significance

From Current Affairs Notes for UPSC » Editorials & In-depths » This topic

Recently, the UNESCO announced that the USA will be re-joining the organization, years after the major funder’s exit in 2017. USA’s re-entry holds significance for the future of UNESCO.

This topic of “USA’s Re-entry into UNESCO- Background, Recent Developments & Significance” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.


  • UNESCO is a UN agency tasked with promoting international cooperation and peace through educational, scientific and cultural causes. It was founded in 1945 and USA is one of the founding members.
  • The USA (under then President Obama) and Israel stopped funding the UNESCO in 2011. This was in protest against the agency’s vote to include Palestine as a member state.
  • In 2013, both the countries lost their voting rights.
  • In 2017, USA (under then President Trump) altogether withdrew from the organization citing management problems and anti-Israel bias as the reasons.

Recent Developments:

  • On June 12th, UNESCO announced that USA is planning to rejoin the agency.
  • The country is to pay $619 million in back dues.

Prelims Sureshots – Most Probable Topics for UPSC Prelims

A Compilation of the Most Probable Topics for UPSC Prelims, including Schemes, Freedom Fighters, Judgments, Acts, National Parks, Government Agencies, Space Missions, and more. Get a guaranteed 120+ marks!


  • The decision is said to be motivated by China’s increasing presence in the agency’s policy-making, for instance, with regards to setting standards for AI (artificial intelligence) and technology education.
    • Developments in the field of AI is slightly different from other historical technological developments.
    • Countries like the US have maintained their edge in other fields with the help of patents and their enforcement.
    • However, in case of AI, China enjoys the advantage of a large population and a powerful surveillance state, apart from its rising number of patents and research publications.
    • This condition has provided it with a larger trove of data which in turn is helping improve machine learning systems- thus creating a cycle that makes the country’s AI systems far more formidable.
  • Apart from this, the agency has been undertaking certain measures:
    • Budget reforms
    • Building of consensus among Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian diplomats around sensitive UNESCO resolutions
  • In the past, USA was the biggest funder of UNESCO, contributing 22% of the agency’s total funding. With the country’s re-entry, the agency is set to witness a major financial boost.
  • The availability of fresh funds would be especially welcome as the agency has been resorting to belt-squeezing across various programs and taking efforts to boost voluntary financing from other UNESCO members.
  • It is expected to positively influence its various programs, such as its World Heritage Program, its projects to mitigate climate change and improve education among girls, etc.

Way Ahead:

  • With regards to AI dominance, it must be noted that no country can hope to sustain a natural edge in the field indefinitely.
  • Unlike in case of the ‘America First’ policies that drove the US to withdraw from several multi-lateral forums (such as the WHO framework), the country’s UNESCO re-entry doesn’t have much to do with the reason for its exit i.e. ‘anti-Israeli bias’.
  • Note that the US continues to be Israel’s staunch ally- back then and now too- and it still doesn’t recognize Palestine. Hence, the reason for the recent move is ostensibly the growing paranoia about China.
  • Also note that the US had withdrawn from the UN agency in the past too. In 1984, the US administration, under then President Reagan, withdrew from UNESCO, citing ‘advancing Soviet interests’ as one of the many reasons.
  • The re-entry is to be put to vote among the 193 member states next month.
  • If USA starts contributing financially, it would make up a significant portion of the agency’s $534 million annual operating budget. This would help address the financial uncertainty.
  • UNESCO is also ready to allow Israel re-entry.
  • Going forth, countries like India must urge the UNESCO to become stricter in dealing with countries that enter and exit the agency on frivolous grounds.
  • Apart from this, India must also call for the framing of policies to accommodate the issues affecting a hyper-connected world.


The USA is set to re-enter the UNESCO after 4 years and it is expected to bring in much needed funding support for programs- educational, scientific and cultural- across the world. This decision has come in pursuit of balancing out China’s influence in the agency. However, there needs to be more stringent provisions to prevent frivolous entry into and exit from the agency’s folds, as it disrupts the stability of it programs.

Practice Question for Mains:

Comment on the significance of USA exiting and re-entering UNESCO. (250 words)

Related Posts

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Home Courses Plans Account