Unesco price is a bargain offer

December 8, 1995

This week ceremonies have taken place to mark the 50th anniversary of the adoption of Unesco's constitution in London. Many ambassadors, high commissioners, politicians of all parties and a large number of professional people and intellectuals participated in these important events which took place in the self same hall where Unesco's constitution was adopted on November 16, 1945.

Over the years, inevitably, Unesco has had its internal arguments. In 1984, these became entangled in cold war politics to the point where the United States, under pressure from President Reagan and the Heritage Foundation, withdrew its membership; Mrs Thatcher, in the teeth of opposition from many of her own supporters and hundreds of distinguished academics, obediently followed Reagan and took Britain out a year later.

The overt reason was to persuade Unesco to eliminate waste, eschew ideology (especially that surrounding the "new world information order"), control its budget and concentrate on practical programmes. Two years ago Douglas Hogg, then at the Foreign Office, acknowledged that Unesco had successful tackled these problems. The only issue was the Pounds 11 million subscription. This position was reaffirmed early this year.

Quite apart from the fact that a range of countries far poorer than Britain join Unesco, the argument about the subscription is disingenuous. It is a minute sum in relation to the international effort. Britain has already lost Pounds 2 million in equipment sales by pulling out of Unesco; worse, it is becoming harder and harder for our academic consultants to get that overseas experience working on Unesco projects from which their counterparts in other countries (often francophone ones) benefit. Britain should be affirming the principle of universal membership of international organisations, not trying to destroy them.

President Clinton has sent Unesco a warm goodwill message on its anniversary; he is currently constrained by the refusal of Congress to issue the necessary authority for Congress to pay America's Unesco subscription. The British Government is under no such constraints; yet at the end of October it changed its ground again and raised issues of "devolution" as reasons for not going back. The only conclusion we can arrive at is that mounting xenophobia among certain ministers is at the root of Britain's refusal to rejoin an organisation Britain helped initiate 50 years ago under the director generalship of Julian Huxley.

We urge those academics in our universities who know what value Unesco projects can add to the education and culture of some of the world's poorest countries, to write to the foreign secretary and press the case for Britain's rejoining the organisation and playing its full part in this important UN institution.

CHRIS PRICE, D. G. CHISMAN, JAN HOLT, ROSS SHIMMON, DOUG MCAVOY, RASHID KAREH, MAURICE GOLDSMITH, MALCOLM HARPER, EMMA NICHOLSON, ALEX CARLISLE, LORD RICHARD of Ammanford, LORD ST JOHN OF FAWSLEY, JOAN LESTOR

United Nations Association

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