The UNESCO cuts: What’s next on the U.S. chopping block? - By Colum Lynch
The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has admitted the Palestinians as a full member, prompting the Obama administration to impose millions of dollars in congressionally mandated cuts. Meanwhile, the Palestinian U.N. envoy in Geneva, Ibrahim Khraishi, said the Palestinians were now studying the prospects of joining 16 other U.N. agencies, raising the possibility of further U.S. funding cuts.
Turtle Bay thought it would be a good time to look at which U.S. programs are safe and which are vulnerable to additional cuts as the Palestinians eye membership in other specialized U.N. agencies, including the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Last year, the U.S spent $7.6 billion on U.N. related activities. Most of that money — more than $6 billion — went to pay the U.N. secretariat’s administrative costs, and to fund peacekeeping, humanitarian relief work, health care, and refugee services. None of those funds will be threatened by U.S. legislation, passed in the early 1990s, that prohibits the United States from funding U.N. agencies that admit Palestine as a member state. The reason is that these big-ticket items fall under the purview of the U.N. General Assembly or the U.N. Secretariat — and the United States has the power to block any Palestinian quest for membership in those bodies.
Ironically, the $238 million contribution to the U.N. Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) — which provides assistance to millions of Palestinians refuges settled throughout the Middle East, is likely to be untouched by the congressionally mandated cuts, because UNRWA is not a membership-based organization, and the Palestinians can’t join it.
But nearly $2 billion in U.S. contributions could be held up. Indeed, if the Palestinians follow through on the plan to apply for membership in specialized U.N. agencies and other U.N. affiliates, the mandated U.S. funding cuts could do some serious damage to America’s priorities abroad: programs designed to monitor Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programs, feed millions of poor people from Afghanistan to Somalia, set global air travel safety standards, and prevent the spread of avian flu and other infectious diseases.