It is oft that good intentions lead to bad results. This is, I would suggest, a result of man’s poor ability to predict. Even the most thoughtful and modest of plans rest on certain assumptions about the future – X will do Y, A will react in such a fashion, B will not care. However, our assumptions about the future are meaningless, because it is impossible to anticipate future conditions. This dictates that we be pragmatic with regard to changing policy. Policy, after all, is made to achieve an end, and if it turns out that certain policies do not, a more effective means of realizing that end should be adopted. For a perfect example of a policy rendered ineffective due to circumstances not behaving as they should, look no further than what is happening to the United States in UNESCO. In the ‘90s, Congress passed several laws that prohibited it from giving money to any UN agency that fully accepted Palestine as a member. The logic was, I imagine, that the bill would be prophylactic. Even if Palestine were admitted, once an organization went a few years without US funding, they might reverse course. As a firm supporter of Israel, I want to sympathize with this logic. However, it has proven both ineffective and harmful to the US: because it has not paid its dues in two years, the US lost its voting status in UNESCO.
UNESCO, one should understand, has a rule that states any member who fails to pay dues for two years loses its voting status. As Palestine was admitted as a full member in 2011, it has been two years since the US has paid, and hence has lost its voting privileges. This is the first time that the US has ever voluntarily relinquished such privileges in an international organization.
Previously, the US was responsible for providing UNESCO with 22% of its budget. Instead of realizing that it would be impossible to go without US funding, and kick out Palestine, UNESCO is deciding to go without and cut some of its programs. These are our first grounds to reconsider our policy: it is ineffective, Palestine is still in UNESCO.
But the policy does more than nothing; it results in real harm, both for the United States, and more universally. First, there is the obvious and direct harm that is going to those who are suffering because of UNESCO’s reduced capabilities. Further, it damages America’s influence and darkens its image. If the policy worked it would look like effective statecraft, but now that it does not, it looks brattish. America, in the eyes of the world, is like a kid who took his toys out of the sandbox because he does not like one of the new kids who came to play. The absence of our funds is a long and loud whine, a whine that the world seems to be ignoring.
When a nation begins to look ineffectual, it becomes ineffectual. This is my chief concern. By choosing to react, America is highlighting its inability to influence international institutions. It would be far better if the policy were reversed and we regained our voting status. After all, America cannot choose how the UN will react, but it can itself choose to react.