The United States Rejoins UNESCO After Its Trump-Era Exit

In News by Porter Anderson

The Biden administration, with UNESCO member-states’ approval, has reinstated the United States’ membership in the UN’s cultural body.

At UNESCO’s Paris headquarters. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Tk Kurikawa

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Azoulay: ‘Our Initiatives Will Be Stronger’
As Publishing Perspectives readers may recall, the United States’ Trump administration in 2018 withdrew the country from its membership in UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural, educational, and scientific organization.

On Tuesday (July 11), the States formally rejoined UNESCO as a full member. UNESCO’s membership comprises 194 states.

“The return of the United States to UNESCO is complete,” said the UN agency’s current director-general Audrey Azoulay in a communiqué. “It has officially become a member state of our Organization once again.

Audrey Azoulay

“This is excellent news for UNESCO,” Azoulay said. “The momentum we have regained in recent years will now continue to grow. Our initiatives will be stronger throughout the world.”

At the time it announced the American withdrawal, the Trump White House said the reason was that it had perceived an anti-Israel bias in the agency and a need for reform. As reported then by the Associated Press, Irina Bekova—in 2018 she was scheduled to conclude her stint as director-general—expressed “profound regret” at the move, saying that the States and UNESCO mattered to each other more than ever because of “the rise of violent extremism and terrorism.”

As Joe Hernandez reported for NPR, “The United States cut funding off under former president Obama in 2011, following a vote by UNESCO member states to admit Palestine.”

Washington had once before pulled out of UNESCO, in 1984, when Ronald Reagan withdrew membership, citing “poor management and values opposed to our own.”

In his writeup on July 3 for ArtNet, Taylor Dafoe writes, “As part of the [US] proposal, which was delivered on June 8, the Biden administration agreed to repay UNESCO the estimated US$619 million the country owes in arrears. The hefty sum comes from years of unpaid dues that have added up since 2011, when then-president Barack Obama cut contributions to the organization because it voted to admit Palestine as a member.” 

UNESCO Condemns Russia’s Attack on Lviv

Most recently, UNESCO has been in the news for its condemnation of the attack by Vladimir Putin’s Russian forces on Lviv in western Ukraine, that assault damaging the buffer zone of the “Ensemble of the Historic Center,” a World Heritage Site as designated by UNESCO.

“This attack, the first to take place in an area protected by the World Heritage Convention since the outbreak of the war on February 24, 2022, is a violation of this convention as well as of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict,” UNESCO’s Paris offices confirmed.

In its reporting this summer on the Biden administration’s intent to revive the United States’ UNESCO membership, the Associated Press’ Matthew Lee has reported, “The US owes a significant amount of money to the organization for arrears in dues payments. But earlier this year, the administration set aside US$150 million in its current budget plan to pay for a return to UNESCO.”

US secretary of state Antony Blinken signaled on June 30 that UNESCO’s member-states had voted to allow Washington to restore the United States’ membership.

A welcoming ceremony for the States’ return is anticipated later this month, Lee at the Associated Press reports, following Azoulay’s confirmation Tuesday that the US return is now official.

More from Publishing Perspectives on UNESCO is here. More on the United States’ book publishing market is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.