The Withdrawal From UNESCO: International Organizations and the U.S. Role (Case Study #10)


October 12, 1990

The United States formally withdrew from UNESCO in 1984, protesting the organization's "excessive politicization, long-term lack of budgetary restraint, and poor management." Although the United States continued to support UNESCO's mission to foster international cooperation in education, science, and culture, American policymakers decided that these goals could best be achieved by working outside of the UNESCO bureaucracy.

This case highlights the ethical issues generated in the heated internal debate over U.S. policy toward UNESCO. The principal issues concern reconciling U.S. global responsibilities (as promoted by institutions such as UNESCO) with its national interests. To what extent can the United States participate in international organizations that do not meet U.S. standards in management and pursue policies that may be contrary to U.S. national interests? And what standards should be applied in evaluating international, intergovernmental agencies? Are narrow political calculations the only measure?

To purchase this case study, go to the GUISD Pew Case Study Center.