How to Lose the War of Ideas
At the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United States subsidizes the erosion of intellectual freedom, the degradation of democratic values, the redefinition of human rights, and the manipulation of education into an instrument of political indoctrination by those who wish us ill.
Since returning from Paris a few months ago with these sobering insights, I find that they surprise even worldly people who are accustomed to hearing unpleasant things about the United Nations itself. Surely, they respond, UNESCO has not been wholly politicized. Isn’t that the organization that rescued those Egyptian temples from drowning? Doesn’t it promote scientific exchange programs? And international education?
In truth, UNESCO was once a fundamentally beneficent undertaking, even a noble one. “Since wars begin in the minds of men,” intones the preamble to the UNESCO Constitution of 1945, “it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.” Declaring that “the great and terrible war which has now ended was a war made possible by the denial of the democratic principles of the dignity, equality, and mutual respect of men, and by the propagation, in their place, through ignorance and prejudice, of the doctrine of the inequality of men and races,” UNESCO’s founders averred that “the peace must therefore be founded, if it is not to fail, upon the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind.”
It was no coincidence that the principles of UNESCO were hammered out in London, that the organization’s founders included the likes of Reinhold Niebuhr and Jacques Maritain, that the final editor of its constitution was Archibald MacLeish, that its headquarters were placed in Paris, and that its first Director General was Julian Huxley. Nor is it to be wondered at that the constitution pledged UNESCO and its member states to a belief “in full and equal opportunities for education for all, in the unrestricted pursuit of objective truth, and in the free exchange of ideas and knowledge.” For at the outset, UNESCO was a classic expression of Western political, intellectual, and moral values: democratic, rational, optimistic, humane, tolerant, and free. No doubt it was a touch utopian; the founders chose not to deal with the possibility that enhanced knowledge of another nation or culture might cause one to like it less or to fear it more. But nothing about it was incompatible with education, culture, science, and governance as practiced in the liberal democracies.
Thirty-eight years later, however, UNESCO has become, in the main, an instrument of destruction that is wielded to chip away at the idea of freedom and the practice of democracy. Apart from the General Assembly itself, it is perhaps the premier example of Senator Daniel P. Moynihan’s 1979 generalization that “The United Nations has become a place where the democracies find themselves under a constant, unremitting, ideological and political attack designed to advance the interests of the totalitarians.” Although a handful of worthwhile activities may endure in isolated crannies of the vast UNESCO Secretariat and in scattered paragraphs of the 300-page “medium-term plan” that summarizes UNESCO’s current endeavors, they are greatly outnumbered by programs that embody the interests of those who despise or fear the principles enshrined in UNESCO’s constitution and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. While the Western democracies have deplored this transformation of UNESCO, they lack the votes to prevail against the combined forces of the Soviet bloc and the Third World nations (the latter known as the “G-77,” though there are now many more than seventy-seven of them). And those forces are generally combined, because Moscow takes UNESCO very seriously indeed, recognizing it as an important theater in the war of ideas and in the competition for Third World favor. Accordingly, the Soviets assign to UNESCO duty senior people with great skill at ideological combat. They do their homework with awesome meticulousness. They accumulate gains from one event to the next, turning a phrase adopted at one conference into a full policy statement at the next and into a new UNESCO program (and budget item) at the session after that. UNESCO, for them, is serious enough to warrant inclusion in long-term foreign-policy planning. They have a UNESCO strategy, and in recent years it has been notably successful.
The Western democracies have no such strategy. Their resistance to Soviet gains is fitful and ambivalent. They treat UNESCO conferences as isolated events. Though some of their representatives in Paris are able statesmen, others are weary careerists with no appetite for any kind of combat, and still others are idealistic academics who regard UNESCO as an extended sherry hour in the international common room. Gnawed by doubt about the virtue of their own political, cultural, and economic systems, confident that greater knowledge of other systems will ease world tensions and foster mutual understanding, and predisposed to sympathize with the G-77 delegates who insist that every dollar spent on defense is a dollar subtracted from economic-development programs, they cannot bring themselves to believe that any consensus reached by the well-meaning delegates to a UNESCO conference would be other than beneficial for mankind.
Alas, they are almost entirely wrong. Yet many of their countrymen do not realize this. Save for the one large issue of press freedom, the Western media pay almost no attention to UNESCO, and because our own senior foreign-policy makers nearly always have other matters on their minds it is not apt to turn up on the evening news, at presidential press conferences, or in constituent mail to Congressmen. Within the intellectual communities, UNESCO is, for obvious reasons, rarely criticized from the Left. Although it is frequently attacked from the Right, the attackers usually take for granted that the United States should withdraw entirely from all UN activities; as a result, they are not obliged to pay serious attention to what actually happens in Paris and tend therefore to depict UNESCO as if it were a primitive society or alien planet with little relevance or consequence for the United States. There is, however, a further explanation for obliviousness among Western elites to the doings of UNESCO, and it is more insidious: the countries that do take UNESCO seriously have figured out how to manipulate the language of liberalism, to exploit the cultural neuroses of the, Western democracies, and to take advantage of the West’s moral commitment to evenhandedness.
Accordingly, UNESCO has become a place where words we value take on strange meanings and where concepts we esteem are turned inside-out. But these days hostile ideas are no longer displayed in the rhetorical garb of Stalinist diatribes or the harangues of the cultural revolution. Besides the now-familiar international euphemisms—terrorist bands that are called liberation movements, and an array of brutal despotisms that style themselves “democratic republics”—UNESCO has a linguistic code of its own. Though written nowhere, it is regularly employed by participants in UNESCO gatherings, often with a wink or grin to signal that the user knows exactly what he is doing. In this code, “peace” is understood to refer to a condition that the Soviet Union favors and that the United States opposes. The “arms race” is actually not a race at all, for only the Western democracies are running in it, and it is well known that their purpose is not to safeguard their own security but to squander resources that would otherwise be transferred to the Third World as part of the “new international economic order.” “Interference in the internal affairs of states” is what the United States engages in when it calls attention to human-rights violations in the Soviet Union, not what Moscow is doing in Afghanistan or Cuba in Central America. “Nazism and neo-Nazism” are widespread contemporary Western ideologies that pose imminent threats to peace, human rights, and international understanding. The one concept with some moral force that for a long time could reasonably be said to belong to the West, “human rights and fundamental freedoms,” has now been diluted and vitiated by the inclusion of the “rights of peoples,” a bit of code that skillfully transforms individual rights into group interests and makes the state their source and arbiter rather than itself the creature of citizens whose rights are antecedent and inalienable. Included among the rights of peoples is the “right to development,” which confers on nations and groups that have not succeeded at economic development the moral authority to claim the resources of those that have. This sometimes includes the right to a paid vacation; a notion that has attained rough parity with individual liberty in recent UN covenants and pronouncements.
My own first-hand acquaintance with UNESCO comes from a conference held in Paris in mid-April, ostensibly on the subject of education. Experienced UN watchers assure me, however, that it was not an unrepresentative event.
The stated purpose of the gathering was to assess progress made by member states over the preceding nine years in carrying out a “recommendation” adopted by UNESCO in 1974 concerning “education for international understanding, cooperation, and peace and education relating to human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
This sounded inoffensive enough, and the guiding principle of the 1974 recommendation itself—that “Education should be infused with the aims and purposes set forth in the Charter of the United Nations, the Constitution of UNESCO, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights . . .”—was unimpeachable.
But five early clues indicated that all might not be as blandly innocuous as the headings implied.
A number of specific provisions of the 1974 recommendation were troubling, and so were some omissions. Much was said, for example, about the purposeful reorientation of teacher training and textbook content to foster particular values and attitudes. But nothing was said about academic freedom, about protecting education from politicization, or about the dangers of indoctrination masquerading as schooling.
Second, pursuant to the 1974 recommendation, UNESCO had already convened a series of meetings and conferences, and some of their conclusions were alarming. An “international congress on the teaching of human rights” held in Vienna in 1978, for example, insisted that “equal emphasis should be placed on economic, social, cultural, civil, and political rights as well as individual and collective rights.” An “experts meeting” on human-rights education held last summer in Strasbourg “stressed the negative character, for the realization of human rights, of ideologies which tend to legitimate false concepts of ‘national security’ ” and insisted that it is “necessary that human rights does not become an ideology in the service of Western elites with little bearing on the real aspirations of the people.”
Third, the link UNESCO was attempting to forge between education for international understanding and human rights, on the one hand, and peace and disarmament on the other, was powerfully reinforced in 1980 when the governing body of UNESCO, in resolving to hold the major intergovernmental conference we were to attend in 1983, also expanded the stated theme of the 1974 recommendation by adding these words to the title of the forthcoming conference: “With a view to developing a climate of opinion favorable to the strengthening of security and disarmament.” This meant that a specific policy objective would dominate what had initially been conceived as a rather technical review of actions taken by member countries to infuse their own educational systems with broad principles of international understanding and human rights.
Fourth, the written progress reports solicited by UNESCO and submitted in anticipation of the conference by a number of member states ranged from the earnest to the dishonest, with lies astoundingly common—I estimate that fewer than half the governments submitting reports told the truth more than half the time—and most often found in the assertions of countries that are themselves least peaceable and most contemptuous of human rights. We were never allowed to see the complete reports—a truly bizarre constraint on delegates to a conference originally called to review them—but the excerpts provided by the UNESCO Secretariat included such illuminations as Afghanistan’s claim to have adopted measures to develop “nationwide, progressive education”; Czechoslovakia’s boast that “the basic provisions of the recommendation are carried out to the full” in Prague; the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic’s insistence that “Soviet schools . . . educate the young in a spirit of international understanding, cooperation, and peace, and instill in them respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms”; and Poland’s certainty that “The implementation of peace education is considered the paramount aim of our education.” Perhaps more truthful, but no less vexing, was Guinea’s proud, admission that it “does not tolerate the free expression of ideas which tend to extol colonization, racism, fascism, Nazism, Zionism, or apartheid. . . .” But to honor the memory of Orwell and Koestler, one must cite without comment the following assertion by the government of Cuba: “Our country’s conception of education . . . is in accordance with the principles of the recommendation and has contributed to the development of the personality of the younger generation. This is apparent in the positive attitude of young people to life and work, their spirit of self-sacrifice, their ability to understand themselves and others, and, above all, their spirit of cooperation and willingness to help each other. The most outstanding illustration of this is the internationalist service rendered by our people in various countries. . . .”
Fifth, the U.S. was clearly of two minds about all of this, and that ambivalence showed in the briefing documents. Though our representatives had voted against the 1974 UNESCO recommendation, due to the last minute insertion of an amendment denouncing exploitation by “monopolistic groups,” the U.S. government had subsequently made clear that it subscribed to the general principles and concepts of the document, and was doing its best to implement them back home. This began with the preparation by two members of our 1974 delegation of a remarkable book, published by the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO and distributed by the Government Printing Office, that lauded the United Nations system as a whole, severely criticized the American government for not having ratified all the many “covenants” and treaties written under UN auspices, summarized research findings on the best stages in a child’s development to impart “international attitudes and global perspective,” favorably reviewed a number of textbooks and curricular materials designed to foster peace and international understanding (such as a volume that helps students “gain respect for other cultures” by describing “the way in which the Chinese combine productive work and learning at the elementary school level”), and reproduced the National Education Association’s “Bicentennial Peace Studies Exposition Listing of Materials.”
The U.S. progress report submitted to UNESCO in 1981 in anticipation of the 1983 conference, after describing the “decentralization and diversity of education in this country” as a “problem,” noted with approval an array of small and large efforts by states, associations, curriculum developers, and nonprofit organizations to foster global education, international understanding, and the elimination of bias from books and curricula. One group so cited was the Council on Interracial Books for Children, which “publishes annotated lists and promotes anti-racist and anti-sexist children’s literature and teaching materials.” No mention was made of the fact that the council also regards heterosexuality as a bias that should be purged from children’s readers, that it derides books that suggest the United States ought not support Central American revolutions based on the doctrines of Cuban Communism, and that a recent council publication on “militarism and education” contends that Reagan’s defense budget “will do more to undermine our democratic values and standard of living than anything the Russians can do. . . .”
Having made clear in advance that the United States was basically in accord with UNESCO’s efforts to fulfill the 1974 recommendation, American objectives at the Paris conference consisted primarily of trying to resist its conversion into a forum for the legitimization by UNESCO of the current Soviet “peace offensive.” Our prospects for success were enormously reduced by the myriad actions UNESCO had already taken since 1974 to twist the initial subject of the conference into an examination of obstacles to peace and disarmament; by the meticulous plans that other nations had made to realize their own political and propaganda objectives; and by the fact that we arrived in Paris with no clear instructions to say what we were for.
This lack was not peculiar to the event, nor was it the result of specific neglect by the Reagan administration. Indeed, the White House and State Department assembled a generally stalwart delegation, and responded quickly to mid-conference requests for specific positions to be approved and instructions issued. The basic problem was the absence of a long-term strategy, which can be traced to the fact that for many years the general American approach to UNESCO has been one of damage limitation. It has long been taken for granted in Washington that any major UNESCO event will find the United States thrown onto the defensive, will consist in large measure of well-planned attacks on our interests and values, and can be expected to lead to resolutions, programs, and policies that we find troublesome if not obnoxious. This, on the whole, is an accurate analysis of the situation. But rather than developing a purposeful strategy of vigorously asserting our views, proposing policies and programs that are faithful to the spirit of the UNESCO constitution, and taking UNESCO as a serious arena for the international competition between freedom and totalitarianism, we have generally set ourselves the objective of escaping with as few body blows as possible.
In the past decade, only two episodes have moved us to more vigorous action. The first was a direct assault in 1974 on Israel’s participation, to which we responded by (temporarily) withholding our financial contribution. The second was UNESCO’s attempt to make international rules governing the news media. But in neither case did we end up doing more than slowing the erosion. Israel is still regularly condemned and censured in various UNESCO resolutions and policy statements, and a major UNESCO effort now under way, entitled “The International Program for the Development of Communication,” envisions the creation of a “new world information and communication order” that does not, it is fair to say, rank freedom of the press as high as the “better balanced dissemination of information.”
As a member of the U.S. delegation, I found, it was necessary to join four different battles, only the last of which did I fully expect.
Conflict within the delegation, though generally civil (thanks largely to the personal skills of Ambassador Jean B. Gerard, our permanent representative to UNESCO), evoked the basic tension between the “damage-control” and “forceful-advocacy” strategies, with the career officers generally reconciled to the former and the temporary advisers mostly bent on the latter.
The careerists’ stance—which seemed generally reflective of attitudes toward UNESCO held in the middle echelons of the State Department—is not grounded in any lack of fervor for freedom and democracy. If there is about it a tinge of intellectual confusion, that is due partly to long immersion in the conviction that UNESCO is basically beneficial to mankind and partly to having been surrounded at many previous UNESCO conferences by academic experts and advisers whose enthusiasm for such things as multi-cultural education exceeded their geopolitical awareness. But organizational imperatives probably exert greater influence in such situations. The United States having made clear for years that it basically supports the goals and purposes of the 1974 recommendation, to suggest in 1983 that those purposes had been so distorted as to have become offensive to us would smack of erratic behavior and inconsistent policy. This the State Department cannot abide.
Even more powerful, I think, is that UNESCO conferences, like most of the United Nations apparatus, are ruled by the quest for consensus. Only rarely are issues put to a vote in plenary sessions—and when they are, the United States is nearly always on the losing side. Hence enormous emphasis is put on the compromising of differences, the alteration of a word here, the deletion of a phrase there, the redefinition of a concept or the reformulation of a paragraph, so as to make them acceptable to all delegations.
Since the professional diplomats must live with the specific consequences of decisions actually made at UNESCO conferences, they instinctively seek to blunt the sharpest edges, to favor the fuzziest words, to recommend the haziest (hence least damaging) formulations. They would rather enable the United States to be part of a consensus that is only mildly inimical to liberal values than to go to the mat—and likely lose—over a clearly-delineated issue of principle. And since they must also coexist in Paris, month after month, with the permanent delegations of other member states, major controversies with lasting consequences are most prudently sidestepped.
Whether the foregoing analysis is accurate or not, the situation within the American delegation in early April was clear. Although our people had conscientiously engaged in the usual pre-conference diplomacy, trying to moderate the worst excesses in drafts that other nations were planning to submit, seeking to insert favorable references to such concepts as the free flow of ideas into the resolutions of friendly countries, and in a couple of instances taking the initiative in drafting whole paragraphs and sections of resolutions, no attempt had been made to develop a clear and comprehensive statement of American principles and values. It had no doubt been assumed, on the basis of long experience, that this would be fruitless. The upshot, however, was that this conference was not being viewed as a chance forcefully to advocate academic freedom, individual human rights, the primacy of open inquiry, and the unimpeded flow of knowledge. Despite early hints that the Soviet Union was going to press for the further politicization of education and the greater use of the classroom for indoctrination, all in the name of “peace and disarmament,” we had developed no real counterproposal. We were not, for example, prepared with resolutions depicting the suppression of intellectual dissidents, the practice of terrorism, the control of one nation’s government by that of another, or open acts of international aggression and intimidation as impediments to peace, human rights, and mutual understanding.
And so, predictably, last-minute attempts by newly-arrived delegation members to cobble together a forceful statement of principles and values encountered resistance from some of the career officers already on the scene. Ambassador Gerard successfully mediated this dispute, however, and—seconds before the deadline—the United States offered a creditable draft resolution on the free flow of information and ideas. (The ambassador also gave a solid speech in the opening plenary session, one of the few honest addresses presented to that bored and cynical gathering, pointing out that, in respect of human rights, the ways in which a society actually conducts itself have a stronger educational impact on its children than do the disingenuous pronouncements of its leaders.)
The second battle, to me least expected, was within the Western bloc. UNESCO is organized into six regional groupings, and most of the Western democracies gather regularly in one of these groupings to exchange views and share information, and sometimes for more formal purposes, such as the selection of representatives to the conference’s executive committee and to the drafting and negotiating group that is supposed to forge a consensus for the entire conference.
It was surprising to discover that the Western bloc had no shared agenda, no common strategy, no previously-agreed on set of proposals and objectives. It spent most of its time on internal procedures, seeking to figure out what was happening at a generally chaotic conference, and trying to insure that none of its members was offended by the choice of leaders and spokesmen for the group. (The United States was deemed terribly greedy for wanting to participate in both the executive committee and the drafting group.) Much more disconcerting, however, was the discovery that many members of the Western group were disposed to appease and accommodate the Soviet Union rather than to oppose it forcefully.
By the time the deadline for conference submissions was reached, 39 separate draft resolutions had been turned in. Ten of these were originated by the Soviet Union, its constituents (e.g., Byelorussia), or its satellites. China submitted two others. Yugoslavia was the prime sponsor of what became known as the major G-77 resolution. Tunisia and Libya joined a Soviet-blessed effort to get UNESCO to provide more aid to various “liberation movements,” including the PLO. And Togo, Gabon, Nigeria, and Angola offered one specifically seeking help, both from member states and from UNESCO, for the “National Liberation Movements of Southern Africa.” Though other resolutions were troublesome for individual countries, the fifteen just noted were destined to pose the major problems and dilemmas to the industrial democracies.
Several of them were truly memorable. Mongolia proposed that member states “further the use of the mass media for education for international understanding, cooperation, and peace” and “take, if necessary, appropriate steps to prevent the spread of the ideas of hatred, violence, racialism, and war.” (Several irreverent Westerners speculated privately on the scope and quality of the mass media in Ulan Bator.) Poland was interested in the “improvement of the contents of school textbooks,” and Rumania urged UNESCO to encourage within such books “the correct reflection . . . of the history, culture, and civilization of the peoples of the world.” Even more baldly, the Soviet Union proclaimed that “textbooks must become instruments of peace” and asked the Director General of UNESCO to do his utmost to foster the evolution of textbooks into a “powerful influence in the molding of men and women passionately committed to and actively instrumental in the creation of peace without wars and armaments, of peace which takes the path of social progress.”
Another Soviet resolution envisioned new UNESCO programs “designed to encourage the participation of young people in the struggle for peace, détente, and disarmament” and active review of member nations’ school curricula “with a view to ascertaining the extent to which they reflect problems concerned with the preservation of peace, disarmament, the insuring of human rights, and the rights of peoples and the fight against neo-fascist ideologies.” The German Democratic Republic (sic), joined by 23 other nations (including such bulwarks of tolerance and human rights as Ethiopia, Libya, Cuba, and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam), offered a blanket condemnation of “all Nazi, Fascist, and neo-Fascist ideologies” that managed never once to use the word “totalitarian.” And Mongolia reappeared with a clarion call for member states to “do everything possible to enhance the role and scope of the activities of families . . . to promote education for international understanding” by “improving cooperation and coordination of the activities of government institutions, social organizations, and families. . . .”
That these and similar proposals were abhorrent to the United States perhaps goes without saying. That they should as well have been intolerable in the eyes of the other democratic nations might also be assumed. But that turned out not to be the case. Rather, the instinctive reaction of many Western delegates was to murmur appreciatively about how much more restrained and moderate the Soviet Union was being than might have been expected, how surely we should respond in a spirit of accommodation and good will, and that with the deletion of a paragraph here and a phrase there, undoubtedly we could find it possible to become part of a consensus that included these doctrines.
When the United States suggested that several of the draft resolutions—particularly those dealing with the politicization of textbooks, the control of the media, and government intrusion into the family—were not even a fit basis for negotiation, the conference room began to buzz with surprise. Australia and Canada—represented by outstanding ambassadors with a clear sense of the power of ideas and the importance of principles—promptly echoed us. But other members of our “bloc” (including valued NATO allies) either kept silent or reiterated their view that the Soviets had been restrained and that we therefore should be, too. Though a few Western delegates commented that several resolutions were basically antithetical to their own and their nations’ values, the notion that this might be reason enough to “break consensus” appeared to be generally viewed as an unwelcome example of ideological extremism on the part of the American delegation.
Here, then, as in the lower levels of the State Department, a somewhat obnoxious consensus document was to be preferred over open conflict on the battlefield of ideas. Some Western delegates, incredibly, were not sure what was truly obnoxious. One West German delegate indicated that the American endorsement of academic freedom gave him far more difficulty than the Polish text on the “improvement” of school textbooks.
The third conflict was with the UNESCO Secretariat, which controlled the procedures by which the conference conducted its business. In principle, each conference establishes its own rules, but in practice the Secretariat takes enormous pains to achieve its desired results: the production of policies and programs that carry UNESCO in directions that the Director General favors, and the disappearance of any proposals that he would find vexing. The surest way to do this is to control the wording of final resolutions, the processes by which complementary ideas are melded, and the procedures by which conflicts are mediated.
Hence, instead of face-to-face negotiations among delegates, substantive debate in plenary sessions, and the sharpening of differences so that clear choices can be made, the Secretariat prefers to function as the consensus-seeking intermediary, to limit plenary sessions to the delivery of prepared speeches, and to compress the final resolution of any consensus-blocking differences into the closing hours of the conference when participants are weary, frustrated, and eager to be done. Thus, for example, the decision to create a drafting and negotiating group was delayed until the eighth day of a nine-day conference, by which time the Secretariat had “melded” most of the draft resolutions into a half-dozen composite documents, and not until the wee hours of the conference’s final morning did that group even turn to the major disputes between East and West.
The Director General of UNESCO for the past eight years, Amadou Mahtar M’Bow, is from Senegal, and as might be expected his own predilections are generally compatible with the interests of the G-77 nations. He is not well-known as a friend of democracy or as a foe of Soviet Communism—restraint that has been rewarded with honorary degrees from Tashkent University and the State University of Mongolia, inter alia. (He also enjoys hosting lavish receptions where the delegates from impoverished Sahel nations can dim their concern for famine back home in a haze of champagne, Johnny Walker, and paté.)
All arrangements for this particular conference (including the voluminous background documents, detailed agendas, and suggested outcomes) were handled by the Assistant Director General for Education, Sema Tanguiane, a dapper Russian who was frequently to be glimpsed in private but animated conversation with senior members of Soviet-bloc delegations. He and his staff also execute UNESCO’s actual program activities in the field of education, costing about $280 million in the current triennium. I have no knowledge of Mr. Tanguiane’s personal views, but a useful general rule was offered by Richard Hoggart, an Englishman who himself served five eventful years in the early 70′s as an Assistant Director General of UNESCO, in his perceptive book, An Idea and Its Servants: “The concept of a neutral civil service is certainly, as is the UN itself, a product of this hemisphere. . . . The Soviets do find it almost impossible to believe that a member of the Secretariat is not also a member of his national civil service. . . . It follows that almost all staff members from Communist countries, and many from others, are ideologically wholly reliable. . . .” Not to put too fine a point on it, the man in charge of our conference could not reasonably be expected to place the defense of intellectual freedom at the very top of his list of UNESCO’s educational priorities.
Apart from meticulous planning, the Secretariat’s most valuable tool at a conference is its ability to engender confusion. This tool was put to good use at our conference. Deadlines were not communicated. The translation and duplication of draft resolutions and amendments were inexplicably delayed. Key procedural issues—such as whether submitting a formal amendment to another country’s draft resolution made one a participant in the ensuing “melding” of texts—were unresolved. It was not even clear what to amend, since the melding process produced a second generation of resolutions long after the stated period for submitting amendments had passed.
But the Secretariat was also capable of pinpoint timing and exquisite clarity when those served its purposes. There had been speculation from the outset of the conference about whether a general declaration would emerge from it, such being a fairly common product of UNESCO gatherings and, in this case, a particularly choice vehicle for a Soviet-inspired assault on obstacles to “peace,” i.e., on efforts by the West to safeguard its own security. Certain that something was brewing, but unable to find out what, the U.S. delegation decided to submit its own draft declaration in the form of an amendment to several of the more strident Soviet resolutions. Moments before the deadline for filing amendments, we raced in with a hastily-written eleven-paragraph declaration, proposing for the conference’s consideration such heretical thoughts as that “individual rights are inalienable, that they must not be violated, suppressed, or postponed, and that they are essential commitments for all societies that seek through education to foster international understanding and peace.”
Within the hour, there began to circulate around the lobbies of the conference building copies of another draft declaration, with no clue given as to source or author—it was later described as the work of Angola and Cuba—but written in flawless English and unmistakably produced on the typing and duplicating equipment of the UNESCO Secretariat. It was evident that this eight-page text had been prepared long in advance of the conference. Focused primarily on the “arms race,” and rarely mentioning the word education, it declared inter alia that “There can be no human rights without peace”—a standard Soviet formulation—and that “All states must abstain from the use or misrepresentation of human-rights issues as a pretext for interference in the internal affairs of states, for bringing pressure to bear on other states, or for generating a climate of mistrust and disorder within states or between states or groups of states.”
At a meeting of the conference’s executive committee later the same day, the Director General won approval for the Secretariat not even to translate or distribute the declaration in the form of an amendment that the United States had submitted, in return for which the Cuban-Angolan text—already in everyone’s hands, courtesy of the Secretariat—was set aside, and the conference president, Ecuador’s Gonzalo Abad Grijalva, volunteered to pen his own “appeal for peace” on behalf of the conference. We were never certain whether the Cuban-Angolan text had been released to counter the American draft, or whether it was already in the process of being distributed when the American version was submitted. But it was painfully clear that the Secretariat had cooperated in its production and dissemination, as well as in the suppression of our alternative.
The fourth battle was, of course, the expected conflict between West and East. (The G-77 nations had relatively less to say at this conference than at most UNESCO events, though they were present in sufficient numbers to sway the outcome of any vote.) It became apparent within the first few days that the Soviet strategy was not to use the conference itself as a major propaganda forum, but rather to emerge from it with a new set of “peace-education” programs enmeshed in the ongoing UNESCO machinery. This approach was designed to synchronize UNESCO activities with the ongoing Soviet peace offensive, and thereby to bring international legitimacy; resources, and an endless array of conferences, meetings, and other activities to bear on Moscow’s persistent efforts to fracture the Western alliance.
Hence the most important of the Soviet-bloc resolutions was the most temperately phrased and, on its face, least objectionable of all. Asserting that “It would be appropriate . . . to draw up and adopt a long-term plan for the development of education for international understanding, cooperation, and peace,” the resolution simply called upon the Director General “to make a proposal . . . envisaging, within the framework of the program and budget for 1984-85, the holding of a meeting of experts to help him to prepare the draft of such a plan” and to establish an “advisory committee with the function of making recommendations and proposals to the Director General and contributing to the successful implementation of the long-term plan for the development of education for international understanding, cooperation, and peace.”
This proved to be a shrewd tactic. By focusing Western concern on the more inflammatory resolutions dealing with textbook content, press freedom, and family policy, by hinting that they would modify or withdraw some of those if the United States would jettison its one major effort to foster the free flow of information and ideas, and by gracefully accepting virtually all the specific amendments that we sought in the rhetoric of the peace-education proposal, the Soviets emerged with a reasonable approximation of what they most wanted, namely, a request to the Director General and Mr. Tanguiane to develop a peace-education program for the years ahead. This will now be ratified in principle by the General Conference of UNESCO in September 1983, developed into detailed specifications—with the assistance of “experts” and “advisers” recruited by Mr. Tanguiane—and approved by the 1985 General Conference in time to take effect in 1986, which the UN General Assembly conveniently has already designated the International Year of Peace.
Because the United States has no long-term strategy for UNESCO, because we had few concrete proposals to make in Paris (our “free-flow” resolution being more in the nature of a statement of principle than a program plan), because we have allowed the Soviet Union to make “peace” its issue, and because the creation of new plans and programs is the very essence of UNESCO’s organizational existence, our delegation had no satisfactory response.
In the final sessions of the drafting and negotiating group, the Soviet-bloc delegates who were so accommodating toward our technical amendments to their peace-education proposal turned stony-faced on nearly all other matters, and in the main their view prevailed. Though two of their most egregious resolutions were finally withdrawn, in return for our forgetting about truth and academic freedom, the conference went firmly on record in favor of “improving” school textbooks to embody “correct” views. It offered further aid to the educational programs of sundry terrorist groups. It again deplored the “arms race” as an assault on the economic interests of the Third World. It denounced neo-Nazism as the major threat to human rights in the world today. It repeatedly affirmed numerous “rights of peoples” and called again for various “new international orders,” principally in the areas of economic development and information policy.
It was, in sum, a standard-issue UNESCO conference. The United States gained nothing of consequence. We lost less than we might have, had we not been forceful-to-the-point-of-stridency in asserting positions, proposing amendments, and offering one serious resolution that could later be bargained away. Only one new program of any lasting consequence—the Soviet-sponsored peace-education initiative—was inaugurated and no wholly new doctrine was conceived, but a number of wretched ones were reinforced and some new language was enshrined in official texts, there to be quoted, extended, and built upon in later sessions.
This business of texts is important. General practice in the United Nations guarantees that once a statement is adopted by any UN body, however obscure the forum or obnoxious the rhetoric, those words enjoy privileged status and may be quoted at will—and for any purpose—in later sessions of all other UN bodies. Hence a bleary-eyed concession to a new phrase or different formulation at four in the morning at one conference reappears at another gathering months later as inviolable dogma. Soviet-bloc representatives are particularly adept at keeping their quotations straight and at writing new resolutions that start with elaborate compendia of and references to those that came earlier. People who are serious about the use of words as weapons tend to do that.
But even this sacrosanct practice can be abridged when it is in someone else’s interest to do so. The one small “defeat” that stands out in my memory, among the many that we suffered, as somehow emblematic of the forces that drive UNESCO today, was our unsuccessful effort to persuade the drafting and negotiating group to quote the passage in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that says “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” The delegate of the German Democratic Republic found this altogether irrelevant to the business at hand. And the heretofore silent delegate from China protested vociferously—probably mindful, we later realized, of that tennis player. One wondered what Eleanor Roosevelt would have thought.
The United States should either take UNESCO seriously or it should get out. We should try the former before considering the latter, but either course of action is preferable to legitimizing and subsidizing the steady erosion of the fundamental principles that undergirded the creation of UNESCO itself—and congratulating ourselves after every conference that the erosion was not even more severe and that we were therefore able to join in the “consensus” that produced it. To be sure, we occasionally vote against specific resolutions—in Paris we demanded the chance in plenary session to vote against aid to terrorism—and we often voice formal “reservations” and informal regrets about various agreements reached through the consensual process. But that is not taking UNESCO seriously; rather, it is the substitution of symbolic protests for serious action, and is widely perceived as such by other delegations.
As a wise and worldly Western ambassador pointed out in Paris, only three kinds of power have direct influence on UNESCO. The first is the ability to command a majority of the votes. This we have not had for many years. The second is the cooperation of the Director General and the Secretariat. This we conspicuously lack. The third is the leverage of money, potentially provided by the 25 percent of UNESCO’s budget that the United States alone contributes, which would be increased to about half if all the industrial democracies acted in concert.
The problem with this latent purse-string power, he explained, is that the United States has tended to treat it as if it were a nuclear weapon rather than as an instrument of conventional warfare. Withholding our whole contribution is so drastic a measure—equivalent to withdrawing from UNESCO—that we are reluctant to use it. The provocation is never quite serious enough, and it is in the interest of other nations (and certainly of the Secretariat) to keep it that way. What we have failed almost entirely to do is to place tough conditions on our contribution. Though the UN system plainly denies to any member state the right to stipulate what its funds may or may not be used for, there is little doubt that a determined United States government could, over time, attach strings that would affect the substance of UNESCO’s programs, much as Congress uses the technique of appropriations riders to bring about substantive alterations in programs and to limit the actions of executive-branch agencies, notwithstanding the fact that funding measures are not supposed to be used for such purposes. This would not effect an instant change in the political ethos of UNESCO, but it is the most potent form of direct action that the United States could take to influence the course of events there.
There is already some precedent for withholding funds from obnoxious UN ventures. The Wolff-Moynihan amendment has since 1980 required the State Department to withhold from our UN contribution an amount equal to 25 percent of the sums devoted to certain pro-PLO activities, and a proviso in the current State Department authorization act stipulates that our entire UNESCO contribution will be withheld if the “new international information order” yields actual restrictions on the media. This latter threat is said by those who follow the matter closely to have slowed the velocity with which Director General M’Bow has been implementing that particular “new order.”
The State Department has traditionally opposed all such restrictions, provisos, conditions, and threats to manipulate the U.S. contribution to the United Nations and its specialized agencies, and when Congress has persevered, the bureaucracy has tended to delay, dissemble, and look for loopholes. But when the entire government speaks with one voice, the results can be striking. When the General Assembly convened last autumn, for example, Secretary Shultz’s threat—supported by majorities in both House and Senate—to respond to the expulsion of Israel by suspending American participation and withholding our financial contribution effectively stymied the perennial attempt by Arab and Soviet-bloc nations to challenge Israel’s credentials.
Wielding purse-string power may seem crude and heavy-handed, and it is certainly not the approach favored by most diplomats, but if accompanied by a long-term strategy of asserting democratic values with clarity and conviction, of setting forth the programs we favor and pressing for the policies we respect, of creating situations in which there are costs and consequences associated with repudiating American interests and gutting Western initiatives, the formulation of each biennial American payment to UNESCO could become a major occasion for the defense of human rights and the promotion of freedom.
Of at least equal promise, however, is wider awareness within the United States that UNESCO is a place where sophisticated ideological warfare is constantly being waged for influence over “the minds of men.” In recent years, the ideas of freedom, of liberal democracy, of education as a quest for truth, and of inalienable individual human rights have lost nearly all of these battles, such that the values enshrined in the UNESCO constitution are now routinely dishonored by the organization that they created. But if UNESCO’s founders were even partly justified in their characteristically Western and enormously hopeful linkage of truth and knowledge to peace and freedom, then the stakes are large enough to justify our close attention to what is said and done on the Place de Fontenoy.
For the defeats suffered by truth and freedom in those corridors and conference rooms have not been administered by a superior ideology or by the force of worldwide public opinion. Rather, they have been the result of lies and distortions successfully perpetrated by regimes that fear truth and despise freedom above all else. But the societies that embody truth and freedom in their own routine arrangements have engaged in something like unilateral disarmament on the very fields of international discourse where these principles undergo the most savage attacks.
Unlike other aspects of our national defense, taking UNESCO seriously does not cost money. It risks no lives. It entails no covert operations. It requires no silos, submarines, or spy satellites. It diverts no funds from social programs.
But taking UNESCO seriously does demand the lavish application of two resources that are in short supply. First, it requires the time and attention of those who make foreign policy for the United States, in both the executive branch and the Congress, for only in that way can we develop a long-term UNESCO strategy that is harmonized with our overall domestic values and international objectives, much as the Soviet Union has long done. We should, for example, have already taken steps to insure that our actions at the UNESCO General Conference in September would be reinforced by positions taken in other international bodies, in our bilateral relations with individual nations, in NATO foreign-minister sessions, and even in “summit” meetings such as the recent Williams-burg gathering. It little avails us to send a capable ambassador to Paris if UNESCO is to be regarded as a remote policy enclave, if its decision-making sessions are treated as isolated episodes, and if the tactics employed in what is essentially a battle of ideas are the products of a bureaucracy that instinctively opts for compromise, invisibility, and damage control. Having a UNESCO strategy means forcefully asserting democratic values and principles, even at the cost of losing votes in Paris, and responding to such losses in ways that encourage other nations—and the UNESCO leadership—to entertain doubts about the wisdom of having inflicted them.
Second, taking UNESCO seriously demands the sustained interest of non-governmental leaders—from business, labor, science, the academy, the media, and the major cultural institutions—in the effective advocacy of the values of liberal democracy in international arenas. Because it deals with intellectual, cultural, and scientific matters, UNESCO is perhaps the least governmental of all the multinational organizations. But so long as UNESCO is ignored, dismissed, idealized, or simply condemned by the heirs and descendants of those who created it, the principles on which it was founded will continue to be eroded, and the United States, which rests on the selfsame principles, will continue to be weakened.