President Reagan's favorite brand of diplomacy is the quiet kind. idea of a good time is a pleasant chat with a friendly tyrant about democratic reforms and free elections. He is glad to take no for an answer. He is happy to refrain from ultimatums, demarches and casus belli. In the case of South Africa, he calls his approach "constructive engagement," which means big talk and small change.
But for some reason, Reagan chose to be neither quiet nor constructive in his engagement with the United Nations. His noisiest taunt was the announcement of U.S. withdrawal from Unesco. He was not responding to a national consensus for withdrawal. Most of the major media had been opposed to the move.
Conservatives as well as liberals shared that view Leonard R. Sussman, executive director of Freedom House, a center of cold war theory and practice, criticized the Administration's "blunderbuss tactics" in his organization's newsletter and wondered whether the United States was "merely using UNESCO as a pawn in the larger effort to alter or leave the UN system itself?"
Surely Sussman's suspicions are warranted. The stated reasons for the U.S. withdrawal are specious and irrelevant: Unesco is too "politicized"; it is too "bureaucratic"; it is extravagant, ideological and irresponsible. The real reason is that Unesco represents Third World aspirations for recognition and power in the international order, and with only one vote out of 161 and no veto, the United States cannot check those demands from the inside.
It is simply not true, as the Heritage Foundation avers, that
Unesco is an incarnation of the world communist conspiracy. The agency has many weaknesses, and its operations are often deformed by the inevitable pressures caused by underdevelopment, decolonization and big-power polarization. But the reforms the United States had asked for constituted a demand for submission, not a blueprint for constructive change.
Under the guise of anticommunism, the Reagan Administration is waging war on the Third World. The move against Unesco is one step in that campaign, perhaps not a decisive one. But the process that has begun is dangerous and destructive, and Reagan must be prepared for counterattacks down the road.