The United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization was founded after World War II on 16 November 1945 to contribute to peace and security. Collaboration among nations through education, science and culture remains a cornerstone of a peaceful world order. The founders of UNESCO believed that the rule of law, respect for human rights, and freedom of expression would be strengthened through international cooperation. UNESCO is headquartered in Paris and has 193 member states.
Americans were an important part of UNESCO’s creation. Author Archibald MacLeish, the first American member of UNESCO’s governing board, wrote the preamble to its 1945 Constitution. The opening lines captured the spirit of its founders: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.”
The United States joined UNESCO at its founding but later withdrew in 1984 because of a growing disparity between U.S. foreign policy and UNESCO goals. After an almost twenty-year absence from the organization, the United States rejoined the organization in October 2003 at the initiative of President Bush in an effort to express America’s firm commitment to uphold and promote human rights, tolerance and learning worldwide.
“As a symbol of our commitment to human dignity, the United States will return to UNESCO. This organization has been reformed and America will participate fully in its mission to advance human rights and tolerance and learning,” President Bush stated in September 2002 as he announced the United States’ intentions to rejoin the organization. The U.S. believes that peace depends upon building strong foundations of knowledge that bridge nations, enlarge freedoms, and promote democracy. It is in that spirit that the United States rejoined UNESCO and seeks to expand and improve education, promote scientific progress and press freedom, enhance understanding, and protect cultural heritage worldwide.
The United States has two UNESCO entities, the Permanent Mission to UNESCO in Paris and the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO in Washington, DC.