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; it has 193 member states and 7 associate members.
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. In announcing that the U.S. would rejoin UNESCO, President George W. Bush stated, “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.”
As a member state of UNESCO, the United States has worked to preserve culture, improve education, increase scientific collaboration, encourage freedom of information, bring people together, and promote the democratic values that both the U.S. and UNESCO espouse.
The U.S. is also constantly working with UNESCO to find ways this important international organization can better leverage its expertise and fulfill its mission across the sectors of natural science, information, social sciences, culture, and education.
In 2011 Hillary Rodham Clinton became the first sitting Secretary of State to visit UNESCO where she helped launch a partnership promoting education for women and girls.
During this visit she said, “I am proud to be the first Secretary of State from the United States ever to come to UNESCO, and I come because I believe strongly in your mission, but I also know that in every organization in the world today…we’re all having to ask ourselves how can we work smarter, how can we be more efficient, how do we clear away any obstacle or bureaucratic barrier that is standing in the way of us meeting the very lofty goals we have set?”
She went on to say, “Let me say how pleased I am that you’re focusing with such intensity on education for women and girls, because I know that will pay great benefits for all of the people who will be waiting to see whether those of us who are working on their behalf can actually make a difference to help them have that better life they so richly deserve.”