The United States rejoins UNESCO, a win for multilateralism

The United States has rejoined the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) after a nearly 5-year absence, becoming its 194th member state.

UNESCO helps protect the world’s cultural and national heritage by designating World Heritage sites. It also plays a key role in promoting international cooperation in education, science, culture, technology and freedom of the press.

First lady Jill Biden spoke during the U.S.-flag-raising ceremony at UNESCO headquarters in Paris on July 25.

Jill Biden gesturing while speaking at lectern (© Aurelien Morissard/AP)
First lady Jill Biden delivers a speech during an American-flag-raising ceremony at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. (© Aurelien Morissard/AP)

“Some of the biggest challenges of our time cannot be solved in isolation,” she said, calling the ceremony a symbol of America’s commitment to global collaboration and peace. “Of course, we need to take care of our own citizens, but we’re also a part of the global community.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed the United States’ instrument of acceptance of the UNESCO Constitution on July 10. The membership became official once the U.S. filed the document with the United Kingdom, the keeper of the UNESCO Constitution.

UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay called the reentry “historic” and “excellent news for multilateralism.”

“The return of the United States, and the additional resources that go with that, will help us to provide even better support for everyone around the world: pupils and students, researchers, academics, artists, educators, journalists — all those on whom our daily work is focused,” Azoulay said.

New leadership

Ambassador Erica Barks-Ruggles will lead the U.S. Mission to UNESCO as head of mission. Barks-Ruggles previously served as the U.S. representative to the 2022 Conferences of the International Telecommunication Union and the Inter-American Telecommunication Commission.

She will meet with UNESCO and member states on issues important to the American people, including expanding access to education, preserving cultural heritage, protecting journalists and remembering the toll of the Holocaust to ensure that such atrocities never happen again, according to a State Department spokesperson.

“It is an honor to assume the role of Head of Mission to @UNESCO at this important time,” Barks-Ruggles tweeted. “The U.S. is proud to once again be a member of the organization.”

Brigitte Macron and Jill Biden, shown from the back, looking at Le Mont-Saint-Michel abbey, on an island mountain (© Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images)
First lady Jill Biden, right, and French first lady Brigitte Macron look at Le Mont-Saint-Michel, a World Heritage site in northwestern France, on July 26 to highlight the importance of preserving cultural heritage sites around the world. (© Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images)

Rejoining the organization reflects President Biden’s view that the United States must be present and active on the global stage.

The United States withdrew from UNESCO on December 31, 2018. Prior to pulling out, the U.S. contributed 22% of the organization’s overall funding, making it UNESCO’s largest financial backer, the Associated Press reported.

In a statement on the United States rejoining UNESCO, Blinken said, “The United States is stronger, safer, and more prosperous when we engage with the rest of the world and when we seek cooperation, collaboration, and partnership.”