THE BLOG
11/12/2013 06:30 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

UNESCO Matters

The United States just lost its voting rights in UNESCO, an organization they helped create in 1945 to fight racism and build peace after a devastating war and the Holocaust, by working through education, the sciences, culture and communication.

Last Saturday, UNESCO Member States went through a procedural process that stripped the U.S. of its vote at the General Conference, UNESCO's governing body. This was the result of non-payment of dues for over two years.

This means the U.S. has lost its voice in UNESCO at a time when the struggle for human rights has never been so important or the stakes for peace so high.

This is not just about funding. It is about shared values -- this is why UNESCO matters for the U.S. today, and a recent survey showed that 82 percent of Americans agree.

I believe our efforts to enroll every child in school and promote education to fight ignorance and intolerance are shared by the American people. The same goes for our work to stand up for freedom of expression everywhere. I believe the UNESCO literacy program in Afghanistan, reaching over 600,000 girls and women, matters to the U.S.

I believe UNESCO's support to fledgling institutions of democratic governance across the world -- from Iraq to South Sudan -- also matters to the US and so do our efforts to counter extremism, racism, discrimination through education and by safeguarding our common cultural heritage.

This is why Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton came to UNESCO in 2011, to launch our Global Partnership for Girls' and Women's Education. This is why Samuel Pisar, our Honorary Ambassador and Special Envoy for Holocaust Education, is helping UNESCO to educate children across the world about genocides, to prevent them from reoccurring. This is why major American private sector companies have joined forces with UNESCO to keep girls in school across Africa, to bolster education in Myanmar. With our Goodwill Ambassador Herbie Hancock, we are showcasing through International Jazz Day a unique American expression of the fight for civil rights and freedom, now owned by the world.

The United States crafted ideas through UNESCO that have shaped the world. The late Russell Train, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Nixon, came up with the concept that became the World Heritage Convention. Speaking in 2002, a year after 9-11, Train reminded us of the power of shared cultural heritage and the purpose of UNESCO:

"At this time, as the fabric of human society seems increasingly under attack by forces that deny the very existence of a shared heritage, forces that strike at the very heart of our sense of community, World Heritage holds out a contrary and positive vision of human society."

UNESCO holds out this positive vision of human society, against the forces of hatred and intolerance that remain strong today. For me, it seems simply inconceivable to not have all States engaged at this time of change and deepening interdependence. UNESCO's "smart power" is so much in need, and this is why we need the United States fully on board.