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What Lies Behind Trump's UNESCO Decision?

President Donald Trump’s skepticism over multilateral schemes means the international community will have to get used to cooperating without the US

By Han Bingbin Updated Oct.16

US President Donald Trump’s decision to quit UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) is the result of both his support for Israel and his skepticism of multilateral schemes.  

Trump has demonstrated a special bond with Israel since his election campaign, when he promised to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, according to an article in The Paper jointly written by Ma Zhao, an associate professor at Washington University in St. Louis, and Ma Xiaoxiao, a PhD candidate at Shanghai's Fudan University’s School of International Relations and Public Affairs.  

Trump’s recent threat to withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Deal is a conciliatory gesture toward Israel, which is believed to be unhappy with the deal that has allowed Iran to continue its uranium enrichment practices and break away from economic sanctions, the article suggested.

But neither its own strategic interests nor the pressures from the escalating North Korea nuclear threat will allow the US to truly quit the Iran deal, the article said. Therefore, it said, quitting UNESCO was an alternative gesture of support to Israel.  

Quitting UNESCO is also believed to be part of the US government’s move to reduce spending on humanities, culture and other fields of soft power while increasing national defense spending. This would include the budget on projects like AIDS prevention, international disaster relief and food aid.  

The move is also the result of Trump’s ultimate distrust and disinterest in international organizations and multilateral schemes. It’s predictable that in at least the next three years, international society will have to get used to a new global system without the participation or leadership of the US, the article said. 

Trump’s decision or threat to quit an array of international schemes, such as the Paris Climate Agreement, Trans-Pacific Partnership and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), has revealed a universal logic: the US would rather break up with an organization than suffer any tiny loss, according to Zhong Zhun, a lecturer at Chongqing University, writing for the Beijing Youth Daily.  

US leaders are less restrained in diplomatic practices than domestic policies, which has allowed them to show more personal preference in foreign affairs, Zhong said. Trump has obviously applied his business management principles in making foreign strategies. He believes in efficiency and remains goal-oriented, regardless of any other factors, the scholar said.