Monday, September 26, 2005

U.S. v. the World, Again - The U.N. Convention on Cultural Diversity

Sometimes, the U.S. government seems at odds with all of its allies. The most recent example is the battle over the Convention for the Protection of the Diversity of Cultural Contents and Artistic Expressions sponsored by UNESCO, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO Louise Oliver criticizes the draft treaty, and UNESCO in general, for failing to deal seriously with the issues in the treaty:

The preliminary text addresses a number of very complex issues. They involve culture, development, intellectual property rights, trade, and most important of all, human rights. Have we discussed all of these issues thoroughly? Is this preliminary text coherent, with clearly defined obligations and objectives? Are we convinced that there are no potentially negative consequences that may result from the provisions of this convention? For us the answers to these questions unfortunately are no, no, and no.

Interestingly, Ambassador Oliver strikes a broader theme: UNESCO should stop sponsoring new treaties and concentrate more on strengthening its existing programs. (this might be true of the U.N. as a whole). In other words, the world needs less international law and better international governance.

This is an interesting critique, but one that seems at odds with a simplistic rational choice analysis of an international agency like UNESCO. After all, UNESCO doesn't appear to be doing a whole lot unless they are sponsoring new treaties and conventions.

Moreover, UNESCO has been studying this for quite some time. They've had lots of meetings, they've heard reports from lots of experts. It's unclear what exactly the U.S. wants to talk about at the next meetings? At least it is hard to tell.

I think the U.S. has lots of substantive agreements here. UNESCO's staff, its independent experts, and the very few people who have been paying attention to this convention have taken the agenda away from the U.S. And it might be a little too late to stop the momentum.

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