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I've read that in Jan last year (2019):

The United States and Israel officially quit the U.N.’s educational, scientific and cultural agency at the stroke of midnight, the culmination of a process triggered more than a year ago amid concerns that the organization fosters anti-Israel bias.

The Trump administration filed its notice to withdraw in October 2017 and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu followed suit. [...]

The U.S. has demanded “fundamental reform” in the agency that is best known for its World Heritage program to protect cultural sites and traditions. [...]

The withdrawals will not greatly impact UNESCO financially, since it has been dealing with a funding slash ever since 2011 when both Israel and the U.S. stopped paying dues after Palestine was voted in as a member state.

What was the domestic US legal instrument/framework that allowed Trump to make this decision? Was it e.g. voted on by Congress while Trump had a majority?

N.B. I was able to (roughly) find out how/why the US suspended its contributions in 2011:

Within hours, the US announced it would withhold its huge contribution to Unesco's budget as a result of the [UNESCO] vote. State department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the US had no choice due to a 21-year-old law prohibiting the payment of funds to any UN body accepting the Palestinians as full members.

It's not clear to me however what that law is and if it has anything to do with the 2017 notice of withdrawal or if that was an entirely separate matter, in legal terms.

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Under what domestic legal framework did Trump withdraw the US from UNESCO?

Regarding the 2017 withdrawal from UNESCO:

CRS INSIGHT, U.S. Withdrawal from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), October 17, 2017

On October 12, 2017, the State Department announced that the United States will withdraw from the U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The department stated that the decision "reflects U.S. concerns with mounting arrears ... the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias of UNESCO." The United States seeks to "remain engaged" as a nonmember observer. Generally, observers have participated in selected UNESCO meetings and activities but are not able to vote in some UNESCO bodies or hold leadership positions. Under the terms of the UNESCO constitution, the U.S. withdrawal is expected to take effect on December 31, 2018.

UNESCO Constitution

Article II, Membership

  1. Any Member State or Associate Member of the Organization may withdraw from the Organization by notice addressed to the Director-General. Such notice shall take effect on 31 December of the year following that during which the notice was given. No such withdrawal shall affect the financial obligations owed to the Organization on the date the withdrawal takes effect. Notice of withdrawal by an Associate Member shall be given on its behalf by the Member State or other authority having responsibility for its international relations.

In the absence of a specific clause requiring Congressional approval (I found none), the president's decision to withdraw stands. The court has even refused to get involved with termination of a treaty.

In Goldwater v. Carter, 444 U.S. 996 (1979), a few members of Congress objected to President Carter's termination of a treaty with Taiwan.

The petition for a writ of certiorari is granted. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is vacated and the case is remanded to the District Court with directions to dismiss the complaint.

MR. JUSTICE POWELL, concurring.

In this case, a few Members of Congress claim that the President's action in terminating the treaty with Taiwan has deprived them of their constitutional role with respect to a change in the supreme law of the land. Congress has taken no official action. In the present posture of this case, we do not know whether there ever will be an actual confrontation between the Legislative and Executive Branches. Although the Senate has considered a resolution declaring that Senate approval is necessary for the termination of any mutual defense treaty, see 125 Cong.Rec. S7015, S7038-S7039 (June 6, 1979), no final vote has been taken on the resolution. See id. at S16683-S16692 (Nov. 15, 1979). Moreover, it is unclear whether the resolution would have retroactive effect. See id. at S7054-S7064 (June 6, 1979); id. at S7862 (June 18, 1979). It cannot be said that either the Senate or the House has rejected the President's claim. If the Congress chooses not to confront the President, it is not our task to do so. I therefore concur in the dismissal of this case.

MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST suggests, however, that the issue presented by this case is a nonjusticiable political question which can never be considered by this Court.


Concerning withholding of funds to UNESCO, see Section 414 of P.L. 101-246 FEB. 16, 1990 (full text of the section given later):

(a) PROHIBITION.— No funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or any other Act shall be available for the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof which accords the Palestine Liberation Organization the same standing as member states.

There are three laws regarding the withholding of US funds as related to Palestine, and noted by CRS. I have provided the text of the laws below.

Congressional Research Service, U.S. Funding to the United Nations System: Overview and Selected Policy Issues, Updated April 25, 2018, Table 5, p. 18.

Activities Related to the Palestinians. Since the 1980s, the United States has withheld a proportionate share of assessed contributions to the U.N. regular budget for selected activities or programs related to the Palestinians (Section 114 of P.L. 98-164). This provision has impacted U.N. regular budget funding through the CIO account.

Palestinian Membership. Two laws enacted in the 1990s prohibit funding to U.N. entities that admit the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as a member, or grant full membership as a state to any group that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood (Section 414 of P.L. 101-246; Section 410 of P.L. 103-236). This provision has impacted UNESCO funding through the CIO and IO&P accounts.


Section 114 of P.L. 98-164 NOV. 22, 1983 (partial text)

RESTRICTIONS RELATING TO THE PALESTINE LIBERATION ORGANIZATION AND THE SOUTH WEST AFRICA PEOPLE'S ORGANIZATION

SEC. 114. (a) Funds appropriated for any fiscal year for the Department of State for "International Organizations and Conferences" may not be used for payment by the United States, as its contribution toward the assessed budget of the United Nations for any year, of any amount which would cause the total amount paid by the United States as its assessed contribution for that year to exceed the amount assessed as the United States contribution for that year less—

(1) 25 per centum of the amount budgeted for that year for the Committee on the Exercise for the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (or any similar successor entity); and

(2) 25 per centum of the amount budgeted for that year for the Special Unit on Palestinian Rights (or any similar successor entity); and

(3) 25 per centum of the amount budgeted for that year for projects whose primary purpose is to provide benefits to the Palestine Liberation Organization or entities associated with it or to the South West Africa People's Organization.


Section 414 of P.L. 101-246 FEB. 16, 1990

SEC. 414. MEMBERSHIP OF THE PALESTINE LIBERATION ORGANIZATION IN UNITED NATIONS AGENCIES.

(a) PROHIBITION.— No funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or any other Act shall be available for the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof which accords the Palestine Liberation Organization the same standing as member states.

(b) TRANSFER OR REPROGRAMMING.—Funds subject to the prohibition contained in subsection (a) which would be available for the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof (but for that prohibition) are authorized to remain available until expended and may be reprogrammed or transferred to any other account of the Department of State or the Agency for International Development to carry out the general purposes for which such funds were authorized.


Section 410 of P.L. 103-236 APR. 30, 1994

SEC 410. LIMITATION ON CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE UNITED NATIONS AND AFFILIATED ORGANIZATIONS.

The United States shall not make any voluntary or assessed contribution—

(1) to any affiliated organization of the United Nations which grants full membership as a state to any organization or group that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood, or

(2) to the United Nations, if the United Nations grants full membership as a state in the United Nations to any organization or group that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood, during any period in which such membership is effective.

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  • Ok so that's the law that resulted in the 2011 fund cut. Is there anything in there demanding or authorizing the POTUS to withdraw the US from such orgs (not merely cuts funds), as Trump did in 2017? – Fizz May 20 at 4:04
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It seems Trump followed in the footsteps of Reagan who previously had also withdrawn the US from UNESCO without congressional approval:

President Ronald Reagan withdrew the United States from the organization—without seeking congressional approval—in 1984.

[footnote:] See Peri A. Hoffer, Note, Upheaval in the United Nations System: United States’ Withdrawal from UNESCO, 12 BROOK. J. INT’L L. 161, 190–91, 195 (1986) (noting that the president gave Congress little if any prior notice of his decision to withdraw). Before the withdrawal took effect, a bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to prohibit the president from terminating participation in UNESCO unless “‘specifically authorized by law,’” but this bill did not become a law. Id. at 195 & n. 180. There is no evidence that the Trump administration is seeking congressional approval for its decision to withdraw from UNESCO.

(In case you wonder: W. Bush rejoined it in 2002.)

N.B. There are some disputes between US constitutional scholars whether the US president can withdraw the US from treaties with congressional approval. Apparently the prevailing opinion of such scholars seems to be that he can.

Could President Trump unilaterally remove the United States tomorrow from all of the thousands of international agreements to which the United States is currently a party? Common sense would suggest no, but the conventional wisdom among legal academics has leaned the other way.

(The paper goes on to argue the contrary.)

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