Global Policy Forum

Vote Buying in UN Security Council


By JT Nguyen

Deutsche Presse Agentur
August 25, 2006

Developing countries that succeed in winning a seat on the UN Security Council may reap economic benefits from rich countries, particularly the United States, that are willing to buy their votes, a Harvard study says.

Foreign aid receipts to those countries may increase in time of conflict and political crises around the world because the main payer - the United States - would need their votes in the 15-nation council, two Harvard economists say. 'On average, a non-permanent member of the council enjoys a 59- per-cent increase in total aid from the United States and an 8-per- cent increase in total development aid from the United Nations,' the study says.

In dollar terms, the study says a developing country serving on the council expects to receive during its tenure an additional 16 million dollars from the US in foreign aid and 1 million dollars from the UN. The aid may increase in time of crises: 45 million dollars from the US and 8 million dollars from the UN.

The study says a country's strategic interests have a causal impact on the way foreign aid is distributed, which explains why aid for poverty alleviation does not always work, since humanitarian concerns are not a priority when governments decide on their aid package.

The study titled, 'How much is a seat on the Security Council worth? Foreign aid and bribery at the United Nations,' is to be published in October in the Journal of Political Economy. An advanced copy was given to Deutsche Presse-Agentur, dpa. Their authors, Ilyana Kuziemko and Eric Werker, respectively from Harvard University and Harvard Business School, use mathematical formulas and government data on foreign aid to make the case of vote buying and bribery in the UN political body, whose decisions are binding. They say results of their study on the voting practices and the amount of foreign aid received by council members lends 'strong support to the bribery hypothesis.' The study names no countries. It says previous empirical studies by other authors show a 'political component to the allocation of foreign aid.'

The council is composed of five permanent members: the US, Russia, China, France and Britain which hold veto power over UN resolutions, and 10 countries elected for two-year terms - usually referred to as non-permanent or elected members. The elected members are mostly developing countries. But others like Germany, Japan, Spain, Canada and Italy belong to the developed world, which disburse financial assistance to poor countries.

The study says aid payments to elected Security Council members increase sharply during their two-year term and drop almost immediately as soon as they complete their tenure. 'The sharp increase challenges the notion that the correlation is being driven by an unobserved, secular change in a country's international influence or diplomatic savoir-faire,' the study says.

It says the elected members are 'willing to trade their vote for favours: they promote another country's interests in the Security Council in exchange for development aid from a UN agency over which the other country has influence.' It said the United States may send aid payments directly or funds from the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) to the elected council members. The US is the largest financial contributor to UNICEF, which has been headed by an American. The current UNICEF executive director is Ann Veneman, a former US secretary of agriculture.

The authors of the study said they investigated key events in the Security Council and international diplomacy since the founding of the world organization in 1945 as a basis for their charges of corruption in the UN system.

The 10 elected seats in the council are divided among the world's five regions, which decide each year which countries should run for the seats. The UN General Assembly elects new council members, usually in October, by a two-thirds majority of vote. The current elected members are Argentina, Denmark, Greece, Japan and Tanzania, whose two-year terms will expire December 31. The other five are Congo, Ghana, Peru, Qatar and Slovakia with terms running until next December.

Venezuela, which is opposed to US policies around the world, is campaigning for a seat in the coming October election in the General Assembly. The United States is opposed to Venezuela and has urged Guatemala to run.




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