Global Policy Forum

Security Council Seat Tied to Aid


By Colum Lynch

Washington Post
November 1, 2006


Studies Cite Much More U.S. Assistance for Poor Nations

Republican and Democratic administrations have insisted for decades they do not engage in the grubby vote-buying practices that are common in elections for key U.N. posts. Yet poor countries that serve on the influential Security Council typically receive substantially more U.S. aid dollars and find it easier to obtain loans or grants from financial institutions that are strongly influenced by the United States and other economic powerhouses, according to recent academic studies.

Officials from the United States and several international agencies questioned the findings, insisting that they direct assistance on the basis of need, not in pursuit of votes on the Security Council. They said there are scores of factors that drive the distribution of loans and aid budgets that the research did not consider.

Still, the findings underscore the importance the United States places on cultivating even the weakest members of the Security Council, the lone international body with the power to impose universally binding economic sanctions and grant legitimacy to military adventures. They also suggest a possible price tag.

A two-year seat on the Security Council, for instance, can generate a 59 percent spike in U.S. assistance, according to a study by two Harvard University scholars that tracked U.S. economic and military assistance from 1946 to 2001. In times of crisis, U.S. aid to some member countries has increased by as much as 170 percent. Those aid levels tend to recede after the country leaves the 15-nation council.

United Nations aid agencies such as the Children's Fund, which has always been headed by a U.S. national, have also directed extra money toward disadvantaged children from countries that serve on the U.N. council, the study shows. In an important year, defined as a period that has attracted intensive news coverage, council members experienced a 63 percent increase in overseas development assistance, the study found.

"On average the typical developing country serving on the council can anticipate an additional $16 million from the United States and $1 million from the U.N.," wrote Harvard economics graduate student Ilyana Kuziemko and Eric Werker, an assistant professor at the Harvard Business School. "During important years, these numbers rise to $45 million from the U.S. and $8 million from the U.N."

Kuziemko said the study did not uncover "smoking gun" proof that the United States has used aid to buy influence. But she said the investigation uncovered a statistical pattern "that is very consistent with vote buying." A UNICEF spokesman, Geoffrey Keele, challenged the report's conclusions. He said the U.N. agency's "funding is always based on very basic indicators of children's health."

Keele presented a chart showing that funding for some countries on the council increased while that for others declined. He said assistance to Congo -- which received more than a doubling of U.S. contributions through UNICEF -- increased because a 2003 peace accord provided greater international access to a country already desperately needing help.

A review by The Washington Post of the U.S. Agency for International Development's "greenbook," which compiles figures on U.S. economic and military assistance, showed a more nuanced picture in the year leading up to the U.S.- led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, a period of intense diplomatic activity in the Security Council.

U.S. economic aid to Angola nearly doubled from $81.6 million in 2001 to $160.5 million in 2003, before dropping by more than $40 million in 2004. Assistance to Cameroon more than tripled, from $5 million in 2001 to $16 million in 2003, before falling by about $3.5 million in 2004. But U.S. aid to Guinea dropped by $10 million during the same period. Bulgaria, a close U.S. ally in Eastern Europe, got less U.S. economic assistance but registered a doubling of U.S. military aid in 2003.

The U.S. mission to the United Nations and USAID declined requests to comment on the findings. Former U.S. officials insist, though, that the U.S. delegation has sought to steer clear of vote buying. "I'm not aware of the United States actively molding its aid relationship based on upcoming votes," said Peter Burleigh, the acting U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 1998 and 1999.

Burleigh said countries seeking membership on the council will often increase their own aid contributions "as a kind of sweetener" for potential supporters. During the 1990s, Iraq and Kuwait frequently stepped up aid or trade pledges on the eve of critical votes in the Security Council.

"Usually we give aid because there is need rather than because in fact we want to try to buy somebody," said Thomas R. Pickering, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Persian Gulf War. But he said that politics can sometimes creep into U.S. calculations on aid and that membership on the council may tip the balance in favor of a country under consideration for aid. Pickering recalled then-Secretary of State James A. Baker III telling Yemen, after it voted against a U.S.-backed resolution authorizing the 1991 war, that "it was the most expensive vote they'd ever cast, when in fact their assistance disappeared."

The largesse has extended to U.N. financial institutions, primarily the International Monetary Fund, where the United States holds sway. Romania, Zimbabwe, Ecuador and other countries that frequently backed resolutions sanctioning Iraq for its 1990 invasion of Kuwait received sizable IMF loans, according to a study by a political scientist and two scholars at a Swiss university.

Tanzania and Gabon, meanwhile, did not receive an IMF loan in the first 15 and 18 years, respectively, after their independence. That changed after they announced their bid to join the Security Council in the 1970s, a Chicago University study shows. Tanzania, which launched its campaign for a council seat in 1974, received more than $10 million in loans in 1974 and 1975. The East African government voted alongside the IMF's most influential members -- the United States, Japan, Britain and France -- on every resolution in 1975.

The relationship grew rockier after Tanzania showed a streak of independence in its voting record in 1976, when it supported resolutions condemning aggression against Angola by U.S. Cold War ally South Africa and calling for Indonesia to withdraw from East Timor. The IMF subsequently declined to disburse more than $10 million in additional funds for Tanzania.

IMF spokesman William Murry said that "the evidence is anecdotal and circumstantial," and that the authors did not adequately consider other possible explanations for the loans. For instance, he said, Tanzanian loans were driven in large part by the oil crisis after the Arab oil embargo. He said the IMF's support of Romania owed more to the fact the former East Bloc country was looking to the West for help after the Soviet Union's collapse.




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