Sunday, December 17, 2006

US Vote Buying at the UN

While the US government has long complained about needed reform at the UN, it's been very busy behind the scenes bribing other countries with aid money to buy their votes on the Security Council.

The US uses its aid budget to bribe those countries which have a vote in the United Nations security council, giving them 59 per cent more cash in years when they have a seat, according to research by economists.

Kofi Annan, the outgoing UN Secretary-General, expressed his frustration at the power the US wields over the UN in his parting speech last week. In a detailed analysis of 50 years of data, Harvard University's Ilyana Kuziemko and Eric Werker provide the clearest evidence yet that money is used by the council's richest member to grease the wheels of diplomacy.

Anti-poverty campaigners reacted angrily to the findings. 'Aid should go to the people who need it, not as a political sweetener,' said Duncan Green of Oxfam. 'In recent years most rich countries have been making progress on this, but showering bribes on developing countries just because they sit on the UN security council is clearly a step backwards.'
Ten of the 15 seats on the security council are filled for two years at a time, by rotation. Kuziemko and Werker found that, in years when they have a seat, countries get an average of more than £8m extra in foreign aid from the US.
Countries with a security council seat also receive an average of £500m extra from the UN itself, most of it channelled through its children's fund, Unicef, over which the US traditionally has been able to exert control. President George Bush recently provoked controversy by appointing a close political ally, former Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, as Unicef's chief.

When there is a controversial vote in prospect, the premium for countries with a security council seat is even higher. US aid surges by as much as 170 per cent, bringing in a £23m windfall, while the UN spends an extra £4m.

Ed over at Captain's Quarters thinks this is 'Easily one of the most amusing articles of this year' and, in typical right-wing style, blames The Observer for this revelation - totally missing the point that the newspaper is only reporting on a new study set to come out in The Lancet. Apparently, the fact that the US uses bribery to 'further America's interests' by lining the pockets of poor countries that it can use like a desperate tool to bolster US power is just fine with him. That attitude is exactly why the UN needs reform - beginning with the way the US bullies and buys its way to get what it wants at the expense of suffering people everywhere.

Ed writes:

Their analysts apparently expect us to use no discretion in our foreign aid allocations and just allow the UN to run roughshod over our interests without us raising a single objection to it. When the UN becomes the paragon of moral virtue, then maybe we'll take them seriously enough to consider it.

No country has been 'running roughshod' over America's interests. To the contrary, the US has veto power on the Security Council and has frequently used it when it wants to wield its power and flex its diplomatic muscle in a way that often disturbs other countries' representatives. What he also fails to understand is that the UN is made up of its member states so if it is to be judged on any scale of perceived morality, the behaviour of those states is what needs to be examined. The UN doesn't exist beyond its member states. Further, when the US becomes that 'paragon of moral virtue' perhaps the rest of the world will consider taking it seriously as well.

Buying power at the expense of the poor is detestable and is far from being 'amusing'.

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