Thursday, September 18, 2008

How Do U.S. Foreign Aid Recipients Vote at the U.N.? Against the U.S.

Backgrounder #2171

America's engagement with the United Nations has been multifaceted and is an important venue for discussing many of today's global challenges. The United States, the largest contributor to the U.N. bud get, has steadfastly supported the founding ideals of the U.N. with a strong conviction that the interna tional body "should be a place where diverse coun tries and cultures of the world work together for freedom, democracy, peace, human rights, and pros perity for all people."[1]

It is clearly in America's interest to work with the U.N. to advance U.S. diplomatic initiatives related to these values and to facilitate cooperation with other nations to address these common concerns. At times, the U.N. has been an effective instrument for advanc ing the above-stated values, for example, coordinat ing regulatory standards through organizations such as the International Telecommunication Union and the Universal Postal Union, condemning human rights violations, helping to alleviate suffering dur ing humanitarian or natural disasters, or authorizing peacekeeping operations when such missions could facilitate a lasting peace.

The U.N. remains a member-driven organization. As such, countries' voting practices in the U.N. Gen eral Assembly are a useful metric for gauging their ability--and willingness--to support U.S. priori ties. The Assembly conducts discussions and adopts resolutions on issues relating to peace and security, terrorism, disarmament, economic and social devel opment, humanitarian relief, and human rights. A country's record in General Assembly non-consen sus votes is one means of measuring its support for U.S. diplomatic priorities. This record also pro vides some important guiding principles for a strat egy to elicit greater support for American foreign policy objectives from the U.N. Analyses of U.N. member countries' voting patterns in the General Assembly reveal that:

  • U.S. assistance to other member countries of the U.N. has not resulted in support for U.S. diplo matic initiatives in the U.N. On the contrary, most recipients of U.S. assistance vote against the U.S. more often than they vote with the U.S.
  • Economically free countries are more likely than less free countries to vote for U.S. positions in the General Assembly.
  • Politically free governments are also more likely than less free countries to vote for U.S. positions in the General Assembly.

This result is to be expected. As nations become freer--both politically and economically--the pol icies that they consider to be in their interests become more closely aligned with U.S. policies. This is not because they are U.S. policies, but because those policies are more likely to be consis tent with those countries' own interests.

To bolster international support for U.S. diplo matic initiatives, particularly in the General Assem bly, America should seek to build and strengthen coalitions among economically and politically free nations that share many values and principles with America. America should also use its foreign assis tance to encourage political and economic free dom in recipient countries. Additionally, the State Department should adopt a policy of letting aid recipients know that undermining U.S. priorities at the U.N. will make Americans, and especially Con­gress, far less supportive of continuing aid to them in the future.


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