US accused of using aid to sway UN votes

London, December 17:

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 frustration at the power US wields over 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 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 because they sit on the UN security council is clearly a step backwards.”

Charities often complain that the US uses its aid as a political tool, and this new evidence of what the authors call ‘vote-buying’ will raise fears about whether the surge of aid money that was promised at last year’s Gleneagles G8 summit will be fairly spent.

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 GBP8m extra in foreign aid from the US. “I don’t think it’s surprising this goes on; but I wonder whether countries being aware that it goes on might have some salutary effect,” Kuziemko said.

Countries with a security council seat also receive an average of GBP500m extra from the UN, most of it 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 GBP23m windfall, while the UN spends an extra GBP4m.

“Some countries serve on the security council during relatively calm years, whereas others, by chance, are fortunate enough to serve during a year in which a key resolution is debated and their vote becomes more valuable,” the authors say.

They controversial resolutions over issues including the Korean War, Suez, the Falklands and Kosovo - though the period they study does not include the notorious ‘second resolution’ over the invasion of Iraq, which never came to a vote.

David Woodward, of the New Economics Foundation, who is writing about the paper for a edition of the Lancet, said the findings suggest the UN should be radically reformed.

‘As long as one country wields such influence, there will always have a degree of control over what goes on, and they will be likely to abuse that.’ ‘The biggest obstacle, in both the IMF and the World Bank, as well as the UN, is that the countries that now have power can use that power to block reform - and they do.’