September 10, 2014 | Commentary on Foreign Aid and Development, United Nations

Why are we aiding countries that oppose U.S. priorities at the United Nations?

Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick was frustrated. Countries happily took American foreign aid, but then blithely opposed U.S. initiatives and priorities in the United Nations. They took U.S. aid for granted because previous opposition hadn’t affected U.S. aid decisions and, instead, yielded to pressure from other countries to present regional solidarity and overwhelmingly supported deleterious positions staked out by intransigent authoritarian countries in their regions.

To address this problem, Ms. Kirkpatrick recommended that Congress make “voting behavior, in multilateral organizations like the United Nations one of the criteria we employ in deciding whether we will provide assistance, and what type of assistance and in what amount.” That was more than three decades ago.

Congress took part of Ms. Kirkpatrick’s advice. It enacted legislation requiring the State Department to track how individual countries vote in the United Nations and report the results to Congress annually. Each edition of Voting Practices in the United Nations includes tables listing the percentages with which countries voted with the U.S. on U.N. General Assembly resolutions.

Most General Assembly resolutions are adopted by consensus — i.e., without a recorded vote or dissent. Although some consensus decisions are the result of prolonged negotiation, it is difficult to separate the significant consensus votes from those of little substance. Therefore, analysis is better focused on non-consensus votes — when countries cast actual votes on resolutions. By definition, these votes address substantive matters where member states disagree — offering a transparent metric for measuring support for U.S. positions.

Unfortunately, the record shows that little has changed over the past three decades. General Assembly voting patterns have remained similar to the dismal state that so frustrated Ms. Kirkpatrick.

Specifically, voting coincidence with the U.S. on overall non-consensus votes has averaged 33.2 percent since 1983. The all-time low was 15.4 percent in 1988. Voting coincidence topped 50 percent only twice — in 1995 and 2011.

The failure to shift this voting coincidence decisively is partly because of Congress‘ failure to follow through on Ms. Kirkpatrick’s advice and tie U.S. assistance to support in the U.N. General Assembly.

From 2003 through 2012, the United States obligated over $221 billion (constant 2012 dollars) in development assistance to 178 countries, according to the GreenBook database compiled by the U.S. Agency for International Development. So how did those countries vote in each General Assembly session (2004-2013) after receipt of that aid?

Their support for U.S. positions averaged 33.7 percent on overall non-consensus resolutions. On average, more than three of every four recipients (76.9 percent) voted against the U.S. in at least half of the non-consensus votes taken in the year after they received aid. Moreover, the 131 countries that received development assistance each year were, on average, less likely to vote in line with the U.S. than those that received aid only intermittently.

The most recent (2013) report shows similar results. Among those that received aid in the previous year, the average voting coincidence with the U.S. was 46.3 percent, and 71.7 percent of those 166 recipients voted against the U.S. at least half of the time. This is higher than the historical average, but not unexpected. Over the past 30 years, voting coincidence has been higher under Democratic rather than Republican administrations, indicating that U.S. policy shifts, not policy shifts by other nations, are responsible for improved voting coincidence.

Largesse did not generate loyalty. Of the 30 nations receiving the most U.S. development assistance over the entire decade, 27 opposed our positions more often than not. Among those are Afghanistan, Colombia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Haiti, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Pakistan, Russia and Sudan. These 11 countries pocketed more than $4 billion in aid but voted with the U.S. less than 30 percent of the time (on average) throughout that period.

The voting record shows that the U.S. neither effectively rewards countries that support U.S. priorities in the United Nations nor withholds assistance from countries that consistently oppose U.S. priorities. But that fact has been obscured since 2010. That was when the Obama administration stopped including U.S. foreign assistance totals in the Voting Practices in the U.N. report.

To advance American interests, Congress should follow the advice of Ms. Kirkpatrick and explicitly link U.S. foreign aid to support of U.S. priorities in the United Nations.

 - Brett Schaefer is the Heritage Foundation’s Jay Kingham senior research fellow in international regulatory affairs.

 - Anthony Kim is a senior policy analyst in Heritage’s Center for International Trade and Economics.

About the Author

Anthony B. Kim Research Manager, Index of Economic Freedom, and Senior Policy Analyst
Center for Trade and Economics (CTE)

Brett D. Schaefer Jay Kingham Senior Research Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

Originally appeared in The Washington Times