October 22, 1999 | Backgrounder on International Organizations
With President Bill Clinton's veto of the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill on October 18, 1999, Congress will be forced to consider foreign assistance appropriations again this year. Congress had included $12.7 billion in appropriations for foreign assistance and international organizations in this bill, nearly $2 billion less than the Administration had budgeted. The largest cuts were in funding for the Wye River peace accord in the Middle East, aid to Russia, and contributions to international development banks, such as the World Bank. With his veto, the President hopes to force Congress to increase foreign assistance appropriations in the budget negotiations at the end of this session.
The President's actions are motivated by a belief that foreign assistance supports the efforts of other U.S. foreign policy arms and bolsters U.S. global interests. According to the White House, the President vetoed the appropriations bill because it did "not [meet] the commitments that we've made, particularly in the Middle East....The President believes strongly of the benefits of engaging around the world, of the U.S. demonstrating our leadership."1
But the historical evidence reveals that this belief is not well founded. The fact is that U.S. assistance has had no discernable effect on encouraging support for U.S. policy goals by the recipients of U.S. foreign aid in, perhaps, the most readily measurable forum: the United Nations (U.N.).
Proponents of foreign assistance have argued that reductions in U.S. assistance will adversely affect support for U.S. foreign policy goals abroad. They claim that U.S. assistance increases stability and development around the world, and stable and wealthy countries are more likely to support U.S. foreign policy goals. For example, in a mission statement included in the United States Strategic Plan For International Affairs, the Admin-istration asserts, "the United States conducts relations with foreign governments, international organizations, and others to pursue U.S. national interests and promote American values."2 Moreover, in the introduction to this "strategic plan," the Administration makes clear that, "From a strategic planning perspective, foreign assistance strategies are critical investments, not in foreign aid, but in advancing American interests and values."3
However, the portion of U.S. foreign assistance that directly supports U.S. foreign policy goals, namely military and security assistance programs that are restricted to the closest U.S. allies abroad, comprised less than 26 percent of the foreign aid budget in fiscal year (FY) 1998. The largest portion of the foreign aid budget--economic development assistance--goes to many countries that seldom support U.S. foreign policy initiatives.
The extent to which U.S. foreign assistance elicits support for U.S. interests and priorities can be examined by comparing U.S. assistance with U.N. votes by recipients of that assistance. Specifically, this study looks at how often these countries supported U.S. positions on controversial issues in the United Nations General Assembly.4 The U.N. is an international forum in which the United States specifically seeks the cooperation of other countries in a variety of foreign policy matters.5 If the recipients of U.S. foreign assistance found this reason to advance "U.S. national interests" and adopt "American values," then evidence should be found in how they vote on controversial issues before the United Nations.
An analysis of the U.N. voting records of U.S. aid recipients over the past five years indicates that there is in fact no significant relationship between foreign aid and voting tendencies.6 The amount of assistance received by countries has no discernable effect on the likelihood of aid recipients voting with the United States on controversial issues in the U.N. Moreover, past support of U.S. interests in the U.N. apparently is also not a significant factor in U.S. decisions over which countries receive U.S. foreign assistance.
In fact, most recipients of U.S. foreign aid vote against the United States more often than they vote with it. This casts serious doubt on the claims from the Administration and proponents of foreign aid that such foreign aid spending is vital to the national interests of the United States. (See Appendix.)
Consider the following facts:7
Countries voting at the U.N. that received no U.S. assistance during the previous five sessions of the General Assembly voted with the United States 56 percent of the time, on average, over those five years. Countries receiving U.S. assistance during at least one of those sessions voted with the United States only 44 percent over that time on average.
Notable opponents of the United States in the U.N. include the following recipients of U.S. foreign assistance:
India, the sixth largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance in FY 1998 ($144 million) voted against the United States 81 percent of the time during the 53rd Session of the U.N. General Assembly in 1998. This record merely followed India's trend of opposing U.S. policies. Despite receiving $935 million in U.S. assistance between 1993 and 1998, India also voted against the United States an average of 81 percent of the time over that period--a record that is worse than that of notable U.S. adversaries China, Libya, and Iran.
Jordan, set to receive part of the $805 million requested by the Administration for the Wye River peace accord, opposed the United States 72 percent of the time during the 53rd Session, despite receiving $193 million in U.S. assistance that year. Between 1993 and 1998, Jordan received $479 million in bilateral assistance from the United States, but opposed the United States in U.N. votes an average of 67 percent during that same period.
The historical U.N. voting record of recipients of U.S. foreign aid refutes assertions by the Clinton Administration and proponents of foreign aid that such aid helps U.S. interests. There are many reasons for a country to vote with or against the United States at the United Nations. The most obvious reason is self interest--a motivation that will not be overridden by a promise of greater foreign assistance from the United States or the threat of losing it, especially since the United States has shown little evidence in the past of withdrawing assistance as a consequence of opposing U.S. interests in the U.N. The bottom line is that a U.N. member state's opposition to U.S. proposals or interests is likely to be rooted in the issue being debated at the time, not in how its vote may influence the amount of assistance it receives.
Brett D. Schaefer is the Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis International Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.
Voting Confidence with the U.S. at the United Nations and U.S. Foreign Assistance: 1993 to 1998
U.S. Department of State, Voting Practices in the United Nations, 1998, March 31, 1999;
U.S. Agency for International Development, Congressional Presentation Summary Tables, various years
1. Press Briefing, The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, October 18, 1999; available at http://www.pub.whitehouse.gov/uri-res/I2R?urn:pdi://oma.eop.gov.us/1999/10/18/15.text.1.
2. U.S. Department of
State, "International Affairs Mission Statement," United States
Strategic Plan For International Affairs, First Revision,
Released by the Office of Resources, Plans, and Policy, February
1999; available at
4. The term "controversial issues" refers to the fact that most U.N. resolutions are non-controversial, contain little substance, and are adopted by consensus. There is little point in including these resolutions in the overall analysis, since they do not contain any issue of genuine substance. For a more in-depth explanation, see Mark A. Franz and Robert Winters, "Report on Voting Practices at the United Nations 43rd General Assembly," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 703, May 10, 1989, pp. 1-3; and Mark A. Franz, "Report on Voting Practices at the United Nations 44th General Assembly," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 775, July 20, 1990, pp. 1-3.
5. For instance, the most recent complete session of the General Assembly (the 53rd Session) approved a number of resolutions over the objections of the United States and against its interests, such as condemning the Helms-Burton Act, calling for a moratorium on all economic sanctions, and urging countries to fulfill their obligations under the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons by disarming existing nuclear weapons. See U.S. Department of State, Voting Practices in the United Nations 1998, Report to Congress Submitted Pursuant to Public Law 101-167, March 31, 1999.
7. From U.S. Department of State, Voting Practices in the United Nations 1998, Report to Congress Submitted Pursuant to Public Law 101-167, March 31, 1999, pp. 33-37; and U.S. Agency for International Development, Congressional Presentation Summary Tables, Fiscal Years 1994 through 1999.
8. The United States extended a bilateral credit line and loans totaling $20 billion through the Exchange Stabilization Fund (ESF), the IMF loaned $17.8 billion, several central banks agreed to give $10 billion, and Canada and a number of Latin American countries agreed to pitch in an additional $2 billion. See W. Lee Hoskins and James W. Coons, "Mexico: Policy Failure, Moral Hazard, and Market Solutions," Cato Institute Policy Analysis No. 243, October 10, 1995, at http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-243.html.