Dollar Diplomacy and UN Votes


By Thalif Deen

Asia Times
February 25, 2003

The United States is flexing its economic muscle to round up political support and generate United Nations votes - both of which it needs for its impending war on Iraq, according to political experts and diplomats.

"It is widely known that the United States makes promises to get votes - whether those are foreign aid or access to Iraq's oil," says Michael Ratner, president of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights.

The hefty US$26 billion aid package to Turkey, which is now the subject of a tug-of-war between the two military allies, is an example of US checkbook diplomacy, he pointed out. "Certainly in the 1991 Gulf War with Iraq, money played a large role in getting approval for Egypt and other countries [to support the US-led attack on Iraq]," Ratner said.

Within the 15-member UN Security Council, the US needs nine positive votes - and no vetoes - to pass a resolution that would authorize a military attack on Iraq. The British-US resolution which is expected to be introduced this week will have four sure-fire "yes" votes: the United States and Britain (both with veto powers), along with Spain and Bulgaria.

Syria and Germany are expected to nix military action against Iraq; France has threatened to veto the resolution, while China and Russia, which are also veto-wielding members, may possibly abstain or even use their vetoes.

The remaining six countries in the Security Council - non-permanent members Chile, Mexico, Pakistan, Angola, Cameroon and Guinea - have not made any public commitments or openly indicated how they would vote.

The political lobbying, according to one Third World diplomat, is not taking place at the UN, but at various capitals where Washington is applying pressure for votes in its favor. US President George W Bush has already phoned two heads of state, Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf and Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, seeking their support for the resolution.

According to Angop, the Angolan news agency, dos Santos has also received phone calls from US Vice President Dick Cheney and French President Jacques Chirac, who is lobbying the six nations to vote against the resolution. Angop said that the US has asked Portugal's Prime Minister Durao Barroso to intervene because of his close friendship with dos Santos.

"If the United States gets the required nine votes - and the resolution also gets vetoed by France - Washington may still claim it has a moral majority on its side," the diplomat said. The argument, he pointed out, may appease warmongers. But it is an argument that the US will not accept when it vetoes any future resolution against Israel. The last Security Council resolution against Israel - condemning the country for the killings of UN humanitarian workers - had 14 votes in favor but was vetoed by the US, said the diplomat. "The US argument about a moral majority may come back to haunt it one fine day," he added.

US officials regularly assure US citizens that they have widespread support from numerous partners for an attack on Iraq, says Natalie Goldring, director of the program on global security and disarmament at the University of Maryland. "But they don't tell us how much that support is going to cost us," she said. Goldring said that potential partners such as Turkey are "strong-arming" Washington. "They know we've had a difficult time putting together a coalition to fight Saddam Hussein. They have leverage over us, and they are using it effectively. As war approaches, the packages seem to be getting larger," she said. "This is political blackmail."

On Wednesday, the Turkish government rejected the $26 billion aid package - $20 billion in loans and $6 billion in outright grants - as inadequate. Turkey says that it wants $10 billion in grants, but the US has refused to sweeten the "take-it-or-leave-it" deal. In return for the aid package, Turkey was expected to permit US forces to operate out of its territory in the event of a war on Iraq.

But if Turkey, which is not a member of the Security Council, refuses to cooperate with the US, Washington has threatened to penalize its long-time ally, which currently receives about $17.5 million in military grants and $2.7 million annually for military education and training of Turkish troops. The country stands to lose all of it, as did Yemen when it voted against a US-sponsored UN resolution to invade Iraq in 1991.

In the Security Council lineup, most of the 10 non-permanent members already receive substantial US economic or military aid and are in danger of losing it if they stand up to the US. The largest benefactor is Bulgaria, which has received about $31.5 million in US military grants during 2001-2003, according to the latest Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations 2003. Under a program called Support for East European Democracy, the US has provided an additional $97.1 million in aid during that period.

After its decision to cooperate with Washington in the global war against terrorism, Pakistan is receiving $50 million in outright US military grants in 2003, compared to nothing over the past decade. Washington has also waived long-time restrictions on arms and military assistance to Pakistan.

Angola now receives about $100,000 annually from the US for military education and training, and about $19 million in development assistance, including funds for anti-terrorism activities and de-mining.

Cameroon receives about $200,000 yearly for military training and education and is also eligible to receive surplus US arms cost-free under the Excess Defense Articles program. It also receives US trade benefits under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

The only two Latin American countries in the Security Council are Mexico and Chile. The US provides about $500,000 annually for military training of Chilean soldiers and awarded the country about $1.5 million in outright military grants in 2002-2003.

Mexico, which the State Department describes as "the most important US foreign policy priority in Latin America", will take in over $44 million in development assistance this year, including grants for military training.

In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said that Washington has no plans to "strong arm" members of the Security Council. "We present our case. We don't threaten. We don't suggest that blackmail is in order. And hopefully, the power of our argument will persuade them to vote with us."

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