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  • Rory O'Keeffe

US threatens aid cut, aims to wreck international system, using Jerusalem

The US government has threatened to cut aid to states which vote against it tomorrow at the UN General Assembly.

As noted here previously, the Assembly has been called for an emergency meeting because the US has – against international law – declared Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and then vetoed a Resolution voted for by every single other member of the UN Security Council which aimed to prevent Jerusalem being declared Israel’s capital while the state is illegally-occupying half the city, and it remains a focal point of peace negotiations between Israel and Palestinian people.

At the Assembly, the resolution must receive two-thirds of the votes cast to pass, and even then no Assembly vote can be considered legally-binding (only Security Council-passed resolutions place responsibility onto UN member-states, and the US vetoed the resolution placed before the Security Council).

But US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has told the UN that she will ‘note who votes against us’ (the US and Israel) and has been ‘asked to pass on the information to the President’ Donald Trump.

And Trump has said: ‘We’ll save a lot. We don’t care. But this isn’t like it used to be where they could vote against you and then you pay them hundreds of millions of dollars. We’re not going to be taken advantage of any longer.’

Aside from the surreal notion that international aid – which in many cases massively increases US market reach and thus actually makes it hundreds of billions of dollars a year – is in some way the same as ‘being taken advantage of’ – the statement is of course a direct attempt to use cash to force states to allow the US to break international law. It is in fact an open attempt to use threats and money to override international law, international cooperation and international democracy.

The sad fact is that this is not new. Though most administrations – including Russian and Chinese (and on fewer occasions UK and French – only fewer in their case because of reduced opportunity, rather than less willingness) administrations as well as those from the US – have had the politeness to make these kinds of statements behind closed doors, the ‘buying’ of, or in this case paying to prevent, UN votes is by no means a new idea, or a new practice.

Nor is this new brazenness in attempting to publicly threaten actual nations (Egypt, for example, which presented the Resolution to the Security Council received $1.2bn from the US last year. The UK, which voted for the Resolution, and therefore against the US, at the Council, is chasing a trade deal with the US to reduce the impact of the self-harm of Brexit) – and thus seriously undermine both the concept of international democracy and indeed the UN as an organisation, really the sole responsibility of Donald Trump.

The US has – as noted here on a number of occasions – been working since 2003 to undermine the UN, as a result of that year’s vote to refuse it the legal right to invade Iraq. This has included the systematic moving of funds to aid organisations which do not accept UN funding, the promotion of USAid as an alternative to UN humanitarian measures (which of course also carries its own economic rewards), the briefing on and off-the-record by US diplomats that the UN is both too powerful (‘overriding the wishes of democratically-mandated states’) and not powerful enough (‘just a talking shop which gets nothing done’).

This year, the US has pulled out of UNESCO and has refused to engage in the UN’s Global Compact on Refugees and Migrants – both measures which are too small in and of themselves to constitute an all-out ‘attack’ on the UN, but which have the advantage of not only weakening the UN in the eyes of the world (if the world’s most powerful state can refuse to abide by or be part of UN decisions and bodies, why shouldn’t we?), but also undermining its decisions and processes (if UNESCO is a biased and corrupt body, as the US alleges, who is to say the same is not true of the rest of the UN?).

Even worse, the very fact that this has happened consistently behind closed doors up to now is a genuine reflection of one of the major weaknesses of the UN – the fact that in a world in which extreme poverty is allowed to exist, the richest members can buy or threaten their way to whatever outcomes they desire.

The ‘solution’ to this would be either to abolish an economic system in which poverty is not only allowed, but required, that aid spending is a mandatory part of UN membership – that each state must contribute to a ‘pool fund’ distributed by the UN as a result of need, rather than as a result of voting the way a powerful state prefers – or that the world’s richest states must not be allowed access to the smallest and poorest in the run-up to votes.

Even so, this US measure should not be misunderstood. It is an open attempt to harm the concept and practice of international law, international diplomacy and international democracy – as well as the UN itself – by using money to override all four.

This is not just about the way it intends to behave, but the method it has chosen – its openness about it – and the fact that it signals its intent not just to ‘win’ a vote, but to puncture the entire system.

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