Either vote for us; or lose our aid

US mull cutting aid to recalcitrant nations

If you won't play ball, we have a weapon:  cutting your aid.  That seems to be the emerging US mantra in the new scheme of things evolving in US administration under Donald Trump and his increasingly bullying kind of foreign relations.

Sources of the White House indicate, as per a report in Foreign Policy magazine, that Sr Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley is suggesting a radical reassessment of US foreign assistance by which poor countries that 'dare' vote against US policies at the UN will face the threat of losing US aid.

The proposed plan is built on the theory that foreign aid will co-exist only with reciprocal political support.  This has already been kick-started, though with a specific case decision, with a US decision to cut millions of dollars in assistance to Palestinian refugees, in retaliation against Palestine sponsoring UN resolutions denouncing US President Donald Trump’s December 2017 decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.   What the State Secretary means to achieve is the application of the same principle to other needy countries who defy US positions at the world forum.

The memo said to have been leaked is a broader reassessment and says that the US mission to the UN wants all US foreign assistance to be re-evaluated to ensure that 'taxpayers' dollars are spent to advance US interests, not to fund foreign programs that provide little or no return on investment. Thus, it inference is that the US aid is just a price paid to purchase support for US interests.  And the document does not mention how a specific US position can be treated as a direct reflection of the taxpayers' will on those issues. But in the eyes of the administration, aid is a package to win support, and the US government wants the Palestinian aid cut to serve as "a fulcrum from which we use our foreign assistance leverage and measure its impact.”

The memo “America First Foreign Assistance Policy” and marked sensitive, reflects Trump’s oft-repeated dictum the US has been doling out largesse left, right and centre, while the recipients coolly oppose American goals. The proposal also underscores the dramatic shift in Nick Haley’s own stance on foreign assistance; she began her term pledging to preserve humanitarian aid for Palestinian and Syrian civilians and to oppose “slash and burn” cuts at the United Nations.

The document is part of a broader review of U.S. foreign assistance by Trump, who wanted the Congress during his State of the Union address to “pass legislation to help ensure American foreign-assistance dollars always serve American interests and only go to America’s friends.”

The memo lists examples of countries by number of times they supported or opposed US positions at the UN.    But there is provision for exceptions also, if it involves countries where vital US security or economic needs are involved.   For example: some of the largest recipients of US aid, including Iraq, which votes against the U.S. 60 percent of the time, and Egypt, which “often has a more antagonistic approach to the United States in the UN than Russia, China and Venezuela,” would probably be spared, according to the memo.

The proposal mentions in particular nearly 40 countries that received a total of $100 million in US assistance in 2016, but that vote against the United States 54 percent of the time. It notes that South Sudan, one of the top 10 recipients of US aid in 2016, “votes for US interests at the United Nations a paltry 47.9% of the time.”

The document primarily targets development programs, including infrastructure, education, and energy projects, even though those kinds of overseas assistance programs are often explicitly designed to advance US foreign-policy interests.   Those in the area of development and education investments are intended to curb 'radicalism', while energy and development assistance boosts economic growth and stability, lowering the chance for conflict.

Haley’s staff mention three US-funded projects specifically in view of the recipient countries’ frequent lack of support for US positions: A $3.1 million job training program in Zimbabwe, a $6.6 million climate change program in Vietnam, and a $4.9 million school construction program in Ghana.  The memo tallied $580 million in total US support for those three countries in fiscal year 2016, but the US won support at the UN only 54 percent of the time from Ghana, 38 percent of the time from Vietnam, and 19 percent of the time from Zimbabwe.

“None voted with us on Jerusalem, even though none have a strong domestic constituency compelling the vote,” the memo adds.

The objective that seems to have influenced the new US perception is not as much the saving of aid, as the resultant additional acceptance of countries concerned of US policies abroad.  Once the threat of aid denial is raised,   US believes,  the weaker countries that count as much as strong ones at the UN General Assembly for example (with one country one vote),  will come around.   However,   the monetary takeway is not entirely excluded,  “If our warnings fail, then, as the president said, ‘we would save a lot of money,’” the memo reads.