Thursday, May 3, 2018

Seeing Things America's Way in the United Nations - A Divided World

Updated October 2018

With the United States rather controversial Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley resigning, a brief look at how the United States fits into the global body's ecosystem is in order.  By law, on an annual basis and since 1983, the United States Department of State is required to submit a report to Congress which summarizes the voting patterns in the United Nations, an issue which is largely a concern given that nations receiving foreign aid from the U.S. vote against America's agenda in the United Nations.  Let's look at the most recent iteration of the 'Voting Practices in the United Nations" for 2017 which was released to the public in late April 2018 by the U.S. State Department.

Here is a screen capture of the report's title page, showing what laws govern the compilation and release of the voting records of all members of the United Nations:

The report compiles the voting records as measured by "voting coincidence", comparing how the United States and various nations vote on issue.  The votes are placed into four categories:

1.) same - a situation where the nation in question and the United States vote on the same side of an issue or resolution

2.) opposite - a situation where the nation in question and the United States vote on the opposing sides of an issue or resolution

3.) partial - a situation where the nation in question and the United State were partially aligned on an issue or resolution (i.e. one nation but not both abstained on a resolution)

4.) absent - the number of times that the nation in question did not vote

The "voting coincidence" with the United States is calculated by adding one point for every "same" vote, zero points for every "opposite" vote and one-half point for every "partial" vote.  The total number of points is then divided by the total number of votes excluding absences.  It is important to note that, in previous years, the methodology for calculating the voting coincidence was different because it excluded abstentions and included preliminary votes.

Here is a graphic showing the overall voting coincidence rates for the past ten years using the new methodology:

In 2017, using the aforementioned methodology, the overall voting coincidence with the United States was 31 percent and would have been 37 percent if the methodology used in 2016 was implemented.  As well, the 2016 coincidence rate would have been 41 percent using the new methodology versus 54.8 percent using the previous methodology.  On an overall basis, in 2017, the United States voted against 71 percent of all United Nations General Assembly resolutions, up from 58 percent in 2016, more than any other nation with the average UN member state voting against only six percent of resolutions.

In 2017, the ten nations with the highest voting coincidence with the United States and their voting coincidence percentages are as follows (in descending order):

1.) Israel - 94 percent

2.) Micronesia - 72 percent

3.) Canada - 69 percent

4.) Marshall Islands - 63 percent

5.) Australia - 60 percent

6.) United Kingdom - 60 percent

7.) France - 58 percent

8.) Palau - 56 percent

9.) Ukraine - 54 percent

10.) Czech Republic - 54 percent

It is interesting to note that Israel is, by a very wide margin, the biggest supporter of the U.S. agenda in the United Nations.  It is also interesting to note that, other than France and the United Kingdom, none of the other supporters of the American agenda are global "heavyweights".

In 2017, the ten nations with the lowest voting coincidence with the United States and their voting coincidence percentages are as follows (in ascending order): 

1.) Zimbabwe - 14 percent

2.) Burundi - 14 percent

3.) Iran - 15 percent

4.) Syria - 15 percent

5.) Venezuela - 16 percent

6.) North Korea - 16 percent

7.) Turkmenistan - 16 percent

8.) Cuba - 17 percent

9.) Bolivia - 17 percent

10.) South Africa - 18 percent

While not in the top or bottom ten, let's look at the voting coincidence scores for the up and coming global powers as well as a few notable nations and nations that have been the beneficiaries of America's nation-building exercises (i.e. wars):

China - 22 percent

Russia - 30 percent

India - 25 percent

Germany - 53 percent

Iraq - 21 percent

Afghanistan - 21 percent

Libya - 21 percent

While the report looks only at the voting records within the context of the United Nations, it does not take into account resolutions where consensus is reached; as such, the report notes that "...the vast majority of resolutions in various UN bodies are approved by consensus where no votes were taken", in fact, in 2017, there were only 93 resolutions that required a vote by the United Nations member states compared to 230 resolutions that were adopted without a vote.  This is one key place where the 2017 report compiled under the Trump Administration varies greatly from the report of 2016 as you can see here:

When the "votes plus consensus" coincidence percentages are both used, it certainly appears that the United States receives far more support  for its agenda in the United Nations than the 2017 report would suggest.  In fact, using both votes and consensus, the support from China rose from 38.1 percent to 78.7 percent, the support from Russia rose from 40.3 percent to 80.3 percent and the support from India rose from 33.8 percent to 79.8 percent.    On average, and using the old method of calculating vote coincidence, the vote plus consensus percentage rises to an average of 84.1 percent compared to 54.8 percent when only voting data is used, hardly a cause for concern.

Given the Trump Administration's comment after the UN vote which strongly condemned the American announcement that it was going to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, delivered by UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley as shown here:

...we shouldn't be terribly surprised that the Trump Department of State would use the United Nations voting coincidence data for its own agenda.  While I'm not a fan of the United Nations, I also believe that using data to hoodwink voters into believing what is not necessarily true is a nefarious way to sway the voting public.

In another posting on the United Nations, I will look at how the United Nations member nations voted on the large number of Israel-related issues, a set of resolutions that the United States regularly votes against.

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