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Saturday, October 18, 2003

Rethinking the UN vote

Since last blogging on the topic. I've been thinking a bit more about that UN vote from Thursday.

What did the US gain?

The unanimous UN vote certainly provides a measure of political legitimacy; thus, some other states can more readily act to assist the US.

However, it is not yet clear what precisely that additional assistance will mean.

While none of France, Germany or Russia intend to provide cash or troops, they are going to attend the aid conference next month. In the past two days, US coalition partners Japan and Spain have promised some limited help (less than $1.5 billion in all), timed I'm sure to give the impression that the ball is already rolling -- and to coincide with Bush's visit in the case of Japan.

Moreover, states like India now might be able to provide some troops, though I'd guess they'll want someone else to pay for them. Even if they end up going as UN peacekeepers, the US would pay a substantial portion of their costs. The US pays about 20-25% of the overall UN budget and a higher portion (around one third) of peacekeeping costs. So far as I know, peacekeeping isn't yet planned and would require another resolution by the Security Council, which means France and Russia would have to agree at least not to veto. Do not count on that any time soon.

So, the new UN agreement might provide a small amount of cash and some troops. My guess is that the administration hopes that this veneer of multilateralism will suffice to provide domestic support for the overall Iraq project. That will mean tens of billions in additional US funds (the $87 billion, at minimum) and the ongoing deployment of over 100,000 American troops.

If this multilateral cover works, then the US efforts at the UN will have "succeeded," even if the UN role remains quite insignificant and other states pony up very little.

In other words, I think some were beginning to worry about sustenance of domestic political support for the Iraq project. Calpundit has blogged a little about the recent congressional effort to turn the latest aid into a loan.

The French, Germans and Russians did get a bit more out of the resolution than I originally reported as well. For example, Kofi Annan, as well as the Iraqi Governing Council, will have a voice in the political process that is supposed to set a timetable for a constitution and elections.

Also, the aid monies are going to be handled by a multilateral group and not by either the US or the Iraqis. This will help assure transparency (indeed, there's a specific provision for transparency) and accountability in the development process.

This "democratization of development" is a first step toward countering worries I've mentioned before about crony capitalism -- or "vote buying" by the US with states like Turkey, who will receive a big loan package even as they deploy troops to Iraq.

The UN's role is not going to expand quickly, however, as the AP is reporting even today that Annan remains reluctant to send the agency's people back to Iraq until the country is more secure. Since visiting US VIPs don't stay in Iraq when they visit, it seems pretty obvious that westerners still view the situation as unstable, at best.

The resolution says the UN will play a role in Iraq "as circumstances permit." Some might read that as a way to keep the UN out of the process, but Annan is apparently using it as a way to highlight worries about security on the ground.

Hopefully, the situation on the ground will get better and the recent vote portends a genuine multilateral commitment ot the future of Iraq. America's new UN partners, however, are not yet convinced that the Bush administration is committed to such genuine multilateralism.

I'll continue to keep an eye on the situation.

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