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Costly Diplomacy

What’s a seat on the U.N. Security Council worth to a developing nation? Up to $50 million, say two Harvard economists. In a study to be published in the Journal of Political Economy this October, Ilyana Kuziemko and Eric Werker document how the 10 nonpermanent members of the Security Council receive extra foreign assistance during ...

What’s a seat on the U.N. Security Council worth to a developing nation? Up to $50 million, say two Harvard economists. In a study to be published in the Journal of Political Economy this October, Ilyana Kuziemko and Eric Werker document how the 10 nonpermanent members of the Security Council receive extra foreign assistance during their two-year rotations on the council. In an average term, they can expect a massive 59 percent hike in U.S. aid and a more modest 8 percent increase from the United Nations itself. Countries lucky enough to be on the council during a crisis, such as the war in Iraq, receive even more generosity.

A stint on the Security Council allows poor countries a rare chance to play power politics. The referral of pressing problems such as Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programs to the council "gives the nonpermanent members an importance that they would not normally have," says Victor Bulmer- Thomas, director of the British think tank Chatham House. That importance results in considerable courting by the major powers. According to the study, most of the extra funding comes from the United States, originating predominantly from UNICEF — the U.N. agency where America has historically had the most leverage. Both UNICEF and the U.S. government refused to comment on the report.

With a host of international crises bubbling up, expect this fall’s elections for the nonpermanent members to be fiercely contested.

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