Tuesday, February 18, 2014

How frequently does the USA veto anti-Israeli UN Security Council resolutions?


The Security Council is the only international body whose decisions are genuinely "law" and need to be obeyed. That is because they imply an agreement between the world's great powers: USA, Russia, China the UK and France and can be implemented by force (though that requires a further decision). To give you an example, if the International Court in the Hague makes a decision, it becomes a recommendation to the Security Council. If the council ignores it or it is vetoed it has little or no significance. The same applies to UN General Assembly votes: they are recommendations to the Security Council and can be ignored or vetoed. The "big five" members basically take all the decisions and a great power consensus is required for any action to be taken.

There are 10 temporary Security Council members drawn from the General Assembly on a mixed rota-election system.  Those members can make proposals for the others to veto or forget. This is significant because about 15% of UN states are Arab and a further 15% Moslem, so they are almost always in the Security Council.  Israel has never sat on the Security Council and as the only "Jewish" state is clearly very isolated at the UN.  At present Jordan is the only Arab member and Nigeria the only largely Moslem country in the Security Council so Israel has a relatively easy period.

So how often does the USA veto anti-Israel decisions?

I counted vetoes from the UN's foundation to 2009. In total 185 vetoes were cast in that period, of which 96 were cast by the USSR/Russia (mainly the USSR) and 78 by the USA. In some cases the other permanent members participated in vetoes, mainly the UK voting with the USA but also France and China occasionally cast vetoes. 

The USA did not cast a single veto before 1970. Most of the USSR's vetoes were cast in that period when the UN and the Security Council were dominated by pro-Western states. Following decolonization, the emergence of a third world voting block shifted power to the Soviet block and the USA then cast lot of vetoes, primarily in reference to the Middle East and Vietnam war.

In the 23 year period 1946-1969, when the USA cast no vetoes at all, the USSR cast 80 vetoes of which 5 vetoes related to Israel: the causes were Syrian-Israeli conflict over water diversions, Egyptian-Israeli conflict over access to the Red Sea and attacks on Israeli civilians.

From 1970 to 2009 the USSR/Russia cast 16 vetoes, only one of which related to the Middle East: In 1984 the USSR rejected a call for withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon, then occupied by Syria and Israel.  Since 2010 it has cast a number of vetoes related to Syria.

France and the UK cast 8 vetoes in the 1946-1969 period. All with relation to the decolonization of Africa, two were about the Sinai crisis.

In the 30 year period 1970-2009, the USA cast 78 vetoes of which 39 - exactly half- were related to the Middle East, so on average the USA has vetoed one anti-Israeli decision a year since 1970.
Democrats governed the USA in 1977-1980, 1993-2000, 12 years out of the 40 year period examined: Only 6 vetoes were cast by Democratic presidents, but 4 of those were Israel-related (one or two per presidential term).
Half of all US Security Council vetoes were during the Reagan presidency, and it also was responsible for half of all Israel-related vetoes, either in relation to the occupied territories or the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. 10 vetoes were cast during the presidency of George Bush Junior of which only one was not related to Israel, in other words 3/4 of all pro-Israeli vetoes were cast by two US presidents.

The necessity of using the veto is often the product of poor inter-state relations. The point about the security council is that issues are resolved in back rooms and not through global confrontation. Use of vetoes are a form of low level confrontation and the high incidence of vetoes under Reagan and Bush may reflect poor inter-state relations, with Israel being an easy way to embarrass the USA because of its lack of international support.

Because I only studied vetoes I can't comment on what the Security Council was actually deciding, and strictly speaking the two need to be examined side by side. Israel is not the only long-term conflict, though it is arguably the UN's oldest conflict. India-Pakistan, Sri-Lanka, Tibet, Sudan and Congo all come to mind and they attracted almost no vetoes.

So is Israel dependent on the US veto? I would say, yes, but less then once a year.

Source: United Nations Security Council - Veto List



Sunday, February 2, 2014

Cheap at the price: Why the USA supports Israel

In debates about Israel, I frequently see references to US aid to Israel.  This is generally provided as evidence of the power of the "Israel lobby" to divert American resources without reference to US needs.  The underlying assumption of this thesis is that support for Israel is not an American interest.

In fact the USA has important reasons for supporting Israel. Modern arms are extremely expensive to produce and generate no financial rewards, unless of course you manage to sell them.  The USA is the world's largest exporter of arms and the profits that it generates on arms sales help fund its arms manufacturers, whose main expense is not manufacturing the arms but doing the research and development needed to design them: By making arms manufacturing more profitable arms sales lower the procurement price for the US military and fund the research required to develop the next generation of weapons.  To put it differently, US military power - at the moment it is the strongest nation on earth - is dependent on its ability to produce the best weapons and sell them.

 Israel is a major customer for US arms - US aid to Israel is not spend it how you please cash, but credits to buy US weapons. The Israelis get a percentage of arms freebies but at the same time the Israelis are among the largest customers for US weaponry and US freebies prevent the Israelis from developing cheaper alternatives or shopping around- which could undermine the USA.  Israel is a major testing ground for US weapons, and Israeli innovation and research plays a key role in forming the next generation of US weapons. Much of US aid actually goes to fund Israeli military research and development and in return Israel gives the USA access to the know how generated by that research.  For example the US funded Israeli anti-missile missiles such as Iron Dome and in return received the technology developed by the Israelis free of charge.

Every major US computing firm (Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Intel, Google etc) maintains an R & D center in Israel - per capita R & D in Israel is the highest in the world by along shot: They do so because it's cheaper here and the Israelis are good at it. What applies to computing also applies to arms. The Israelis use the arms credits they receive to build co-manufacturing and R & D agreements.  In addition many armies round the world use the Israelis as a model ("I'll have what they are having") so that US sales to Israel generate a lot of follow on sales to other states. Israeli use of US weaponry demonstrates its effectiveness - and how to use it.

Basically the US is (to paraphrase President Johnson) "better off with Israel inside the tent pissing out then outside the tent pissing in".

If your assumption is that the USA has no interest and gains nothing from supporting Israel then its very easy to be drawn into a world view which assumes mythical "Jewish power"  and the "Jewish lobby" is the entire cause of US support for Israel. My view is that US support is the product of circumstance and that the lobby, such as it is, merely enhances that support and makes it harder to change direction. It isn't the cause of US support for Israel and in fact the peak of Jewish power in the USA was in the Fifties when US government ties with Israel were quite minimal.


Finally I should mention that the highest recipients of international aid per capita are a variety of small Pacific Island states, but if you rule them out then the highest recipients per-capita are the Palestinians - and by a large margin. See http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/DT.ODA.ODAT.PC.ZS.  the Palestinians receive aid from a huge variety of nations.  World Bank data does not include military aid so it is probably larger in reality. The Israelis get their aid almost exclusively from the USA, almost exclusively as military aid, and receive less per person (though not by a huge margin) then the Palestinians.  Afghans receive more per person the the Israelis: see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_foreign_aid.