Back in November I wrote about the logic and reality of sanctions:
One last genre of sanctions is ‘conditionality’. Yes, we’ll give you development assistance, but on conditions. One of which is that if you use our assistance to promote extremism we’ll stop supporting you. This issue comes up periodically eg with Palestinian schools that promote vile anti-Semitism: why should UK or EU taxpayers support that?
Conditionality sounds tough but never gets very far: aid budgets must be spent.
The result of years odnosno decades of weak conditionality is that Western aid and development budgets get regarded as the global suckers of first resort:
It does not matter how badly we behave. We’ll still get their money! In fact we can behave even worse than we otherwise might do as their money is actually subsidising our bad behaviour by reducing its opportunity cost! And if we’re behaving badly, it’s not our fault – we obviously need even more money to put things right!
Did President Obama (or for that matter any US President or European leader in living memory) ever say anything to push back firmly against such thinking? Or talk and sound and be tough on making international organisations and other assistance recipients spend their money more wisely?
Along comes President Trump with a novel idea: Why should we give you our money if you flatly oppose us?
This ‘threat’ of course has any impact only insofar as the recipients of said US money think (a) that he might actually mean it, and (b) that in fact he’ll act on it:
Haha, just empty Washington Trumpish bluster! What?? Wait …
President Trump has duly cut a slice off the US contribution to the UN’s budget:
Then on Sunday, when United Nations members reached agreement on a 2018-2019 budget of $5.4 billion, Ms. Haley issued a statement emphasizing the American role in achieving more than $285 million in cuts, along with hints of more reductions to come.
“We will no longer let the generosity of the American people be taken advantage of or remain unchecked,” Ms. Haley said. In future negotiations, she said, “you can be sure we’ll continue to look at ways to increase the U.N.’s efficiency while protecting our interests.”
It was certainly not the first time Ms. Haley had hinted at using America’s financial leverage to get its way at the United Nations. When she first took the job last January, she warned that “you’re going to see a change in the way we do business.”
Then President Trump threatens to cut US aid to Pakistan, much to Pakistan’s consternation.
And to Palestine. Shock! We won’t be blackmailed by you selfishly not giving us your money!
Out pour the foreign policy remora fish analysts who live off scraps from sprawling Western development assistance budgets to intone that this is terrible, destabilising, short-sighted and so on.
They may have a point. One advantage for Washington of having a fat bilateral assistance budget is that it gets US noses into all sorts of corners of the recipient country concerned, and does thereby give insight and ad hoc leverage.
But there is a big different sort of advantage to this approach to diplomacy. It makes a change. And change keeps everyone on their toes.
It’s not so much that Trump’s Washington will now definitely act tough here, there and everywhere. It’s rather that everyone else can no longer count on Washington heaving a deep sigh, opening a fat wallet, and carrying on much as before.
This in turn promotes a wider sense of responsibility. Stupidity isn’t guaranteed to be subsidised indefinitely.
And that new tone (perhaps) prompts some new approaches to hard-headed deal-making.
Worth a try?