A Balance of Power in the United Nations Security Council?

Investigating Chinese Foreign Aid Spending and Council Membership

Term Paper, 2019

25 Pages, Grade: 1,3
















1. Introduction

Since President Donald Trump’s administration, it has become public knowledge that the United States (US) expect conformity in exchange for money within the United Nations (UN). Nikki Hayley, former US Ambassador to the United Nations commented on the release of the yearly report on UN voting patterns by the State Department with the following: “The American people pay 22 percent of the U.N. budget - more than the next three highest donor countries combined. In spite of this generosity, the rest of the U.N. voted with us only 31 percent of the time, a lower rate than in 2016. [...] this is not an acceptable return on our investment" (United States Mission to the United Nations, 2018).

Research has shown for years that the US strategically buy vote compliance with foreign aid both in the UN General Assembly (GA) as well as the Security Council (SC) (see e.g. Dreher et al., 2008; Vreeland & Dreher, 2014; Kuziemko & Werker, 2006; Bueno de Mesquita & Smith, 2010). And although this type of transactional diplomacy collides with the democratic character and self-conception of the GA, there is hardly any criticism of the US’ behavior - neither from governments, nor from the UN secretariat.

Thus, the question arises: what about the other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC)? Do they also try to secure support and a similar voting behavior by using foreign aid as an incentive? Research so far has been very much focused on the behavior of the US and a small group of scholars have considered the G7 nations as a whole, but to this day, no investigation of the case of China has been conducted. Seeing China’s rapid rise in economic and military power and the realist expectation of a balance of power, this study aims to address the research gap and examine, whether China also pursues a strategy of increasing foreign aid as a country becomes a non-permanent member of the UNSC.

According to the realist school of thought, international politics are power politics and states constantly work to increase their power - be it economic or military power - relative to each other (Mearsheimer, 2007, 72). And although the United States can be seen as a hegemon since the end of the cold war, unipolarity is regarded by realists as the least durable of all power configurations (Waltz, 2000, 27). This stems from the expectation of a balance of power, which means that a rising power challenges the hegemon and achieves a more even power distribution, leading to a bipolar structure in international politics. Since the second most powerful state is currently understood to be China (Brooks & Wohlforth, 2016), this balance of power would take place between Beijing and Washington. And certainly, the rise of China within the last few decades is nothing less than exceptional. China is almost caught up to the United States in terms 3 of military spending and economic growth, the population is three times that of the US and China can already be seen as a regional hegemon in Asia (Mearsheimer, 2007, 83).

However, even though China has become more aggressive and vocal in global politics since Xi Jinping’s shift away from the “hide and bid policy” (Kilby, 2017, 28) and scholars have indeed observed subtle strategies of Beijing challenging and resisting the authority of the hegemon (Schweller & Pu, 2011, 53), it remains understudied, if China also attempts to challenge US dominance in the UNSC. If the expectation of a balance of power by realists were true though, we might expect China not to let the US dominate - especially in a critical area such as international security politics - the decisions of the UNSC by strategically buying votes or support with foreign aid. Thus, this paper aims to address the research question: Does China challenge US dominance in the UNSC by increasingforeign aidfor non-permanent members? With a look at Chinese spending on foreign aid the assumption of buying support does not seem far-fetched: “China’s annual provision of official finance now rivals that of the United States” (Dreher et al., 2017, 2). Moreover, while US aid is usually linked to the promotion of democracy, liberalization and capitalism, “the only political condition China placed on its development partners was support of a One China Policy, restricting official recognition of Taiwan” (Kilby, 2017, 3). This implies that Chinese foreign aid could potentially be even more effective than US aid in strategically buying support in the UNSC, because it comes without any strings attached and gives state leaders more freedom to decide over the allocation of resources.

In order to answer the research question, a linear regression will be run, testing whether there is a significant effect of Security Council membership on the amount of foreign aid a country receives from China. A dataset by the research lab ‘AidData’ on Chinese foreign aid will be used, which provides the most accurate and comprehensive dataset of Chinese spending on foreign aid in the years 2000 until 2014 (AidData, 2017). This dataset will be combined with a dataset on UNSC membership between 2000 and 2014. Council membership is treated as the independent variable, which is expected to influence the amount of foreign aid given by China, the dependent variable. Results of the regression run counter to the realist expectation: the linear regression shows a lack of significant results, which suggests that Beijing in fact does not pursue a strategy of vote compliance buying. However, there are some limitations to the study, like the quality and timeframe of the data. Reasons, why Beijing should explicitly not copy the US strategy of paying for support in the UNSC are also discussed.

The remainder of this paper proceeds as follows: in the following second chapter previous literature is shortly discussed, before carving out the theoretical framework to assume a Chinese interest in securing support in the UNSC in the third chapter. Fourth, the research design is explained, followed by the findings of the linear regression, which are then thoroughly discussed in the sixth chapter. Seventh, the limitations of this study and the need for further research are outlined, finally concluded by a summary and a short outlook of the study.

2. Literature Review

Previous research has both qualitatively and quantitatively assessed and examined financial flows among Security Council members. One of the earliest discoveries of the US using foreign aid as an instrument to accomplish vote compliance dates back to 1973 and was conducted by Eugene Wittkopf. Wittkopf found that out of all members of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee and the Soviet Union, only the US aid is significantly associated with voting patterns (Wittkopf, 1973, 887).

Ever since, multiple scholars have tested different contexts, both the GA and the UNSC, and a majority confirmed Wittkopf’s finding that the US indeed strategically buys support with foreign aid (e.g. Dreher et al., 2008; Vreeland & Dreher, 2014; Kuziemko & Werker, 2006; Bueno de Mesquita & Smith, 2010). Kuziemko and Werker for example found that when a country becomes a member of the SC, foreign aid given by the United States is increased by as much as 59% (Kuziemko & Werker, 2006, 905). The government of the Republic of Yemen on the other hand had to experience the flip side of the coin. They denied their support to the UNSC resolution to authorize the use of force in Iraq in 1990, a resolution which was very much pressed by the United States, and as a result all of their $70 million US aid was cut (Vreeland & Dreher, 2014, 9).

It remains unclear however, whether any of the other P5 members follow a similar policy. Only few scholars have looked at other countries besides the US and when investigating the other G7 nations, studies presented mixed results. While Alesina and Weder (2002) only find a pattern of increasing aid for vote compliance by the US, Alesina and Dollar (2000) and Gates and Hoeffler (2004) find a similar pattern also for the other G7 countries - namely Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom. One of the more recent studies by Dreher and Sturm (2012) on the contrary finds that the overall bilateral aid by G7 donors is not robustly related to UN voting behavior. Existing research has thus been rather focused on the General Assembly than on the Security Council and since China is not one of the G7 states, Chinese foreign aid spending has not been scrutinized yet at all. This research gap is possibly due to the lack of available and reliable data, since China does not participate in existing reporting systems, such as the OECD’s Creditor Reporting System or the International Aid Transparency Initiative (Strange et al., 2017), or due to the fact that China so far has been regarded as reluctant to spearhead much intervention within the UNSC and therefore needs no support for UNSC resolutions (Abhinandan, 2008). With China’s rapid rise in terms of power and capability in recent years though, it is worth investigating the Chinese behavior in the SC more closely and address the existing research gap.

3. Theory

The theoretical basis to assume an interest of China in paying for support in the UNSC is not quite as obvious as in the case of the United States. The US historically has been the number one country, which advocates for global intervention, stems the largest part of the UN budget and provides the UN with its military capabilities - therefore requires support by other Council members and also demands it, because of its large financial and material contributions (Weiss, 2003).

China on the other hand has gone through a remarkable shift in attitude towards the United Nations and the UNSC in particular. While it is true that Beijing has been “one of the world’s most vocal critics of intervention in any form” (Carlson, 2004, 12) all throughout the 1980s, since 1990 the “Chinese government reluctantly began to accept the development of the interventionist trend” (Carlson, 2004, 13), which meant in effect that China “participated in a limited fashion in a handful of UN-sponsored peacekeeping operations” (Carlson, 2004, 17) and implemented a “consistent policy of acquiescing to most interventions” (Carlson, 2004, 24). Looking at more recent years, it seems China’s attitude towards interventionism has become ever more accepting. Between 2000 and 2009, China casted 622 affirmative votes out of a total of 636 votes in the Security Council, which equals 97.8% (Wuthnow, 2013, 29). With only two vetoes in the same timeframe it used its right to veto less than the US (issued 9 vetoes) or Russia (issued 4 vetoes).

Generally, it has been observed that “China’s involvement in global regimes has increased quite substantially in the post-Cold War years” (Abhinandan, 2008, 3). This trend goes hand in hand with an increase of economic and military capabilities and the emergence of China as a major player in world politics (Abhinandan, 2008). From a realist perspective, the rise of China does not come as a surprise. The very premise of realism is that “states balance against hegemons, even those like the United States that seek to maintain their preeminence by employing strategies based more on benevolence than coercion” (Layne, 1993, 7). Consequently, unipolarity is regarded by structural realists to be “the least durable of international configurations” (Waltz, 2000, 27), which is due to either the hegemon taking on too many tasks and misusing its power or due to weaker states worrying about the hegemon’s future behavior. Either way the result is that “some states try to increase their own strength or they ally with others to bring the international distribution of power into balance” (Waltz, 2000, 28). Further, time additionally plays into the hands of weaker states, as they are encouraged to challenge the status quo by economic change, or rather uneven growth rates among states, which redistribute relative power over time (Kirshner, 2012, 54).

Since the expansion of military capabilities and the economic rise of the challenger eventually lead to serious international crises, because of the intense competition among states for resources, markets, military power, political influence and prestige, realists expect the challenger to delegitimize the hegemon’s authority way before daring to confront the hegemon with their military (Schweller & Pu, 2011, 43). If challengers do not successfully delegitimize the hegemon in the eyes of other states, “the risks and high costs of attempting to restore a global balance will be prohibitive” (Schweller & Pu, 2011, 46).

Looking again at the case of China, one of the most famous realists, John J. Mearsheimer, asserts that “the power gap between China and the United States is shrinking” (Mearsheimer, 2010, 381). Beijing does not yet openly challenge the dominant ideology and authority of the US, especially because their ability to grow also necessitates a stable relationship with the United States, but the Chinese government has indeed “found more subtle ways to resist US unipolarity” (Schweller & Pu, 2011, 53). Among these strategies are 1) the recent call for multilateralism, 2) the use of international organizations to project power, 3) the use of Chinese financial power to gain political and diplomatic influence, for example by holding a huge Dollar-denominated foreign exchange reserve, 4) the expansion of influence in defining legitimate international norms and 5) the increase of influence in Africa, Central Asia, Latin America and the Middle East through soft power diplomacy, for example by promoting Chinese language and culture in Asia, by providing an attractive developmental model based on gradual reform and authoritarianism to poor and nondemocratic states and by offering aid without political preconditions, unlike Western donors (Schweller & Pu, 2011, 54).

It is exactly this subtle strategy of delegitimizing the US in an attempt to eventually balance global power, whichjustifies the assumption that China could indeed have an interest in buying support or even votes in the Security Council. Again, the research question to be answered is the following: Does China challenge US dominance in the UNSC by increasingforeign aidfor non-permanent members?

Increasing foreign aid for non-permanent members of the UNSC would combine two of the existing Chinese strategies to delegitimize the US as a hegemon: first, China would use an international organization, namely the United Nations, more specifically the UNSC, to project power and second, China would further increase their influence and prestige in Africa, Central Asia, Latin America and the Middle East by providing aid without conditionalities and offering an alternative ideology than the promotion of liberalism and democracy.

Scholars have already observed that China’s spending on foreign aid has increased rapidly within recent years and is now rivalling that of the US (Dreher et al., 2017, 2). And countries on the receiving end respond enthusiastically: especially African countries welcome not only the amplified amount of aid flowing to the continent, but also the provision of aid without political strings attached (Alden, 2005). Furthermore, considering that China itself is still regarded as a developing country and understands its role as “the self-proclaimed leader of the developing world” (Abhinandan, 2008, 73), their provision of financial aid without conditionalities might even be more effective than the vote buying of the US, since it combines firstly, offering developing countries a welcomed alternative ideology and easy access to money and secondly, developing countries might expect Chinese policy and activity in the UNSC to more closely mirror the interests of the Global South - as China identifies itself as a developing country - which could result in greater congruence in voting behavior. At the same time, this strategy would successfully delegitimize the US as a hegemon with rigid standards for aid payments and win much support by developing countries in rejecting the Pax Americana as the dominant ideology.

This strategy might not have any obvious short-term benefits, because China hardly ever initiates draft proposals within the UNSC and therefore does not need to rally support like the US. However, China’s position and attitude within the UNSC has evolved over time and the fact that Beijing no longer adheres to the principle of non-intervention, increased their financial contribution to the UN considerably - so much in fact that they are now the second-largest contributor to the UN budget, right behind the US (XinhuaNet, 2018) - and even recently started supporting sanctions against rogue regimes, which they used to have significant ideological opposition against (ChinaPower, 2018), suggest that China might plausibly be interested in spearheading more resolutions and interventions in the future. In order to at least have the possibility to issue draft proposals with some external support, China could use foreign aid as an incentive for countries to express an aligning position in the SC. And even if China does not decide to initiate a resolution, it can still use support of other Council members, when it wants to induce changes during the negotiations of a resolutions. This has happened for example when the sanctions against North Korea were discussed and China had an interest in diluting “the proposed sanctions in negotiations among Security Council members” (ChinaPower, 2018). Lastly, even when China simply rejects proposals, it could come in handy if it were not the only country to express dissent or, even worse, is constantly seen as following Russia’s vote, since Russia’s global prestige has been in decline for years (Foglesong & Hahn, 2002). If more Council members were to vote likewise, public perception of China’s vote would not be as negative, which is especially important to Beijing, since its policymakers work hard to create an image of China being a responsible global power (Abhinandan, 2008, 74). After all, these long-term benefits speak in favor of using foreign aid as an instrument to secure vote compliance. As Beijing becomes more powerful, it would be well advised in finding likeminded countries to partner up with against the hegemon, especially in a critical area such as international security politics.


Excerpt out of 25 pages


A Balance of Power in the United Nations Security Council?
Investigating Chinese Foreign Aid Spending and Council Membership
University of Potsdam
Security Council and Crisis Management
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Security Council, United Nations, Foreign Aid, China
Quote paper
Marla van Nieuwland (Author), 2019, A Balance of Power in the United Nations Security Council?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/534862


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