Is it right to buy and sell Security council votes?

The US needs nine votes to pass a second resolution on Iraq.

Some of the temporary members apparently don’t feel a moral obligation to vote one way or another. Should they accept money from the US for their votes? Should the US offer to pay?

(Of course, any payments will be in the form of foreign aid, not a payoff, but let’s be frank.)

A related question is the $30 billion dollars Turkey asked in return for allowing US soldiers to invade Iraq from bases in Turkey. I think here they demand for a payoff is more cynical, since the Turks have a vested interest in a war-- if not to oust Saddam, then at least to prevent a Kurdistan. Nonetheless, should Turkey have demanded? Should the US pay? (This deal is not sealed as of 2/26/03 at 12:00.)

Are nations bound by the same ethical considerations as individuals?

If a country’s vested interests include getting the payoff money, it’s hard to say it’s immoral. But it’s useless, for 2 main reasons:

  1. The bought country has to stay bought. The money has to keep coming; it isn’t a one-time deal. When the cash stops, so does the support, which will be grudging and less-useful anyway.

  2. It undermines the value of the SC resolution that is being bought. The value is in the legitimacy it bestows, making the predetermined action a result of civilization acting together in the interests of civilization. If it’s patently a cash transaction, that moral legitimacy is not bestowed.

Since when does morality play a part in world politics? All that’s happening is that the general processes of the world political stage are a little more in focus, with all the attention the coming war has given. Read any recent history and you’ll see the whole notion of “trading” votes is simply a fact of political life.

Yes, but is it right? It seems a little… realpolitik?

Realpolitik is how the international game works. Turkey did what I would have done in their position. If the US wants to use Turkey’s bases it should pay - unless it thinks Turkey is bluffing.

The country doesn’t need to stay bought if you are only using it for a one-time action. If you need them for the one-time action then buying them off is very useful.

In the case of Turkey, I think a payoff helps the Turkish government sell the proposition to its citizens. “Yeah, we’re letting the US use our land, and we may get attacked, but looked at this fat wad of cash we got!” Personally, I have no problem with nations buying each other off, as long as they’re up front about their motivations. It’s the way of life.

The moral position of buying and selling these votes seems awfully close to buying and selling innocent human lives. I would have hoped that realpolitik calculations didn’t extend quite that far.

(Not Turkey, but the SC members.)


It seems to be a peculiarly modern (and Western) conceit that morality plays no part in politics. Politics is a subset of ethics. Ethics are the rules of social interaction through which groups, cultures, societies or political entities attempt to adhere to accepted moral precepts. You can no more separate morality from politics than you can from religion.

That’s nice, xeno, but I think what he meant was morality has rarely trumped realpolitik.

If we’re buying off our allies, like we apparently are with Turkey and Israel, why shouldn’t we buy off the other SC members?


That’s what that whooosshing sound was, then?

It is my understanding that Turkey wanted money because of the drastic financial losses it suffered after Desert Storm in 1981 (or whenever it was). It is certainly understandable that they would need to have profits to show its people that things would be different this time. I do not know if it is right or not, but it is the way things are, so I don’t think we had a choice.