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The behavior of the ministates in the United Nations, 1971–1972

  • Joseph R. Harbert (a1)

This article examines the voting behavior of the exceptionally small states (population less than one million) in the UN General Assembly. It uses modified Rice-Beyle techniques (Index of Cohesion and Index of Agreement) to measure the cohesiveness of 23 ministates in four issue-areas: political, colonial, economic, and social, humanitarian and cultural. Ministate voting patterns are compared with those of the US, the USSR, the former colonial powers, and the African-Asian caucusing group. The study's major findings are that: 1) there is greatest ministate cohesion on colonial and economic issues and less cohesion on social, humanitarian, and cultural questions. Political issues divide the ministates; 2) the ministates and the USSR vote similarly on colonial and economic questions, whereas the ministates' voting is more similar to that of the US and the colonial powers on social, humanitarian, and cultural issues. On political issues the ministates are neither a bloc nor the subservient clients of the superpowers; 3) with few exceptions ministate voting patterns are similar to those of the African-Asian group in the UN. These findings extend the generalizations of Kay, et al., with reference to the concerns of the newer nations. In addition, the findings indicate that size alone does not appear to be a significant differentiating variable. The existence of shifting alignments and majorities in different issue-areas underscores the political sophistication and relative independence from large power pressure of ministate voting in the UN.

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1 Currently there are 138 member states (Cf. 51 original members).

2 See Kay, David A., The New Nations in the United Nations 1960–1967 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1970) and Alker, Haywood R. Jr and Russett, Bruce M., World Politics in the General Assembly (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965).

3 In 1971–72 all but two of the ministates were assessed the minimum contribution to the budget of .04 percent; two others paid .05 percent. As a group ministates paid only .97 percent of the UN budget yet they controlled 17.4 percent of Assembly votes. They were part of a larger “group” comprising 62.1 percent of the votes, just six votes short of forming a two-thirds majority and more than sufficient to block any resolution. This group contributed just 3.35 percent to the total budget. In 1973 the minimum assessment was reduced to .02 percent, thereby compounding the problem. Similar considerations underlie US Ambassador to the UN John Scali's recent remarks (New York Times, 12 7, 1975, p. 15).

4 Mendelsohn, Maurice H., “Diminutive States in the United Nations,” International and Comparative Law Quarterly, 21, Part 4 (10, 1972): 609.

5 Future studies might explore this question by setting a higher population figure, expanding the group under study and naming it, for example, the “small” states, e.g., by raising the standard to three million, eight other states would have been included.

6 1971–72 figures are from: United Nations Population and Vital Statistics Report, Statistical Papers, Series A, Vol. XXV, No. 1, 1972 ST/STAT ser. A/103; and United Nations Statistical Yearbook, 1971 (New York: Statistical Office of the United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 1972).

7 One exception is Schwebel, Steven M., “Minstates and a More Effective United Nations,” American Journal of International Law 67, No. 1 (01 1973): 108–16.

8 The Bahamas were admitted during the 28th General Assembly and Grenada and Guinea-Bissau during the 29th.

9 See Ball, M. Margaret, “Bloc Voting in the General Assembly,” International Organization 5 (02 1951): 331; Alker, and Russett, : Hovet, Thomas Jr, Bloc Politics in the UN (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960); Reiselbach, Leroy N., “Quantitative Techniques for Studying Voting Behavior in the UN General Assembly,” International Organization 14 (Spring 1960): 291306; Russett, Bruce M., “Discovering Voting Groups in the United Nations,” American Political Science Review 60 (06 1966): 327–39; Vincent, Jack E., “Predicting Voting Patterns in the General Assembly,” American Political Science Review 65 (06 1971); 471–98 and An Application of Attribute Theory to General Assembly Voting Patterns and Some Implications,” International Organization 26 (Summer 1972); 551–82; and Lip-jhart, Arend, “The Analysis of Bloc Voting in the General Assembly,” American Political Science Review 57 (12 1963): 902–17.

10 See Keys, Donald F., “Winds of Change in the United Nations,” War/Peace Report 10 (03 1970): 78, and Whitaker, Urban G. Jr, “Mini Membership for Mini States,” War/Peace Report (04 1967): 35.

11 Alger, Chadwick F., “A Decade of Quantitative and Field Research on International Organizations,” International Organization 24, No. 3 (Summer 1970): 435.

12 See Russett, Bruce M., International Regions and the International System (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1967), pp. 60–1.

13 Haas, Ernst B., “Systems and Process in the International Labor Organization: A Statistical Afterthought,” World Politics 14, No. 2 (01 1962): 322.

14 Saenz, Paul, “A Latin American-African Partnership,” Journal of Inter-American Studies 11 (10 1969): 317.

15 Truman, David, The Congressional Party (New York: John Wiley, 1959), p. 13.

16 For other indicators of participation see: Kay, p. 79, and Weigart, Kathleen Maas and Riggs, Robert E., “Africa and United Nations Elections: An Aggregate Data Analysis,” International Organization 22 (Winter 1969): 12.

17 Assignment of votes to categories was done with reference to the committee of origin, but included my own subjective judgment as to the primary factor underlying the vote. Although there are arbitrary elements in any such schema, I think mine represents a reasonable compromise between the emphasis of the particular sessions and the problem of collecting enough data on specific issues to achieve meaningful results.

18 For example, the admission of the People's Republic of China, the situation in the Middle East, nuclear testing, etc.

19 For somewhat different issue-area categories see: Alker and Russett, p. 297; Hovet, p. 216; Lipjhart, , Riggs, Robert E., Politics in the United Nations: A Study of United States Influence in the General Assembly (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1957), p. 5; and Gareau, Frederick H., “Cold War Cleavages Seen From the United Nations General Assembly,” Journal of Politics 32 (11 1970): 929–68.

20 Forty-four recorded or roll call votes at the 26th Session and 45 votes at the 27th Session were not used to tabulate the indexes. Many of these were votes on which there was virtual unanimity; others did not fit into the four chosen categories.

21 Before 1966, when electronic equipment was installed, roll call votes were the only way in which votes of each country were made known publicly. Now, virtually the only difference between roll call and recorded votes is that with the former, the roll is actually read; with the latter a record of how each delegation votes is inserted in the summary or verbatim record of the meeting. This has led to an increase since 1966 in data available for voting studies. Only 5.9 percent and 7.4 percent of the plenary votes were roll calls during the 26th and 27th Assembly sessions, whereas the figures for recorded votes were 37.7 percent and 36.3 percent. I consider the two types of votes equivalent–they represent public positions on issues.

22 In 1971, of 125 roll call or recorded votes in plenary only 15 were rejections, and of these only one was a rejection of a whole resolution.

23 See also Hovet, , Riggs, , Furey, John Bernard, Voting Alignments in the General Assembly (Ph.D Dissertation, Columbia University), Doctoral Dissertation Series #6620 Ann Arbor: University Microfilm, 1954; Chamberlin, Waldo, “The North Atlantic Bloc in the General Assembly,” Orbis 1, No. 4 (Winter 1958): 459–73; Houston, John A., Latin America in the United Nations (United Nations Study No. 8. New York: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1956); Jacobsen, Kurt, “Some Aspects of UN Voting Patterns,” Proceedings of the International Peace Research Association, Second Conference (Assen, the Netherlans; Von Gorcum and Co., 1968), pp. 315–46; Shay, T.C., “Non-Alignment Si, Neutralism No,” The Review of Politics 30, No. 2 (04 1968): 228–45; See also Saenz, Kay, and Reiselbach.

24 As Rice explains it, if roll call votes were cast according to pure chance, the most probable result for any roll call would be a 50/50 split. Cohesion would be zero for the group. One must, therefore, attempt to determine “the degree of departure from the most probable chance distribution toward complete uniformity of action.” If a vote is 30 percent affirmative this is a deviation of 20 percent from the 50 percent expected by chance; the Index of Cohesion is 40.0. (Rice, Stuart A., Quantitative Methods in Politics [New York: Knopf, Alfred A., 1928], p. 208). For applications of similar indexes see Haas, p. 322; Reiselbach, p. 295; Lipjhart, pp. 906–8; and Singer, Marshall R. and Sensenig, Barton, III, “Elections Within the United Nations,” International Organization 17, No. 4 (Autumn 1963): 901–25.

25 See Beyle, Herman C., Identification and Analysis of Attribute Cluster Blocs (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1931). The Index of Agreement was used effectively by Lipjhart in the 1960s but has been relatively ignored in UN voting literature since then. Three studies which do use similar indexes are: Dodge, Dorothy, “African Voting Cohesion in the United Nations,” Africa Report 12 (10 1967): 58–9; Gareau, Frederick H., The Cold War, 1947–1967: A Quantitative Study. Monograph Series in World Affairs, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Denver: Social Science Foundation and Graduate School of International Studies, University of Denver, 19681969); Rai, Kul B., “Foreign Policy and Voting in the UN General Assembly,” International Organization, 27 (Summer 1972): 589–94.

26 Lipjhart, p. 910. Although this assumption is open to question abstentions are a kind of intermediate position. See Rowe, Edward T., “The Emerging Anti-Colonial Consensus in the United Nations,” Journal of Conflict Resolution, 7 (11 1964): 211. In recent years there is some evidence that there has been a trend toward near unanimous voting. In these cases one might consider an abstention to be closer to a negative vote. For this study I have assumed that an abstention is equivalent to a vote half-way between an affirmative and a negative vote.

27 Another technique which might be used here is factor analysis. For applications of this see Newcombe, Hanna, Ross, Michael and Newcombe, Alan G., “United Nations Voting Patterns,” International Organization 24 (Winter 1970): 100221, and Alker, Haywood R. Jr, “Dimensions of Conflict in the General Assembly,” American Political Science Review 57 (09 1964): 642–57; Vincent. For a discussion of the comparative merits of various methods see Anderson, Lee F., Watts, Meredith W. Jr and Wilcox, Allen R., Legislative Roll Call Analysis (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1966).

28 This index was developed by Rice to measure inter-group difference. Index of Likeness = complement of the arithmetic difference between the percentage of members voting affirmatively in each of two groups (abstentions = one-half affirmative vote).

29 Figures are based on the modified Rice Index with abstentions treated as intermediate positions. The figures in parentheses are Rice Indexes in which abstentions are grouped as negative votes. The problem arises when using the formula:

On several resolutions eight of the nine states in the Soviet bloc (Bulgaria, Byelorussia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Mongolia, Poland, Ukraine, USSR) voted one way while Romania voted another. If the eight abstained, for example, the IC would be only 33.3. This gives no real indication of the cohesion of this group. Hence the Index itself might be faulted for generating inaccuracies in these types of situations. Figures are for two sessions.

30 With the possible exception of economic issues. The figure in parentheses for the Soviet bloc would appear to be more accurate. However, the differences between ministate and Soviet scores are smallest for economic issues.

31 In Rice's terms, by pure chance on any vote one could expect a 50/50 split. When abstentions are included these probabilities shift. However, the degree of cohesion to be expected by chance does not assume equal probabilities of affirmative, negative, and abstaining votes. Rather it assumes that for any subset of the Assembly cohesion will be the same as for the Assembly as a whole. These figures are provided in the third column of table 1.

32 The inability to locate such members within a group is a serious drawback of using an Index of Cohesion by itself.

33 For the Index of Agreement the matrix below represents all possibilities in a three-way vote system for two states.

The probability of a full agreement is 1/3 (boxes 1, 5, 9). The probability of a full disagreement is only 2/9 (boxes 2, 4). The probability of a partial agreement is 4/9 (boxes 3, 6, 7, and 8). Thus by “pure” chance the IA=55.6. In practice it is somewhat closer to 60.0 for the Assembly as a whole. Since this is a relatively high number I have set my standards for group cohesion at the high level of IA=90.0.

34 Most abbreviations use the first three letters of the state's name. Exceptions: MLT (Malta), MLD (Maldive Islands), MRS (Mauritius), and UAE (United Arabi Emirates).

35 One exception–Kuwait and Gambia IA=75.0.

36 For these states the difference between agreement scores was less than ten.

37 US-USSR scores: political IA=48.4, colonial IA=19.0, economic IA=50.0, and social IA=40.9; mean index was 39.6 overall.

38 Seventeen of the ministates are members of this group. Three of the other states are Latin American. The degree of agreement they (and the newly admitted Bahamas and Grenada) show with other Latin American nations, and the degree to which the Latin American caucusing group as a whole votes with the African and Asian nations in the UN, are subjects worthy of further study.

39 There is some weakness in comparing empirically determined groups with mere categoric groups. Ideally, one would apply the IA technique to determine Levels of agreement between all ministates and more populous members of other larger groupings. However, since the empirical determination of such larger entities necessarily forms the basis for a more comprehensive study of voting patterns for the General Assembly as a whole I have opted for a somewhat simpler method of comparison.

40 See Anderson, et. al., Chapter 3.

41 Additional evidence was provided by computing Indexes of Agreement for the ministate nuclei in each issue area with four of the larger African-Asian states: Egypt, India, Nigeria, and the Philippines. On political issues the ministates agreed with Nigeria and Egypt at IA=90.0 and with the Philippines and India only at lower IA's (mid-80's and high 70's respectively). On colonial, economic and social, humanitarian, and cultural questions, the respective ministate clusters had IA's in the high 90's with all four of the larger states.

42 Russett, , International Regions, p. 60.

43 Wainhouse, David, Remnants of Empire (New York: Harper and Row for the Council on Foreign Relations, 1964), p. 69.

44 Kay, p. 181.

45 See Rustow, Dankwart A., A World of Nations (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1967) and also the various works of Alker and Russett cited above.

46 Kay, p. 110.

47 Scali.

48 One might note that the US rarely complained about the “self-centered actions” of the quite different majority which it led in the early years of the United Nations.

49 Riggs, , Politics in the UN, p. 27.

50 Alker and Russett, p. 15.

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