International Relations

Buying Votes for Whales

Feb 4 '10

The International Whaling Commission is an international organization that is, among others, responsible for the moratorium on all commercial whaling and the issuing of permits for scientific whaling. Membership and voting rights are available to any nation-state willing to pay a modest annual fee. As Christian Dippel documents in a recent paper (again from the terrific PEIO conference), this sets a perfect scene for vote-buying. Small landlocked developing countries suddenly become remarkably eager to join the institution and support Japan in its quest to overturn the moratorium and acquire more scientific permits. Not entirely coincidentally, Japanese foreign aid to these countries happens to increase following their newfound fondness for whaling.

Dippel’s paper has at least three interesting findings. The first is simply that the U.S. is not the only country in the world that uses foreign aid for strategic purposes. This may sound self-evident but so many of these studies are targeted at strategic uses of U.S. aid that it is quite refreshing (or depressing) to be reminded that this is not a U.S. specific issue. Second, countries that pledge allegiance to the whaling cause do not get net aid gains. The West (especially the UK) cuts aid following votes in favor of whaling causes. The difference is that the Western aid cut is mostly in the form of loans whereas the Japanese aid comes in no-strings-attached grants. Third, there is very little chance that Japan can buy its way into lifting the moratorium. There are too few small developing states in the world to make this feasible. The fact that Japan keeps spending just to get a larger minority and the minor economic significance of commercial whaling suggest that domestic political reasons drive Japan’s behavior. So perhaps they are buying votes for votes rather than whales. Go check out the full paper.