Buried in the Treasury Department budget, under "Miscellaneous Trust Funds," is the obscure National Defense Conditional Gift Fund, set up after the Korean War for small amounts of money and goods donated to the United States for defense purposes.
Over the last 12 months such gifts totaled $6,130. There is a balance of about $175,000 in the account, about what the government spends in five seconds. Soon that will swell immensely.
Within a week, the exiled government of Kuwait is expected to deposit about $2.5 billion that it recently pledged to defray some of the costs of U.S. troops deployed in the multinational force in Saudi Arabia. More contributions could follow if Congress does not object.
The Kuwaiti transfer is part of a blizzard of government financial transactions -- and gifts of materiel and supplies -- moving around the globe as a result of the Persian Gulf crisis. Governments are sending troops and ships to the region in response to Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.
They are sending money and goods to aid the military buildup and to help nations that will suffer economic damage.
In response to appeals from Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady, other nations have pledged at least $20 billion to the gulf effort, divided between aid for the troop deployments and help to the "frontline" states, primarily Egypt, Turkey and Jordan.
But turning the pledges into reality has proved a delicate task, involving sensitive issues of sovereignty and protocol.
Although the Bush administration is leading the global opposition to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and has committed the largest military deployment to the region, the United States has little sway over the treasuries of the donor nations and must exercise the diplomatic equivalent of good etiquette.
For example, the administration's list showing who is giving what to whom is considered so sensitive that it has been classified, mostly to avoid any outward appearance that the United States is telling sovereign nations what to do. But many contributions have been announced by the donating countries.
The administration also is trying to ensure money is spread among needy frontline states and does not accumulate in one place. The administration is discussing formation of a donor advisory group to make sure that individual decisions in Bonn and Tokyo and Riyadh do not overlap or conflict.
For example, many Arab nations are loath to provide financial aid to Jordan because King Hussein initially praised Saddam after the invasion. But some European nations, including West Germany, are willing to send aid to Jordan as long as it abides by the international embargo of Iraq.
The advisory group may serve as a clearinghouse for the donors, so they at least know what the others are doing. Most of the donations for the frontline states will go from donor to recipient and the money will never pass through Washington.
The donations from other countries to the United States to defray costs for Operation Desert Shield, the U.S. component of the multinational force, also have raised important legal questions about the role of outsiders in paying for U.S. foreign policy goals. This question was hotly debated after the Iran-contra scandal, when it was discovered that President Ronald Reagan and his aides secretly solicited money from other nations to finance operations as a way of bypassing Congress.
Now the solicitation is being done in the open and at the behest of Congress. But some members, including Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), have insisted that the administration not be allowed to pocket contributions from wealthy friends without Congress first exercising its constitutional obligation to appropriate money.
Other lawmakers have also raised concerns about whether hidden deals have been made in connection with the solicitations; the administration says none have.
According to officials, when the check from Kuwait arrives, the plan is to deposit it in the Treasury Department's National Defense Conditional Gift Fund. The fund was created by Congress in 1954, apparently to allow small gifts of money by patriotic Americans to support the military. But it received virtually no contributions until 1973. Since then contributions have been relatively meager. According to the Treasury Department, the total gifts to the trust fund, from 1973 until 1989, have been $603,105.
Byrd said last week that this "petty cash fund" was never intended "to accept donations of billions of dollars from foreign countries." He and Nunn proposed abolishing it and setting up a new Pentagon gift fund, contributions to which would be appropriated by Congress. Although Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney would prefer that the Pentagon accept contributions of money and materiel directly so they could be used quickly, administration officials said last week they would not oppose the Byrd-Nunn approach.
When President Bush launched the effort to round up financial and materiel support for Operation Desert Shield earlier this month, officials said he hoped to glean $23 billion from other nations. A survey of the commitments so far indicates he has come close to that goal in pledges, although much is made up of in-kind contributions.
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have pledged about $12 billion by the end of this year. Kuwait's $5 billion offer will be divided between aid to the frontline states and Operation Desert Shield. The Saudi contribution of $6 billion will include donations of fuel, water and transportation to U.S. troops in the kingdom. The Saudi monarchy also is believed to be making separate contributions to other Arab nations.
Japan has pledged $4 billion, half in logistic support for the multinational force, including transport, desert equipment such as 800 four-wheel-drive vehicles, medical teams and funding for chartered aircraft. The other half of Japan's contribution will be economic aid to the frontline states; $600 million has been earmarked in immediate commodity loans for Egypt, Turkey and Jordan.
West Germany has pledged about $2 billion to Operation Desert Shield and the frontline states. The donations for the multinational force include 60 Fox-class armored vehicles specially equipped for chemical and biological warfare conditions as well as training in their use for 600 U.S. personnel.
The European Community has under discussion a $2 billion package of aid to the frontline states, although a formal commitment has not been made. Canada and Italy have announced separate offers of aid to the frontline states.
Also, many nations have pledged smaller amounts to help international relief organizations cope with the flood of refugees coming into Jordan from Iraq and Kuwait. Saudi Arabia is expected to provide more than $75 million; the European Community, $60 million; the United States has pledged $28 million; Japan, $22 million; Britain, $6.9 million; Canada made an initial $2.5 million contribution and has pledged "substantially" more to help transport refugees back to their home countries. More than a dozen other nations also are involved in this relief effort.