Assessing the Veto
Since its formation in 1945, the United Nations Security Council is comprised of the five permanent members (P5) who hold a very special power called the “veto.” The P5 nations (France, The People’s Republic of China (PRC), the United Kingdom, the United States of America and the Russian Federation) use this ‘veto,’ to accept or dissolve the adoption of any “objective” resolution, irrespective of whether all 14 permanent members have voted “yes.” This results in their complete de facto control over decision making during the session.
Many policymakers have criticized the veto system as “the most undemocratic character of the United Nations.” For decades, political scientists and foreign experts have been calling for a reform in the veto power of the UNSC. These reforms include extending the veto power to non-member nations, limiting its use to national security issues, while many experts question the use of the veto itself demanding an end to it. Reforms such as these would impact the effectiveness of the functioning of the UNSC all together.
However, the word ‘veto’ itself is not specifically mentioned, “concurring votes of the permanent members” gives the power to any nation to either adopt or reject a decision taken by the council on any substantive issue. In the course of UN history, almost 220 votes have been vetoed, many of those have been repeatedly done by the P5 nations. Reasons to use the veto have been varied from an “issue by issue basis” to a “nation by nation.” Moreover, it is no more surprising for nations to misuse the power by the council itself for their self interest and so to prevent any other country in harming it.
It is also important to understand that, powerful nations like the US and Russia have systematically used the veto to cover the decisions of their allies. The US has predominantly vetoed all the decisions particularly with respect to condemning Israel for its actions in the Israel-Palestine conflict, popularly known as the “Negroponte doctrine.” Russia too has vetoed any decision taken by the Council against the Assad regime. More importantly, the People’s Republic of China has abstained from all the vetoes which did not benefit it directly.
Political scientists continue to blame the use/misuse of the veto as a failure of the international community’s response to many conflicts which directly or indirectly involved the P5. Some of the conflicts include the Sino-Vietnamese War (1979), the Invasion of Iraq (2003) and most recently the Syrian Civil War. It is also important to understand that the veto makes the decision mechanisms ineffective, which further obliterates “neutral” institutional principles and compromises UN leadership especially when a P5 nation is involved in the conflict.
The issue today
Many political scientists have advocated reforming the veto, some by completely abolishing it. More importantly, in order to change or abolish the veto requires amending the charter which can only be done by the Security Council, which means that P5 nations could again use the veto to obstruct the decision taken by the Security Council in amending the charter. Abolishing the veto is not possible when the decision rests with the P5 nations, who use the same power, so effectively.
Expanding the members of the Security Council would affect the veto during voting because nine nations would be involved in the process. The four proposed additional members are Brazil, Germany, India and Japan. Popularly known as the “G4 nations” they support each other’s bids to a seat, which action is not supported by the P5.
Today, almost all the reforms suggested by political scientists point towards limiting the power of the veto. However, France, a member of the P5, has actively advocated reforming the veto. It has refrained from using the veto, especially when the issue is about mass atrocities. With no formal definition of “mass atrocities,” France continues to deliberate with the other P5 members. France’s advocacy has received substantial support from many UN member nations.
Besides, political experts, there are many international agencies like Amnesty International that actively advocate dissolving the power of the veto, especially concerning the issue of atrocities committed during conflict.
In order to amend the United Nations Charter, approval of P5 nations followed by the “two-thirds of the UN member states” is required. In other words, to amend the charter, all the members of the P5 nations must agree followed by the support of at least 129 member states.
To have an effective decision making process, it is imperative for policymakers within the UN, to come up with a reform. The veto is a delicate issue, which needs to be responsibly resolved.