United Nations Security Council veto power

United Nations Security Council veto power

The United Nations Security Council 'power of veto' refers to the veto power wielded solely by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, [http://www.un.org/sc/members.asp] enabling them to prevent the adoption of any 'substantive' draft Council resolution, regardless of the level of international support for the draft. The veto does not apply to procedural votes, which is significant in that the Security Council's permanent membership can vote against a 'procedural' draft resolution, without necessarily blocking its adoption by the Council.

The veto is exercised when any permanent member — the so-called 'P5' — casts a "negative" vote on a 'substantive' draft resolution. Abstention, or absence from the vote by a permanent member does not prevent a draft resolution from being adopted.


The UNSC veto system was formalized at the Yalta Conference, 4-11 February 1945, [US Department of State: [http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ho/pubs/fs/55407.htm "The United States and the Founding of the United Nations"] . October 2005. Retrieved 1 March 2012.] and was established in order to prohibit the UN from taking any future action directly against its principal founding members; in large part a legacy of the expulsion of the Soviet Union from the League of Nations in 1939, at the outbreak of World War II. It had already been decided at the UN's founding conference in 1944, that Britain, China, the Soviet Union, the United States and, "in due course" France, should be the permanent members of any newly formed Council.

France had been defeated and occupied by Nazi Germany, but its role as a permanent member of the League of Nations, its status as a colonial power and the activities of the Free French forces on the allied side allowed it a place at the table with the Big Four.

The Soviet Union had adopted an "empty chair" policy at the Security Council from January 1950, owing to its discontent over the UN's refusal to recognize the People's Republic of China's representatives as the legitimate representatives of China, [Malanczuk, P: "Akehurst's Modern Introduction to International Law", Ed. 7, page 375, Routledge, 9999] and with the hope of preventing any future decisions by the Council on substantive matters. Despite the wording of the Charter (which makes no provisions for passing resolutions with the abstention or absence of a veto-bearing member), this was treated as a non-blocking abstention. This had in fact already become Council practice by that time, the Council having already adopted numerous draft resolutions despite the lack of an affirmative vote by each of its permanent members.

Article 27

Article 27 of the United Nations Charter states:

"1) Each member of the Security Council shall have one vote."
"2) Decisions of the Security Council on procedural matters shall be made by an affirmative vote of nine members."
"3) Decisions of the Security Council on all other matters shall be made by an affirmative vote of nine members including the concurring votes of the permanent members; provided that, in decisions under Chapter VI, and under paragraph 3 of Article 52, a party to a dispute shall abstain from voting."

Although the 'power of veto' is not explicitly mentioned in the UN Charter, the fact that 'substantive' decisions by the UNSC require "the concurring votes of the permanent members", means that any of those permanent members can prevent the adoption, by the Council, of any draft resolutions on 'substantive' matters. For this reason, the 'power of veto' is also referred to as the principle of 'great Power unanimity'. [http://www.un.org/sc/members.asp]

Most common users

Almost half the vetoes in the history of the Security Council were cast by the Soviet Union. Since shortly before the fall of the USSR, the United States has been the most frequent user of the veto. [ [http://www.globalpolicy.org/security/membship/veto.htm Veto database and information] at Global Policy Forum]

Between the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the end of 2004, vetoes were issued on 19 occasions. For that period, usage breaks down as follows:
* the United States used the veto on 13 occasions (11 regarding the Middle East, one Bosnia, one in 1989 following its invasion of Panama)
* Russia/the Soviet Union used the veto on 4 occasions (two regarding Cyprus, one Bosnia, one Myanmar)

Analysis by country

Russia/Soviet Union

In the early days of the United Nations, the Soviet Union commissar and later minister for foreign affairs, Vyacheslav Molotov, said no so many times that he was known as "Mr. Veto". In fact, the Soviet Union was responsible for nearly half of all vetoes ever cast—79 vetoes were used in the first 10 years. Molotov regularly rejected bids for new membership because of the U.S.'s refusal to admit the Soviet republics. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has used its veto power sparingly.

United States

The U.S. first used the veto power in 1970, regarding a crisis in Rhodesia, and first issued a lone veto in 1972, to prevent a resolution censuring Israel. Since that time, it has become by far the most frequent user of the veto, mainly against resolutions criticizing Israel (see Negroponte doctrine). This has been a constant cause of friction between the General Assembly and the Security Council, as seen with the 2003 Iraqi war which was not endorsed by the UN.

China (ROC/PRC)

Between 1946 and 1971, the Chinese seat on the Security Council was the government of the Republic of China (from 1949 on Taiwan) during which its representative used the veto only once (to block the Mongolian People's Republic's application for membership in 1955 because the ROC considered Mongolia to be a part of China). This postponed the admission of Mongolia until 1960, when the Soviet Union announced that unless Mongolia was admitted, it would block the admission of all of the newly independent African states. Faced with this pressure, the ROC relented under protest.

After the Republic of China's expulsion from the United Nations in 1971, the first veto cast by the present occupant, the People's Republic of China, was issued in 25 August 1972 over Bangladesh's admission to the United Nations. As of 2004, the People's Republic of China has used its veto four times.


France uses its veto power sparingly. It used it in 1976 on the question of the Comoros independence, when the island of Mayotte was kept in French territory due to the vote of the local population. The threat of a French veto of resolution on the Iraq war caused friction between France and the United States.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom used its Security Council veto power, along with France, to veto a draft resolution aimed at resolving the Suez Canal crisis in 1956. They eventually withdrew after the U.S. instigated an 'emergency special session' of the General Assembly, under the terms of the "Uniting for Peace" resolution, which led to the establishment of the United Nations Emergency Force I (UNEF I), by the adoption of Assembly resolution 1001 [http://www.un.org/ga/sessions/emergency.shtml] . The UK also used the veto unilaterally seven times because of Rhodesia.

Veto power reform

Various discussions have taken place in recent years over the suitability of the Security Council veto power in today’s world. Key arguments include that the five permanent members no longer represent the most stable and responsible member states in the United Nations, and that their veto power slows down and even prevents important decisions being made on matters of international peace and security. Due to the global changes that have taken place politically and economically since the formation of the UN in 1945, widespread debate has been apparent over whether the five permanent members of the UN Security Council remain the best member states to hold veto power. While the permanent members are still typically regarded as great powers, there is debate over their suitability to retain exclusive veto power. [UN's 'High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change': [http://www.un.org/secureworld/ "A more secure world: our shared responsibility"] . p.68, 1 December 2004.]

A second argument against retaining the UNSC veto power is that it is detrimental to balanced political decisions, as any draft text needs to be approved of by each permanent member before any draft resolution can possibly be adopted. Indeed, several proposed draft resolutions are never formally presented to the Council for a vote owing to the knowledge that a permanent member would vote against their adoption (the so-called 'pocket veto'). Debate also exists over the potential use of the veto power to provide 'diplomatic cover' to a permanent member's allies. The United States of America has used its veto power more than any other permanent member since 1972; particularly on draft resolutions condemning the actions or policies of the State of Israel.

Advocates of the veto power believe that it is just as necessary in the current geo-political landscape, and that without the veto power, the Security Council would be open to making "majority rules" decisions on matters that have implications at a global level [ [http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/schles.htm Can the United Nations Reform ] ] — decisions that may well go directly against the interests of a permanent member.

Discussions on improving the UN's effectiveness and responsiveness to international security threats often include reform of the UNSC veto. Proposals include: limiting the use of the veto to vital national security issues; requiring agreement from multiple states before exercising the veto; and abolishing the veto entirely. However, any reform of the veto will be very difficult. Articles 108 and 109 of the United Nations Charter grant the P5 veto over any amendments to the Charter, requiring them to approve of any modifications to the UNSC veto power that they themselves hold.

Nonetheless, it has been argued that the current UNSC 'power of veto' is, fundamentally, irrelevant. [Hunt, C. " [http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=11353 The 'veto' charade] ", ZNet, 7 November 2006. Retrieved 1 March 2008] With the Assembly's adoption of the 'Uniting for Peace' resolution on 3 November 1950, it was made clear by the UN Member states that, according to the UN Charter, the P5 cannot prevent the UN General Assembly from taking any and all action necessary to restore international peace and security, in cases where the UNSC has failed to exercise its 'primary responsibility' for maintaining peace. Such an interpretation sees the UNGA as being awarded 'final responsibility' — rather than 'secondary responsibility' — for matters of international peace and security, by the UN Charter. Although not couched in the same language, various high-level reports make explicit reference to the 'Uniting for Peace' resolution as providing the necessary mechanism for the UNGA to overrule any vetoes in the UNSC;UN document |docid=A-52-856 |type=Document |body=General Assembly |session=52 |document_number=856 accessdate=2008-03-01] [International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. " [http://www.iciss.ca/menu-en.asp The Responsibility to Protect] ", ICISS.ca, December 2001. Retrieved 1 March 2008.] [" [http://www.un.org/ga/58/documentation/list0.html A/58/47 Report of the Open-ended Working Group on the Question of Representation on and Increase in the Membership of the Security Council] ", UN.org, 21 July 2004. Retrieved 1 March 2008.] [Non-Aligned Movement. " [http://www.un.int/malaysia/NAM/MMCOB_FinalDocument.pdf MINISTERIAL MEETING OF THE COORDINATING BUREAU OF THE NON-ALIGNED MOVEMENT] ", UN.int, 27 May-30 May 2006. Retrieved 1 March 2008.] thus rendering them little more than delays in UN action.


External links

* [http://www.slate.com/id/2080036/ Can You Bypass a U.N. Security Council Veto?] — "Slate" magazine
* [http://www.peace.ca/securitycouncilveto.htm Security Council veto power usage] — Peace.ca
* Malone, D & Mahbubani, K: [http://www.un.org/webcast/worldchron/trans934.pdf "The UN Security Council – from the Cold War to the 21st Century"] , UN World Chronicle, 30 March 2004.

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