A move to undermine the anachronistic veto powers in the Security Council gains traction


US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at a Security Council meeting. Credit: United Nations
  • by Thalif Deen (United Nations
  • Inter Press Service

But a proposed new General Assembly (GA) resolution — titled “Permanent mandate for General Assembly debate when vetoed in the Security Council” — is an attempt to undermine the veto in a move likely to are supported by a majority of the 193 member states.

Last week, the resolution had 57 co-sponsors — and that’s counting.

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters that the United States was one of the co-sponsors of the resolution, led by a core group of member states led by Liechtenstein.

“This innovative measure would automatically convene a meeting of the General Assembly after a veto is vetoed in the Security Council,” she said.

As negotiated in 1945, she pointed out, the UN Charter entrusts the five permanent members of the Security Council to prevent the adoption of a resolution through a veto — a mechanism that has long been the subject of institutional debate.

“The United States takes its veto power seriously; it is a sober and solemn responsibility that must be respected by the permanent members to whom it has been entrusted,” she stated.

When a permanent member vetoes it, that member must be prepared to explain why the disputed resolution would not have promoted the maintenance of international peace and security, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said.

“Unfortunately, not all members of the Security Council share this sentiment. We are particularly concerned about the embarrassing pattern of Russia’s abuse of its veto power over the past two decades, including its vetoes to kill a UN monitoring mission in Georgia, blocking accountability measures and investigations into chemical weapons in Syria, the establishment of a criminal tribunal over the downing of flight MH-17 over Ukraine, and protect President Putin from conviction over his unprovoked and unjust elective war against Ukraine.”

The General Assembly resolution on the veto, she said, will be an important step towards the accountability, transparency and accountability of all permanent members of the Security Council members exercising its power. https://research.un.org/en/docs/sc/quick

Stephen Zunes, a professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco who has written extensively on Security Council politics, told IPS that General Assembly Resolution 377, passed in 1950, gives the GA the power to make recommendations for collective action in the event that the Security Council fails to act as required to maintain international security and peace.

He pointed out that the General Assembly invoked this resolution four times when a widely supported resolution was vetoed: in 1950, regarding the Korean War; in 1981, with regard to Namibia; and in 1980 and 1997, regarding resolutions on Palestine.

“There is some irony in the United States pushing for a more active role for the General Assembly, as three of those four cases were in response to a US veto. Indeed, in the past fifty years, Washington has been responsible for far more vetoes than any other member of the Security Council.”

Of the 72 US vetoes against Security Council resolutions, the United States was the only negative vote in 63 of them, he said.

Asked about a proposal from an Asian country in the late 1970s that called for a double veto as more effective, rather than a single veto, Zunes said it “definitely has merit”. “But since it would require an amendment to the UN charter, it is not only likely that Russia would block it, but probably the United States as well.”

The proposed resolution “decides” inter alia “that the President of the General Assembly convene a formal meeting of the General Assembly within ten working days of a veto by one or more permanent members of the Security Council, to hold a debate on the situation to which the veto was issued, provided that the General Assembly does not convene in an emergency special session on the same situation.”

James Paul, author of “Of Foxes and Chickens: Oligarchy and Global Power in the UN Security Council,” told IPS that since the UN’s founding in 1945, the vast majority of UN member states have insisted that vetoes stumble across the Security Council. action to keep the peace. Experts have often pointed out that the veto completely excludes many important matters from Council action.

“While the five permanent vetoed members have never agreed to change their veto powers, smaller countries in the UN General Assembly have tried to weaken the veto, through procedures and actions that make the use of veto illegal and protest against vetoed powers. protected aggression and other violations of peace by the most powerful governments,” he argued.

A group of like-minded countries eager to strengthen international peace and legality (and protect themselves from bigger aggressors) has launched the current initiative, building on opposition to Russia’s veto of a Council resolution declaring the invasion of Ukraine convicted.

This initiative, he said, would automatically trigger a debate in the General Assembly when the veto is used in the Security Council. In theory, a debate in the Assembly (even if it is non-binding) can have a dissuasive effect on the use of veto by a permanent member. Even if the embarrassment of a debate didn’t always curb the arrogance of powerful states, it would be worth it

Andreas Bummel, executive director of the Berlin-based Democracy Without Borders, told IPS: “We wholeheartedly support Liechtenstein’s initiative that the General Assembly automatically convenes whenever a veto is passed in the Security Council.

This, he said, will force the permanent members of the council to justify their vote to the global community. The political costs of abusing the veto will be increased.

Furthermore, the General Assembly may routinely consider its own measures. It is an important step in the right direction, says Bummel.

“It is most welcome and noteworthy that the United States is one of the co-sponsors of the proposed resolution. Obviously, they are willing to explain a future use of the veto in front of the General Assembly and accept its subsidiary responsibility.”

In a next step, he argued, there should be agreement that permanent members cannot cast votes that are not treated as vetoes against resolutions that would otherwise require a majority.

“However, the whole set-up of the UN needs to be reconsidered. Everyone knows it’s anachronistic. Ultimately, the permanent members must be willing to completely relinquish their veto power.”

In an interview with IPS, Paul warned: “We must remember that permanent members have a lot of cards to play. The United States, by far the most powerful player on the world stage, has enormous influence over a majority of Council members. It can often block or substantially change Council action without vetoing it.”

That is why the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, although initially rejected by the Council, ended up being tolerated for years by the same Council. In the case of repeated US vetoes over Council resolutions on Israel, the US has never paid a heavy political price.

He said many observers point out that major powers like Russia and the United States continue to act with contempt for multilateralism and with little respect for the UN and international law.

“So. we may ask how the United Nations can succeed in a world subjected to such a cynical use of force and raucous national adulation. There is certainly no easy answer, but it is clear that those who wish to undermine the veto and expanding the potential of international law, are on the right track.”

“One day we can hope that we will be victorious,” he said.

Meanwhile, a proposal to reform the Security Council has dragged on for more than two decades, with four strong candidates for permanent seats, namely Germany, India, Japan and Brazil.

But if they eventually succeed in their efforts, they’ll have to make do with what can best be described as “second-class citizenship,” as the P5 have given no indications that any newcomers to their ranks will be given veto power.

Yet African leaders have long maintained that they will not accept permanent membership of the UN Security Council without veto power.

Report of the IPS UN Office

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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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