A resolution passed by consensus in the 193-seat assembly to a burst of applause does not eliminate or limit the veto power of the permanent members of the Security Council — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France.
But for the first time, the General Assembly will be required to “hold a debate on the situation”, leading to a veto in the Security Council within 10 working days. On the list of speakers, priority shall be given to the permanent member who vetoes.
The meeting is not required to take or consider action under the resolution, but the discussion could bring veto holders to the ground and allow a host of other countries to be heard.
The UN Ambassador to Liechtenstein, Christian Wenaweser, who headed the resolution, which had been two years in the making, has said it aims to “promote the voice of all of us who do not have a veto and who do not sit on the Security Council. , on matters of international peace and security, because they concern us all.”
Presenting the resolution to the assembly Tuesday morning, Wenaweser alluded to the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24 and the Security Council’s failure to take action: “There has never been a greater need for effective multilateralism than today, and there is never a stronger need for innovation to secure the central role and voice of the United Nations.”
Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard called the resolution “a first step towards increasing the cost of using the veto – and it couldn’t have come soon enough”.
The resolution had about 80 co-sponsors, including the United States and the United Kingdom. But it also had opponents, though they did not break the consensus, including Russia and close ally Belarus, as well as current elected councilors Gabon and India and other UN member states.
The reform of the Security Council, which under the UN Charter is charged with ensuring international peace and security, has been discussed for more than 40 years and has been at the forefront of countries’ comments before and after the adoption of the resolution.
There is broad support for revamping the council to reflect current global realities rather than the international power structure after World War II in 1945, when the United Nations was established. But rivalry between countries and regions has blocked all attempts to agree on the size, composition and powers of a comprehensive council.
The veto power of the five permanent members is part of the reform agenda.
More than 200 different Security Council proposals have been rejected, some by multiple countries, according to UN data. Topics ranged from the Korean War and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to climate change, reporting on arms stocks and governing part of the Comoros in the Indian Ocean.
The former Soviet Union and its successor Russia have by far exercised the most vetoes, followed by the United States. Far fewer have been released by Britain, China and France.
US Deputy Ambassador Richard Mills said after the vote that the United States is “extremely alarmed by Russia’s pattern of abusing its veto power over the past decade,” citing resolutions it vetoed, ranging from referring from Syria to the International Criminal Court, protest against Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and demand that Russia immediately stop its invasion of Ukraine.
British Ambassador Barbara Woodward, whose country has not used its veto since 1989, called the resolution “a step in the effort to maintain international peace and security”, adding: “We prefer to win votes rather than use our veto to block action by the council.”
France did not co-sponsor the resolution and its deputy ambassador, Nathalie Broadhurst, said it does not believe the General Assembly can become the judge of the Security Council.
She said that is why France and Mexico have been promoting an initiative over the veto for several years now. It would require the five permanent councilors to voluntarily and collectively stop using the veto in the event of mass atrocities. She said the proposal is supported by 105 countries and urged “all states, especially the other four permanent members, to align themselves with the proposal”.
Russia’s deputy ambassador Gennady Kuzmin called the veto “a cornerstone of the UN architecture” and warned that “without the Security Council it would become a body that would make questionable decisions imposed by the nominal majority and whose implementation hardly would be possible.”
Chinese counsel Jiang Hua said the resolution’s automatic trigger for a General Assembly meeting on the veto resolution “is likely to lead to procedural confusion and inconsistency in practice.”
India and Brazil, which have been seeking permanent seats on the Security Council for many years and currently serve on the two-year body, both complained that the resolution fails to address the real problem of council reform.
“A representative council that reflects the current international system is central to maintaining international peace and security and to the future of this organization.” Brazilian ambassador Ronaldo Costa Filho told members.
India’s deputy ambassador, Ravindra Raguttahalli, said “a vocal minority of naysayers” who support the status quo in the Security Council have taken reform efforts hostage. He said the veto resolution ignores the root cause of the problem — restructuring the council to reflect “contemporary geopolitical realities.”
Ambassador Michel Biang of Gabon, who is also an elected councilor, said Africa has the largest number of UN peacekeeping missions, but no permanent seat on the Security Council.
The resolution’s adoption “will not change the scope of the veto nor its content,” Biang said.