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UN to debate move to limit veto power of Security Council permanent members

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A United Nations Security Council meeting in New York.

UN: Liechtenstein was expected to convene the UN General Assembly on Tuesday (April 19) to debate a draft resolution – backed by Washington – requiring the five permanent members of the Security Council to justify their use of the veto.

An old idea aimed at making Security Council permanent members cut back use of their veto powers, it has been revived by Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine.

Moscow’s veto power has allowed it to paralyse action in the Security Council, which is supposed to intervene in such conflicts as guarantor of global peace, as defined by the Charter of the United Nations.

The Liechtenstein proposal, co-sponsored by some 50 countries including the United States but, significantly, none of the other four permanent members of the Security Council – Russia, China, France and Britain – should be the subject of an upcoming vote, according to diplomats.

The Security Council also has 10 non-permanent members, which do not have the right of veto.

The proposal text provides for a convocation of the 193 members of the General Assembly “within 10 working days of the casting of a veto by one or more permanent members of the Security Council, to hold a debate on the situation as to which the veto was cast”.

295 VETOS SINCE 1946

Among the co-sponsors that have committed to voting for the text are Ukraine, Japan and Germany, the latter two hoping for seats as permanent members in a possibly enlarged Security Council in view of their global political and economic influence. The positions of India, Brazil or South Africa, and other contenders for a potential permanent seat have not yet been revealed.

Even if it does not sponsor the text, France will vote in favour, according to one diplomat.

How Britain, China and Russia, whose backing would be critical to such a controversial initiative, will vote is not clear.

Since the first veto ever used – by the Soviet Union in 1946 – Moscow has deployed it 143 times, far ahead of the United States (86 times), Britain (30 times) or China and France (18 times each).

“We are particularly concerned by Russia’s shameful pattern of abusing its veto privilege over the past two decades,” said US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield in a statement.

The adoption of the Liechtenstein resolution “will be a significant step towards the accountability, transparency and responsibility of all” the permanent members of the Security Council, she added.

France, which last used the veto in 1989, proposed in 2013 that the permanent members collectively and voluntarily limit their use of the veto in the event of a mass atrocity. Co-sponsored by Mexico and supported by 100 countries, the proposal has so far stalled.


The veto, a power held by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (P5), has been a point of contention among many UN Member States since the establishment of the UN Charter at the San Francisco Conference of 1945. This veto power gives the P5 (France, the United Kingdom, the United States, Russia, and China) the effective power to block any draft resolution presented to the Security Council.

The power of veto was established under Article 27 of the UN Charter, which 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.

While the word “veto” is not specifically used, Article 27 requires the unanimity of the P5 in order for a resolution to pass, meaning any “no” vote on the part of a P5 state constitutes a veto. The power of veto was accorded to the “Big Five” in order to secure their acceptance of the UN Charter. However, during negotiations in San Francisco, some states were concerned that the power of the veto would leave the Security Council (SC) powerless to act in the event of a conflict involving one of the P5 states, and tried, unsuccessfully, to have the veto power reduced. For a basic summary of the veto debate at San Francisco, visit the UN website’s page on the San Francisco Conference, and for a more in depth background on the negotiation of the veto, see this paper titled, “The Founding of the United Nations – International Cooperation as an Evolutionary Process” published by the Academic Council on the United Nations System.

In practice, the UN Security Council has formal and informal debates, which lead to ‘resolutions’ or ‘decisions’—these official decrees are like the laws that are passed by U.S. Congress, with one key difference in the Security Council: All votes are not equal.

In the Security Council, the permanent five members have veto power over substantial resolutions. Under the U.N. charter, the permanent five alone hold the veto. When a member of the P5 votes against a resolution, it fundamentally ends it, even though the other 14 members might have voted yes. That a P5 member can block a resolution means it has absolutely nothing to fear from any Security Council proposal it considers unacceptable. It simply casts a vote and the matter is over. The issue of the Security Council veto has been a point of contention for many years.

Is the veto used a lot?

Most resolutions do end up passing by a majority vote or even consensus. When considered in context, the veto isn’t used all that frequently, it’s just that we tend to hear about it when it is.

Overall, Russia has been the most frequent veto user, followed by the U.S. and the U.K.

China’s use rose considerably since 2011, with the conflict in Syria accounting for most. In 2014, [when Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea], the Russian Federation vetoed resolutions concerning themselves and Ukraine. And in 2017, Russia cast five vetoes, all against resolutions aimed at resolving the war in Syria and the use of chemical weapons. At that particular time, Russia claimed its motivation for veto use was that the U.N. was interfering in the national affairs of a member-state.



Wednesday, April 20, 2022 – 01:00

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