The Problem With the UN Veto Power | NowThis World

People love to hate on the UN about its ability to create change Though even the organization’s fiercest critics admit it has done a lot of good around the world, the UN has also been accused of being complicit in corruption, tangled in bureaucracy, and increasingly reactive rather than proactive in addressing the world’s crises

It’s also been accused of failing to act to prevent genocides in places including Rwanda in 1994, Bosnia in 1995, and Darfur, Sudan in the early 2000s Some have even called the organization totally powerless But there are certain countries in the UN that get to exercise real power We’re talking about the UN Security Council’s Permanent 5 members or P5

They all have what’s known as the right to veto So we’re going to break down what the right to veto is, how the P5 got this power, and how its implementation has failed humanitarian crises around the world We also sat down with Salil Shetty, former Secretary General of Amnesty International, to help break down some of the shortcomings of the Security Council’s veto power The P5 have been accused of, at times, abusing that power Do you see it that way? Without question

To understand that, we need to establish the context in which the Security Council was set up Especially because it’s remained largely unchanged since its first meeting The council is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations, which was founded in October 1945 Created in the immediate aftermath of World War II, the UN’s goal was to, as their charter puts it, ‘save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’ The U

S, UK and then-Soviet Union, the three major Allied powers, were victors of World War II And they were ready to establish their status and power in the form of a elite council Former US

-President Franklin Roosevelt lobbied for China’s inclusion as a permanent member of the council and then-British Prime Minister Winston Churchill did the same for France The Permanent Five members of the Security Council were established and granted veto power, meaning their single negative vote carries the power to reject a resolution So you have Russia and China sort of on one side, and you have France, the UK and the United States on the other So it’s kind of the West versus the rest, and that’s how it’s been organized Some of the body’s functions and powers include: to investigate threats to international peace, to recommend a resolution process, to impose and lift sanctions, and to even enforce military intervention

It has done all of those at various times, including military action against Gaddafi in Libya in 2011 and sanctions against Iran in response to their nuclear program in 2006 The P5 also set aside another 6, eventually becoming 10, non-permanent membership spots Non-permanent member spots rotate every two years For resolutions to pass, 9 out of the 15 total members on the council have to vote in favor So, even though they don’t have veto power, temporary members still have a really important job

But, if even one of the P5 states vetoes a resolution, that’s it And that’s happened hundreds of times since the Council was founded, often in cases where that state has been accused of advancing its own political interests in the face of global crises It’s like a club, so the people who are the most powerful members in the club, they make the rules So they’re not gonna change the rules in a way that negates their own interest So, who are we talking about here? Let’s start with Russia

They’ve used their veto power more times than any other P5 member Most recently, the ally of the Syrian regime has used its veto power 12 times on draft resolutions concerning the Syrian civil war That includes drafts that would have allowed chemical weapons investigations, imposed sanctions, and referred Syria to the International Criminal Court More than 400,000 people have died as a result of the conflict in Syria since 2011 The kind of underlying issue is that every country in the Security Council is there to protect human interests, the interests of humanity as a whole

But they tend to protect their own national interests So the humanitarian or the human consequence of these big powers playing politics is what we see in Syria Russia has similarly exercised its veto power to protect its interests around Ukraine and Crimea But Russia isn’t alone in using the veto power in accordance with its national interests China has vetoed several measures that lended legitimacy to Taiwan’s independence, which China doesn’t recognize

Meanwhile, the US has voted down dozens of resolutions related to its support for Israel, including those that would have condemned Israeli settlements as illegal, called on Israel to completely withdraw from Palestinian territories, and requested investigations into mass killings of Palestinian protesters along the Gaza border It also cast the single opposing vote against 14 affirmative votes on a resolution calling on the US

to withdraw it’s embassy in Jerusalem One party cannot continue to monopolize the peace process, especially not one that acts with bias in favor of the occupying power, at the expense of the law and the rights of the occupied people Even the threat of a veto is enough to keep resolutions off the table altogether, as has been the case with mass killings of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar China, a major trade partner of Myanmar, is expected to veto any related resolutions So, what has been proposed for the future of the veto? Some countries, including P5 members France and the UK, have supported the concept of voluntary restraint

That basically means the P5 would have a responsibility not to use their veto power in situations where mass atrocities are being committed, like Syria, for example This proposal has gained steam in recent years, with major human rights groups calling on the Security Council to adopt the measure But some say the veto is necessary to act as a check and balance on foreign intervention And others say it might be hard to agree on a definition of what constitutes a ‘mass atrocity’ Another proposed remedy? Rather than restrict the P5’s power, expand its membership

Some argue the glaring lack of permanent representation from regions like Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia is part of the problem, and that expanding the P5 to those regions would benefit the council India, Brazil, Germany, and Japan are among the popular contenders Collectively, they formed a group known as the G4 to strengthen their chances of permanent membership status on the Council A big challenge the UN faces is, if you start by saying, ‘we the people,’ where are the people’s voices in the decision making? And while some permanent members, like France and the UK, are more open to expansion, Russia, China, and the US

have been more cautious or directly opposed It would take a whole lot of support to modify the UN Charter, and to get all P5 members to agree at the same time to restrict their own power But despite of all its flaws, experts generally agree: the UN creates a vital space for diplomacy, mediation, and maintaining international peace It has indisputably helped save lives, lifted people out of poverty and starvation and maintained global order I always say the challenge with the UN is if it didn’t exist, we’d trying to figure out how to invent it

But it still remains to be seen whether the Security Council will make the necessary reforms to balance power among its members and adequately address global humanitarian crises that are falling through the cracks We want to hear from you: how do you think the Security Council should be reformed? Should veto power extend beyond the P5? Or should it be reigned in during mass atrocity situations? Let us know what you think in the comments below, and if you learned something on this episode of NowThis World, please hit that like and subscribe button

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