• tedorac

The United Nations' Veto system


The role of the United Nations’ Security Council(UNSC) as defined by the UN charter is as follows :

In order to ensure prompt and effective action by the United Nations, its Members confer on the Security Council primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, and agree that in carrying out its duties under this responsibility the Security Council acts on their behalf”.


Throughout its history the UNSC has been hampered repeatedly by the Veto system. Each of the permanent 5 members of the UNSC(P5) : The United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and USA, have the power to veto any motion put to it. In theory this veto is a sensible idea because it prevents conflict between arguably the world’s 5 most powerful nations. In the context of its establishment in 1946, in the wake of the second world war, such a safeguard is understandable, in theory it ensures that another such conflict would never occur again.


In practice however the UNSC has often been unable to take action when action is most required. The most prominent exception to this was the Korean war, where the USSR’s veto was not activated due to their boycotting of the UN. The intervention of the US led UN task force in the Korean war certainly stopped the capitulation of the Republic of Korea. Yet even in this the UNSC arguably failed in its implicit mandate to prevent conflict between the P5. Soviet pilots were present in the conflict and the Chinese army attacked the US army. The issue present in this example is not so much a weakness of the council due to the veto system, indeed had the USSR used its veto the UN would not have attacked the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), more so that it showed that a council reliant on two ideologically opposed nations, namely the USA and USSR, would be largely ineffective in ensuring peace. Much like its predecessor, the League of Nations, the UN throughout the 20th Century was hamstrung by the fact that it could not count upon the support of the two most powerful nations on earth.


With the end of the Cold War and the fall of the USSR a new problem has arisen over the vested interests of the USA and Russia, most notably in Syria. The Russian government since the start of the conflict in Syria has made its support for the Assad government clear and conversely the US has made its opposition clear. This opposition has manifested itself in the multiple uses of veto by Russia in response to US resolutions aimed at Assad. These include vetos aimed at resolutions calling for Assad to step down, sanctions to be imposed upon Syria for their alleged use of chemical weapons, calls for bombing to stop and multiple cease fire agreements. In this conflict the inability of the UN to act, due to veto concerns raised by Russia, has arguably prolonged the conflict. In regards to Syria the UNSC has clearly failed in its mandate to ensure peace and this is due in large parts, to the veto power used by Russia. In this conflict more than any other the veto power has shown itself to be a tool to be used by the P5 to further their own ambitions, rather than to ensure peace.


To conclude, the UNSC’s P5 veto powers makes it largely an empty body, with the vested interests of the P5 nations at stake, very little can actually be done through the UNSC. It is little surprise that, in the past, certain members of the P5 have taken action independently of the UNSC, such as the US and UK in Iraq, for fear of veto concerns being raised. Thus I must conclude that, for the UNSC to ever be able to fulfil its mandate to ensure peace, the veto system must be removed lest the UNSC merely become a tool for the P5 to further its own interests.

At the time of writing, Charlie Tedora is a second year student at Newcastle University studying Ancient History. The areas of interest to him are the UN and Chinese and US relations.

The student project covering international relations and foreign affairs

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