UN: Veto Power
Writer: Auliya Naura Telaumbanua
Editor: Tonwaan Apiratikiat
Graphic Designer: Sasiree Dechwittayaporn
The United Nations is known and acknowledged for being humanity’s greatest accomplishment of unity. It’s the biggest international organization, originally formed to prevent another World War – in that mission, it has generally succeeded. It’s other aim is to maintain international peace and security. The United Nations emerged after World War II with the objective of achieving a global balance of peace between world powers. Today they have 193 member states, and also have numerous government branches, like the WHO, WFT, UNICEF, UNESCO, UNHCR, and IMF to further its efforts in peacekeeping. One of their most recognizable achievements was the global eradication of smallpox in 1980. Another victory was the creation of the World Food Program, which is the largest humanitarian agency – every year it provides food for almost 80 million people in around 75 countries. As pure and ambitious as this pledge of goodness is intended to be, in reality, how exactly effective is the UN in taking steps towards peace?
The UN has 6 gears to its system. Firstly, the General Assembly which is the main chamber of the UN where international issues are discussed by all member states. Secondly, the Security Council which is responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security. Then the International Court of Justice, which resolves disputes between states in conformity with international law and provides advisory opinions on international legal issues. Next, the Economic and Social Council which operates the economic and social task of the UN overall and is under the authority of the General Assembly. Then, the Trusteeship Council that supervises the administration of trust territories as they convert from colonies to sovereign nations. Lastly, UN Secretariats who perform the administrative work of all 5 of the UN organs which are led by the Secretary-General (currently António Guterres).
Now here’s the issue. The security council has the power to investigate threats to international peace, recommend a resolution process, impose and lift sanctions and even enforce military intervention. The council includes a total of 15 member states – 10 of them are called temporary members and are elected during the General Assembly for a 2 year term. The other 5 are called permanent countries which are the countries that won World War II against the Axis Powers: China, US, Russia, France and the UK (also known as the P5). This allows them to obtain veto power and enables them to block any resolution discussed during sessions of the security council. For a resolution to be passed, 9 out of the 15 council members must vote for it which can include any of the P5. However, any resolution may be blocked by any of the P5 using the veto power. An example of the security council being used to an advantage of those in the P5 outside the legal consent of the UN was the US vetoing Kuwait’s declaration that condemned Israel’s use of force against Palestinian civilians during the Great March of Return in 2018. Another is Russia, who used their veto power more times than any other P5 member. They are Bashar al Assad’s (the President of Syria) ally and used the veto 12 times to block action against his regime during the conflict in Syria, which has resulted in over 400,000 casualties since 2011.
Many criticized the security council for being outdated as it does not reflect today’s modern distribution of military and economic power nor a geographical balance: among the P5 are no countries from Africa or South America. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated in 2005 that “No reform of the UN would be complete without the reform of the security council”. The current President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has also spoken up, saying that “The world is bigger than 5”.
One solution is to increase the number of permanent members of the UN Security Council. Existing members are torn between this as the United Kingdom and France are in favor while the United States and Russia are more hesitant, suggesting that a large council would be ineffective. On the other hand, China is adamantly opposed to it. There are also envious regional rivals that don't want their neighbors to prosper. Another solution is to limit the use of the veto as the P5 constantly uses it. For example, the US has issued vetoes three times since 2005 to defend Israel from censure.
Despite some setbacks, the UN has without a doubt been able to accelerate the efforts in solving world hunger, poverty, literacy rates, child mortality, healthcare, women’s rights and other global improvement areas. Without communication and cooperation, the world would be considerably worse. However, when looking at the political side of the UN, it’s struggling to live up to its utopian mission.