Security Council veto power usage
Fun facts to show and tell at your local coffee shop. Lots I didn't know. If democracy is good enough for our countries, should we not reform the Security Council to be democratic (with appropriate safeguards)?
Unlike U.S., France wields its veto power sparingly
Barry James/IHT International Herald Tribune
Monday, March 3, 2003
PARIS In the 57-year history of the United Nations, the five
permanent members of the UN Security Council have vetoed more
than 250 proposals, but seldom has the power to say no raised as
much political dust as France's possible use of its veto to block
authorization of the use of force in Iraq.
In the early days of the United Nations, the Soviet commissar and
later minister for foreign affairs, Vyacheslav Molotov, said no so
many times that he was known as "Mr. Veto."
The Soviet Union was responsible for nearly half of all vetoes ever
cast. Molotov regularly rejected bids for new membership because
of the U.S. refusal to admit the Soviet republics. The United States
has invoked its veto power 76 times, usually to ward off actions
Under the United Nations' founding rules, only the permanent
members have the right of veto, a single blocking vote that
outweighs any majority.
For all its criticism of France in the current situation, the United
States is the only permanent member of the Security Council to
have used its veto power frequently in recent years. Most recently,
it vetoed an otherwise unanimous Security Council resolution in
December that criticized the Israeli government for a series of
attacks by its occupation forces against UN workers and facilities
in the Palestinian territories.
The veto has been invoked in only a few cases where vital
international security issues are at stake, and the current crisis
may become one of them.
Diplomats say President Jacques Chirac of France is walking a
tightrope. If he declares that he will not use the veto power, France
would lose much of its negotiating clout in the Security Council. If
he announces that he will veto military action against Iraq, the
United States and Britain would have no further interest in seeking
UN endorsement for their actions.
There is also the argument that a veto by France will irreparably
damage the United Nations, but the Iraq question is a war and
peace issue that will divide the organization no matter which way
France votes. And the UN has survived other veto crises.
The veto system was established to protect the interests of the
founding members of the United Nations, which were the countries
that won World War II. At the UN founding conference in 1944, it
was decided that the representatives of Britain, China, the Soviet
Union, the United States and, "in due course," France should be
permanent members. France, of course, had been defeated and
occupied by Nazi Germany, but its role as a permanent member of
the League of Nations, its status as a colonial power and the
activities of the Free French forces on the allied side allowed it a
place at the table with the Big Four.
Now that both Britain and France have declined in world power and
Russia is no longer a superpower, there have been frequent calls
either to abolish permanent membership or to bring in new
permanent members to the Security Council, which has the role of
achieving and maintaining international peace and security on a
As the United Nations was being established, the Soviet Union
argued that all its constituent republics should be members, and in
fact it succeeded in having Byelorussia and Ukraine accepted as
separate states. The United States has one vote for 50 states, and
some argue that the European Union should hold one of the
permanent council seats.
But the EU is not a sovereign state and therefore is not a UN
member. It has also been argued that Germany and Japan should
become permanent members to spread the cost of peacekeeping.
But this suggestion runs into the opposition from Southern
Hemisphere countries and the inflexibility of the permanent
members with their veto power.
Apart from the permanent five, the council also includes 10
members elected by the General Assembly for two-year periods.
Nine votes are required to pass any resolution put before the
In addition to the 251 public vetoes, the permanent members have
cast 43 vetoes during closed sessions of the Security Council to
block nominees for UN secretary-general.
Beijing has cast a veto only four times since it took China's
Security Council seat in 1972, invariably to enforce its view that it
and not Taiwan is the legitimate government of the country. France
also has used its veto power only 18 times, usually in collaboration
with the United States and Britain, and only twice on its own, to
defend its interests in Indochina and in the Indian Ocean.
The last time that France has been involved in such a dramatic
face-off with the United States in the Security Council dates back
to the Suez Canal crisis of 1956. Using their veto powers for the
first time, France and Britain blocked a resolution calling for the
withdrawal by Israel from Egyptian territory it had seized in
cooperation with the British and French. The two countries blocked
resolutions for a cease-fire in the face of opposition by the United
States and the Soviet Union. Furious, President Dwight
Eisenhower took the matter to the UN General Assembly, where
the veto does not apply. The assembly then passed a resolution
demanding the withdrawal of all parties and, for the first time,
established a UN peacekeeping force.
Diplomats say permanent members, particularly the United States,
use the threat of veto as a means of getting their way, a practice
known as the closet veto. In addition, the permanent five often meet
privately to hash out agreements, which are then imposed on the
rest of the council.
Copyright © 2002 The International Herald Tribune