The United Nations (UN) was established in 1945 after the devastation of the Second World War with one central mission that is the maintenance of international peace and security. According to article 24 of the UN Charter, this responsibility is given to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
International peace and security is a prerequisite for fulfillment of any other purpose of the United Nations. This purpose cannot be gained without friendly relations, international cooperation, and harmonisation among different nations.
The UNSC is one of the principal organs of the United Nations. It was established in 1946 with 11 members and currently has fifteen members. Five permanent members of the council have veto power. These members are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States and they can show veto regarding any non-procedural matters.
The word veto comes from Latin which means 'I deny'. Veto is a power which is granted for permanent members of UNSC. By this power, a permanent member can say 'No' regarding any decision taken by the other 14 members of the Security Council. This exclusive power is given to SC permanent members through the article 27(3) of UN charter.
It states that, "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."
According to article 4(2) of UN Charter, the admission of a state as a new member of the UN "will be affected by a decision of the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council". Here, the Security Council can block the membership of a new member through negative recommendation.
Recommendation is considered subject to the veto power of the P-5. For example, China used its veto to reject the membership of Bangladesh in 1972 when Bangladesh wanted to be a member of the UN for the first time.
In addition, permanent members use their veto power for sheltering friendly states from condemnation or the imposition of economic sanctions. That is why most UN members abhor the veto power. The Israel-Palestine situation always violates human rights but the Security Council could not pass any resolution regarding condemned or economic sanction because of the veto of the United States.
On October 13, 2017, SC took an initiative for making a resolution against Myanmar regarding the Rohingya issue for imposing economic or military sanctions. But this resolution was not completed due to vetoes of China and Russia.
The permanent members can exercise their veto power on the nomination of the Secretary General under Article 97 of UN Charter. Basically, this veto is exercised in the private session of the council. For instance, this veto was used against the re-election of Kurt Waldheim in 1981 and Boutros-Ghali in 1996.
Further, permanent members exercise their veto power to protect the benefits of them and their friends. Even if a friendly country of a powerful nation violates human rights, humanitarian law, and international criminal law, the UN cannot take action due to the veto power.
For example, the US made a draft resolution to investigate the use of chemical weapons in Syria. But Russia used its veto power to block any action against Syria. So, the UNSC could not take any initiative in this regard. On 19 July 2012, Russia and China vetoed a UK proposal to ban trade of heavy weapons with Syria.
According to Human Rights Watch, more than 400,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict, five million have become refugees abroad and over six million are internally displaced. In addition, at least 500,000 people are still living in the besieged areas. But Russia persistently vetoes not only to stop SC effort for reducing the problem but also to contribute to mass atrocities in Syria indirectly.
Furthermore, the United States always gives political support to Israel. The security council could not pass any resolution regarding Israel. It used its veto power 43 times to protect Israel. A draft resolution of the security council was prepared to consider Jerusalem as a city of both Israel and Palestine. But the US vetoed it and President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
All facts have shown that the undemocratic nature of the veto power only applies for the benefits of the permanent members and their friendly countries. This power is one of the main impediments for maintaining peace and security for the world community. So, for maintaining peace and security, the veto power of permanent members should be reformed in a democratic way.
However, permanent members also have huge contributions in maintaining world peace. No one can deny those contributions. Those states can possess veto power but it needs to be executed by the support of at least three permanent members.
Currently, the UN charter allows veto power for the permanent members. To make the security council more effective, the UN charter should be amended and a system of collective veto should be added so that SC resolution could be blocked only when at least three out of five permanent members together vote against it.
This collective veto can fulfill democracy among the permanent members and the SC can ensure international peace and security properly which is the primary responsibility of the United Nations.
The author is an assistant researcher of ERGO Legal Counsel
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.