UN Security Council’s veto power

In September 2013, with Syria in mind, Pres. Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation said that the founders of the United Nations Organization must have understood that decisions affecting war and peace should be made only by consensus. And with the USA’s consent, the veto of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) was enshrined in the UN Charter. The profound wisdom of that arrangement has underpinned the stability of international relations for decades. However, President Putin begrudges how the Cold War ended in 1991; Russia lost territory, power and influence. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) continues to lure former Soviet republics into its sphere of influence.

What President Putin said was not far from the truth: Article 1(1) of the U.N. Charter states that one of the fundamental objectives of the organization is “the suppression of acts of aggression.” Article 2(4) of the Charter requires U.N. member- States to “refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State.” With that as background, U.N. member States should condemn the actions of the Russian Federation in Ukraine.

Several pundits have said that the veto power exclusive to the 5 permanent members of the UNSC has become anachronistic, if not unjust, counter-productive and an impediment to international action. It makes the UN ineffective, unable to respond to genocide, human rights violations and other unspeakable crimes. As early as November 1950, members of the Non-Aligned Movement and the African Union have proposed limitations on said veto power through the “Uniting for Peace” Resolution (A/Res/377A). They affirmed that the UN General Assembly should not be relegated to a secondary position vis-a-vis the Security Council. When the latter fails to fulfill its responsibility of maintaining peace, the General Assembly should have “final responsibility”.

The 5 permanent members of the UNSC are People’s China ( not Taiwan), France, the Russian Federation (formerly the USSR), the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America. The veto power does not apply to procedural matters. The absence and/or abstention of a permanent member does not prevent the adoption of a draft resolution. So why doesn’t the UN send a peace-keeping force to Ukraine, like it did to Timor-Este from 199 to 2002? The UNSC approved Resolution 1272 on 28 October 1999 so UN troops were sent to Timor-Este. The Supreme Commander of the UN Forces was Lt. Gen. Jaime de los Santos, a Filipino. Elections were held, a constitution was drafted and Timorenses rebuilt their country after a war of aggression.

In November 2002, the UNSC unanimously approved Resolution 1441 which imposed a deadline of on Iraq’s President Sadam Hussein to surrender fabled “weapons of mass destruction.” When he said he had none, the USA, Great Britain, Australia and Poland felt justified to gang up on him and invade Iraq. That alarmed no less than the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, who denounced the invasion as a gross violation of the Charter. While visiting the USA in 2015, Foreign Affairs Minister of China, Wang Yi, said that China has always used its veto power to check “ the instinct for war and resist the power politics.”

“The use of force abroad according to existing international laws can only be sanctioned by the UN. This is international law. Anything done without the UNSC’s sanction cannot be recognized as fair or justified…” President Putin again, in December 2003. To no one’s surprise, Russia has consistently vetoed resolutions about Ukraine which held the federation accountable for aggression, demanded that it protect civilians, including children and called for rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian assistance. The approval of the resolution was a test for the rest of the permanent members of the UNSC as well as for the non-permanent members.

I do not wonder why the UNSC has not issued a resolution to put an end to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It was the Russian Federation’s turn to be president of the UN Security Council and Pres. Vladimir Putin took full advantage of that. He ordered Vasily Nebenzya, the Russian representative to the UNSC to wield the veto power and crush resolutions with his negative vote.