Issue of Veto Power in United Nations' Attempts to Maintain International Peace

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18th May 2020 International Relations Reference this

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Is the use of veto power paving the way for the failure of the United Nations to maintain international peace?

In 1946, the winners of world war II, the allied nations; China, United States, Russia, United Kingdom and France, used their influence over the UN Constitution to grant themselves permanent member, veto-holding status on the security council (UNSC). The UNSC was created to promote global peace among nations. It is a 15-seat assembly that decides how the united nations will deploy its military support, however, the permanent five hold the power to stop resolutions from being approved by the UN. This veto power gives these countries the right to deny a resolution from being approved. The veto power was initiated so that these countries did not opt-out of the new organisation, as they had done with the League of Nations; which had led to the outbreak of WWII. It was a guarantee to the governments of these countries that in matters of war and peace, their interests would not be overruled.

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On 16 February of 1946, the USSR now acknowledged as Russia was the first to cast a veto on a draft resolution concerning the retraction of foreign troops from Lebanon and Syria. Since then, the veto has been used 290 times, with Russia casting a total of 141 veto votes. 

To get back to our question of how the United Nations is failing to uphold its aim of maintaining international peace, we take you to Syria.

A country that was once home to millions. However, since the insurrection of the Syrian conflict, 500,000 lives have been lost including children and infants, over 5 million forced to leave their homes and seek refuge. With the aid of the United Nations, these numbers are rising.

 Since the start of Syria’s insurrection in March 2011, Russia has vetoed 12 times against UN Security Council resolutions regarding these violent disputes and conflicts. These resolutions covered human rights violations, indiscriminate aerial bombing, the use of force against civilians, toxic chemical weapons, and calls for a ceasefire.

Russia’s conduct at the Security Council is not motivated by humanitarian apprehensions. Its vetoes have provided political cover for the Assad regime, protected Moscow’s strategic interests and arms deals with the Syrian state, obstructed UN peacekeeping, and have had real and dire consequences for the people of Syria.

Russia’s support for the Assad regime commenced years ago. For starters, his government has been a major Russian arms client. The Stockholm International peace research institute has traced the build-up of Syrian weapons purchases in the years leading up to the 2011 insurrection. Russian military resources to Syria augmented from 9 million in the early 2000s to 272 million in 2011.

On February 4 2012, Russia and China vetoed a draft resolution for Syria. The interesting fact, however, is that on the eve of the UNSC scheduled meeting, Assad’s forces bombarded the city of Homs in Syria, killing numerous civilians. This creates questions. Did Russia know that Assad was planning a massacre and decided to back him up anyway? Or was Assad informed prior that Russia would veto, hence he was given a green light to slaughter innocent lives?

Either way, the one thing for certain, is that the veto has been used to pave way for brutality.

Veto power is also creating heavy criticisms of the United Nations on the basis that it undermines the principles of sovereign equality. It establishes a hierarchy among member states that is inconsistent with other articles in the charter that affirm sovereign equality as one of the basic pillars.

There have been suggested reforms, by members like France, UK, African Union and the Arab League.

UN member states such as African union, and Arab league want to completely abolish the veto.

However, eliminating the veto could lead to a WWIII break out, as the veto ensures that powerful nations interests are kept.

Nevertheless, there are some ways the veto could be reformed.

First, as suggested by Edward Luck, an expert in international relations, the power to veto should not be exercised when it relates to significant humanitarian crises such as mass killing and war crimes. By failing to punish some of these war crimes, the United Nations effectiveness has been undermined. This reform would ensure that the UN will be able to maintain peace.

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Secondly, as advocated by the African Union, veto power should only prevent the council from adopting resolution if it were cast by two or more member. This will eradicate the option of using veto for selfish reasons.

The power to veto has been deployed in an unintended manner, undermining the United Nations and hindering its ability to maintain peace. Due to this fact, the United Nations has not been effective in maintaining peace and is in need of a reform.

If these nations would set aside selfish interests and reform the veto, the United Nations would be set in the right direction.

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