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Veto Power and its mishandling

By Dhairya Nagpal

United Nations was formed as an intergovernmental organisation to maintain peace and security in the world, develop friendly relations among nations, achieve international co-operation. One of the bodies of the UN is the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

UNSC is the most powerful body of the UN. It constitutes of the Permanent 5 (P5) members and 10 other temporary members who have a tenure of up to 2 years. P5 members are the UK, US, France, Russia and China. Its main objective is to maintain peace and security in the world.

UNSC meets regularly to assess the security scenario in the world and take measures against nuclear proliferation, sex-based crimes, targeting civilian killings, etc. This all lies under the purview of the council. UNSC strives to maintain a peaceful world. UNSC is allowed to use sanctions against countries it thinks are involved in the above-mentioned acts. It believes that sanctions are one method to keep non-compliant entities in line and adhere to what UNSC considers is helping in maintaining international peace and security. The first sanction ever to be used by UNSC was in 1966 on Southern Rhodesia condemning the illegitimate seizure of power.  

All of this seems very good on paper, but when tried to apply to practice, it has many times brought disillusionment with the whole body. This is because of the Veto Power given to the permanent members of the UNSC. Many times, this power wielded by the P5 has been used to protect their own interests rather than thinking of the civilians they claim to protect.


Veto power has been used 287 times until now. Most of the times veto power has been used by Russia. The first Veto was used by USSR regarding a resolution concerning the withdrawal of troops from Lebanon and Syria. Veto power is only with the permanent 5 countries. Veto power basically means that any of the P5 countries can halt any decision being discussed by the council.

In the beginning years, USSR used the veto power to prevent any new country from joining the council. This was in the Cold War context. The US cast its first vote on 17th March 1970. Since then it has cast 83 vetoes, mostly those resolutions which were protective of Israel. The UK cast its first veto on 30th October 1956. For France, it was 26 June 1946, and for China, 13th December 1955.

In the past, there has emerged a pattern in the use of the Veto power by the P5. Nowadays, veto power is used mostly in the cases of resolutions which condemn mass violence or genocide in a country. Most of the P5 has vetoed these resolutions to protect their and their ally’s interests. Like, Russia and China use this power to reject any resolution which is against the Syrian regime. The US has used its veto power many times to protect Israel from the condemnation of their actions regarding the Gaza Strip.   


There have been many instances when personal bias has trumped as a priority over a humanitarian crisis by any of the P5 countries. This claim is evident by the Gaza Strip and the Syrian problem.

Israel has had a long history in the Gaza Strip. After Israel was declared as a sovereign nation by David Ben-Gurion in 1948, a war between the Arabs and the newly established Jewish state broke out. After an armistice was agreed upon by the warring nations, Israel decided to keep the small Gaza Strip of length 25 miles and width 5 miles under the control of Egypt. Then in 1956, after the Suez Canal crisis, Israel took Gaza Strip from Egypt but had to return it after bending to international pressure. Then again after the Six Day War, Israel invaded Gaza strip and captured it. But after signing the Oslo Peace Accord, gave up Gaza Strip.

Due to this topsy-turvy history of the area, it is sometimes difficult to keep account of who is in control of Gaza Strip. As of now, Gaza Strip is a self-governing Palestinian territory which borders Israel from the east and north side. Hamas won the elections to govern the land in 2006 and is governing till now. There have been many instances of rocket attacks from Gaza to Israel. This has led to retaliation from the Israel side. Last year in November, Gaza launched 300 rockets towards Israel. Israel responded in its own way by launching missiles attacking 70 posts of Hamas, including militant compounds and rocket launcher pads. This issue has been discussed by the UN. Most of the countries in the UNSC believe that the violence in Gaza Strip is Israel’s fault. But not the US. America has vetoed any resolution that is aimed at condemning Israel and has tried to introduce a new resolution condemning Hamas and its operations against Israel.

US has also recognised Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and has vetoed a UNSC resolution condemning the same. More than 40 times, the US has used its veto power to save the interests of Israel.

There is one more issue which has been shot down by the gun called Veto. This is the chemical attacks conducted by the Syrian regime. Most of the UNSC members, both the permanent ones and the temporary ones, believe that the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has been using chemical weapons against his citizens. But Russia and China seem to believe otherwise. Whenever a resolution is tabled in the Security Council regarding the same, Russia has always vetoed it and China had sometimes vetoed it and sometimes abstained itself.

The veto has also been used many times against Indian interests by Pakistan’s all-weather friend China. 4 times in the past have the permanent UNSC members drafted a resolution declaring Masood Azhar as a global terrorist, but it has always been vetoed by China. This time after the Pulwama attack, France will table the resolution, although China has condemned the attack, sources say they might again veto the resolution.  


There is one more aspect which tells us that we are not shown the full picture. This is the concept of “pocket” or “hidden” veto. This refers to the times when a resolution was not even tabled due to threats of a veto from the P5 countries. This has called for a lot of suggestions by experts in the field that the P5 should not use their veto power in the cases of genocide. And if they use this power, they have to provide reasonable explanations as to why they have used this power.

But these suggestions have never been turned into practice as they faced strong opposition from the members. Keeping these suggestions in mind, there have been three initiatives to improve the working of the UNSC and make it more effective in taking prompt action where it is actually required. These initiatives were the French Initiative, ACT Code of Conduct & Elders Proposal. All these initiatives had these suggestions in common. They were brought due to the inability of the council to act on the Syrian problem. A united effort and commitment are required to make the UNSC a more just and transparent global body.

Dhairya Nagpal is a 1st-year student of BA Economics at Jindal School of Government and Public Policy. 

Image Source: CICC

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