Scrap the veto-power
The power of veto was conceived as a privilege afforded to the world’s major powers to safeguard themselves from negative UNSC resolutions. The two nations responsible for playing the veto card since the Security Council’s founding are the Soviet Union/Russia and the US, which in recent decades has used its veto more than any other.
Earlier this month, Russia vetoed a UNSC move to call the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys as genocide on the grounds that doing so would be “divisive.” In recent years, almost all US vetoes have been used to impede resolutions targeting Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians, viewed by the US as “unhelpful” or “one-sided.”
In a nutshell, a single country is empowered to thwart a just solution for millions of oppressed people while allowing the oppressor to enjoy impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Arguably, there would have been a Palestinian state years ago if it weren’t for America’s unconditional diplomatic shielding of Israel.
And because Russia and China have vetoed attempts by the UN to refer the Assad regime to the International Criminal Court in The Hague (ICC), it’s unlikely that this regime, that’s directly or indirectly responsible for the death of over 210,000 of its own citizens, will ever be held to account. Veto power has rendered the ICC toothless when it comes to the worst culprits, which is partly why it’s been forced to concentrate its efforts on citizens of countries, to date, solely African countries, which don’t possess a veto-holding UNSC champion.
This system is not only undemocratic at its very foundation but also anachronistic; a left-over from imperialism breaching the democratic values espoused by all but one UNSC permanent member countries. The Security Council’s make-up no longer reflects geopolitical realities. The big five are no longer the only world powers.
Japan, Germany, Brazil and India (known as G4 nations) have long requested permanent seats on the UNSC, in keeping with their economic clout (all boast high GDPs than France and Russia) and geopolitical influence, to no avail. Their knocks on the door aren’t heard because UNSC members aren’t willing to open it to countries which are not in accord with their own policies.
Moreover there is a cliquish element to the UNSC with the UK and France often siding with the US while since the end of 2011, China has been Russia’s veto partner on four occasions. It’s doubtful that each member country looks at each case purely on its merits; it’s rather a case of ‘I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine.”
Expanding the permanent membership of the UNSC and discarding the veto, to be replaced by, say, a vote by a two-thirds majority, would be one of the most equitable ways to proceed.
Last year, France’s Ambassador to the United Nations called for the right of veto to be suspended when dealing with cases involving mass atrocities, but even this suggestion that sounds worth on the face of it came with a hypocritical twist in the tail – such suspension could be waived when a member state’s “vital national interests” were at stake. That clause made the proposal nonsensical. Russia could say that Syria where it has a naval base serves its national interests; the US could claim that its closest Middle East ally, Israel, serves its own.
Alternatively, the Security Council could be scrapped in favor of empowering the General Assembly, especially when some UNSC member states have at times engaged in conflicts without seeking or receiving a green light from the Security Council. However, the downside is that decision-making in emergency situations would become even slower and more unwieldy than it is now.
In November, 2013, the President of the UN General Assembly proposed the setting up of an advisory group to consider the UNSC’s shake-up so as to prove more regional representation and to consider proposals to scrap the veto. But as long as the Big Five care more about defending their turf than adhering to the spirit of the UN Charter, any changes threatening their hold on power will be destined to remain on paper.
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