Controversy Flares Over UN Security Council Veto Rights
Introduction by Quemado Institute
September 24, 2015
Revised September 25, 2015
Calls for UNSC reform sound great and make people feel good about themselves, but the structure of the body should remain unchanged. — Jonathan Cristol, World Policy Insitute.
Washington’s infuriated neocons are up in arms about Russia’s veto power in the UN Security Council, US author Stephen Lendman notes, adding that without Russia the international organization would simply parrot decisions made in Washington. — Sputnik News
During the UN Assembly meetings currently taking place in New York, a group of misguided “Agents of Virtue” are attempting to curtail the automatic veto power now enjoyed by the five Security Council member states. Proposals on the table include stripping veto rights from UNSC members allegedly engaged in “terrorist activities”, “war crimes” or “humanitarian violations.” Yet who is to judge the guilty? Will a special court be appointed to decide which members to penalize? Will a committee be appointed to establish this court? Who will be allowed to join this committee? Will there arise an infinite regression regarding who is allowed to decide who is allowed to decide? And will the US itself become subject to judgment, thereby shooting itself in the foot?
Stephen Lendman is not the only American political expert who opposes disruption of the UN Security Council structure. Johnathan Cristol, geopolitical analyst with the conservative New York think tank World Policy Institute, offers a number of sensible arguements for retaining the present UN Security Council format.
We present Johnathan Cristol’s commentary first, followed by a Sputnik News report highlighting Chicago-based analyst Stephen Lendman’s analysis, and lastly, Stephen Lendman’s analysis itself.
Don’t Reform the Security Council
by Jonathan Cristol
World Policy Institute
September 21, 2015
Posted September 24, 2015
Every year, the opening of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) is accompanied by predictable calls for UN Security Council (UNSC) reform. There is widespread agreement that reform is necessary, but complete disagreement about the specifics. The depth of this disagreement can be seen in the framework agreement for UNSC reform, adopted on Sept. 14. The agreement is 25 pages long, with 123 pages of addenda, and contains an almost infinite number of permutations of changes. It succeeds only in highlighting the impossibility of UNSC reform passing either the UNGA or the UNSC.
The UNSC does not need reform. States support particular reforms either because those reforms are in their national interest, because they know they won’t happen, or because they value diversity and transparency over functionality and efficacy.
The most common reason cited for UNSC reform is that it is not reflective of “the geopolitical realities of our current world,” to quote the previous UNGA president, Sam Kahamba Kutesa. But in fact, it is more reflective of the current geopolitical reality than it was at its creation in 1945, when France was in ruins and China was scarcely a regional power. The current “P5” — U.S., Russia, China, U.K., and France — are (still) the most powerful states in world. The U.S. and China are the two largest economies, the U.S. and Russia have the two largest nuclear arsenals, and China is rapidly expanding its military force projection and has already built a worldwide economic empire. The U.K. and France have nuclear arsenals, global cultural reach, and are the 6th and 7th largest economies. More importantly, they are the only five powers that can act with impunity — impunity which does not stem from the veto power, but from “geopolitical reality.”
There are two points of agreement for UNSC reform among the member-states — that the UNSC should be expanded and that it should be more transparent. Even the current P5 publicly support expansion in principle, which is easy to do when you know that your rivals will always oppose the reforms you support and vice versa. Transparency is a trickier one, which the U.K. and France have said is, “a matter for consideration by the Security Council, not the General Assembly.” This highlights a key aspect of reform as without P5 unanimity on reform, reform will not happen. And no state is going to vote to make itself less powerful.
UNSC expansion could take many forms. There could be an addition of permanent members with the veto power or permanent members without the veto power. There could be an addition of rotating seats with the veto power or an expansion of the non-permanent members, as happened in 1966 when the number of non-permanent members expanded from six to ten. In the end, it is hard enough to get agreement of the P5 plus 4 of the 10 non-permanent members that to add additional members, even without the veto, makes sense only if the goal of the organization is diversity and not functionality.
UNSC transparency is the major concern of the smaller states that would never be considered for a permanent seat on the UNSC and have no major ally in such (faux-) contention for a permanent seat. Here too, national interest gets in the way of efficacy and functionality. The only way for the UNSC to allow for effective, open, and full debates are for its deliberations to be held in secret and off-the-record. Were the UNSC to hold hearings and to deliberate in public, it would turn into another venue for showboating and grandstanding, and serious discussions of peace and security would fully return to the ad hoc bi- and multilateral talks that predated the UN System.
And this result of reform is key: The dilution of the power of the P5 would succeed in making the UNSC more reflective of the UNGA, but it would also pave the way for more ad hoc side-meetings, informal arrangements, and unilateral action. The reason that a P5 state can take whatever action it wants — invade Iraq, annex Eastern Ukraine, build artificial islands to expand territorial waters, intervene in West Africa, and so forth — is not because it can veto any UNSC resolution directed against it. The P5 states can get away with anything because no other states have the power to stop them. Nuclear weapons, force projection capabilities, and global economic strength provide a lot more cover than does the veto power.
The P5 are the exact right states to exercise veto power over matters of international peace and security. E.H. Carr wrote in 1933, “the constant intrusion… of power renders almost meaningless any conception of equality between members of the international community,” and this lack of equality is why it is the most dominant states on the map can and should dominate the conference rooms in Turtle Bay. Even now the current set-up allows for small, geographically diverse states to override the P5; resolutions must have nine of 15 votes total to pass. The fact that the P5 can do what they want anyway, is exactly why they should be the P5 in the first place. And there is no other state that could realistically be added with a veto power.
The UNSC is absolutely a sub-optimal structure for maintaining international peace and security. But in the reality in which we all exist, this sub-optimal structure is optimal. Calls for UNSC reform sound great and make people feel good about themselves, but the structure of the body should remain unchanged. It isn’t that the UNSC allows the P5 to act with impunity, it is that the states that can act with impunity comprise the P5, and it is only with their unanimity that anything substantive can be achieved.
Jonathan Cristol is a fellow at the World Policy Institute and a senior fellow at the Center for Civic Engagement at Bard College.
World Policy Institute: Founded in New York City in 1961 as the Fund for Education Concerning World Peace through World Law, the World Policy Institute has its origins in the post-World War II movement of moderate internationalists. Its founders, the banker Harry B. Hollins and the banker and public servant C. Douglas Dillon, inspired by the World Federalist thinker Grenville Clark, sought to develop international policies to prevent future carnage and devastation…. In 2007, the World Policy Institute was re-incorporated as a free-standing institution, which works in active collaboration with like-minded organizations around the world. In January 2009, Foreign Policy magazine ranked WPI as the 16th most influential US think tank, out of 1777 in the United States and 5465 worldwide. –World Policy Institute mission statement. (Critical independent assessments of the World Policy Institute proved difficult to find in the time available. Quemado Institute has posted this article solely based on its intrinsic merit.)
Friday, September 25, 2015 Update:
Two articles below illustrate the ongoing friction inside UN circles regarding Security Council veto power. The movement toward revision is focused unfairly against Russia. By amending veto power, Washington would essentially be shooting itself in the foot, an activity of which it has grown fond.
Russia’s UN Security Council Veto Power a Thorn
in Washington’s Flesh
September 25, 2015
Washington’s infuriated neocons are up in arms about Russia’s veto power in the UN Security Council, US author Stephen Lendman notes, adding that without Russia the international organization would simply parrot decisions made in Washington.
Washington absurdly claims that Russian vetoes are jeopardizing the UN Security Council’s legitimacy, turning a blind eye to the fact that the US itself used its veto power dozens of times, US author and syndicated columnist Stephen Lendman emphasizes, nailing US policy makers for their utter hypocrisy and double-standard approach. Indeed, Russia’s veto power in the UN Security Council “challenges [Washington’s] hegemonic agenda, blocking efforts to authorize war on Syria among other important actions,” Lendman pointed out in his article for Global Research.
“US UN envoy Samantha Power is one of numerous neocons infesting the Obama administration, an advocate of endless wars dressed up as humanitarian intervention. She criticized Russian vetoes, saying they force America to “forum-shop” to further its agenda. ‘If a particular body reveals itself to be dysfunctional, then people are going to go elsewhere,’ she claimed,” the US author noted.
In accordance with the UN Charter provisions, five countries, namely the US, Britain, China, France and the USSR (now the Russian Federation), were granted special status in the UN. Being the UN Security Council permanent members they obtained the power to veto the council’s measures. Interestingly enough, while the Russian Federation has used its veto power only 13 times, Washington has used its veto in the Security Council 79 times, according to UN records. And that is not all. America’s longstanding allies, Britain and France, have used their right to veto the Security Council’s measures, 29 and 16 times respectively, sometimes playing directly into hands of the US.
“Ahead of the UN’s 70th anniversary next month, US-installed Ukrainian fascists want Moscow stripped of its right to dissent during this month’s General Assembly session. It’ll take more than a GA vote to alter the UN Charter. It requires a two-thirds majority of member states — including all P5 countries with veto power. It’s unlikely any will choose to limit their own authority,” Lendman elaborated.
The US author stressed that Russia’s veto is an important tool able to counterbalance Washington’s imperial warmongering. Lendman cited Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin, who said: “The Security Council will lose its relevance [without Russia’s veto power]… [and] simply… rubber-stamp decisions… made in Washington, Paris, London, Brussels.” The American columnist added that US administrations under either Republicans or Democrats are “the greatest threat to world peace.”
“It’ll take more than Security Council actions to reign in their madness,” Lendman concluded.
Stephen Lendman’s Original Commentary:
Understanding the UN Security Council Veto Power:
America Threatens Russia
by Stephen Lendman
September 24, 2015
Article 27 of the UN Charter states:
1. Each member of the Security Council shall have one vote. 2. Decisions of the Security Council on procedural matters shall be made by an affirmative vote of nine members. 3. 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; provided that, in decisions under Chapter VI, and under paragraph 3 of Article 52, a party to a dispute shall abstain from voting.
Five countries were granted special status: America, Britain, China, France and the former Soviet Union – now the Russian Federation. They’re permanent Security Council members with special voting power known as the “right to veto” SC measures.
During the post-Soviet era, Washington used its veto power scores of times, Russia only eight “no” votes. Ahead of the UN’s 70th anniversary next month, US-installed Ukrainian fascists want Moscow stripped of its right to dissent during this month’s General Assembly session. It’ll take more than a GA vote to alter the UN Charter. It requires a two-thirds majority of member states – including all P5 countries with veto power. It’s unlikely any will choose to limit their own authority.
Washington nonsensically claims Russian vetoes threaten the Security Council’s legitimacy. It challenges its hegemonic agenda, blocking efforts to authorize war on Syria among other important actions. US UN envoy Samantha Power is one of numerous neocons infesting the Obama administration, an advocate of endless wars dressed up as humanitarian intervention. She criticized Russian vetoes, saying they force America to “forum-shop” to further its agenda. “If a particular body reveals itself to be dysfunctional, then people are going to go elsewhere,” she claimed. And if that happened for more than Syria and Ukraine and you started to see across the board paralysis…it would certainly jeopardize the security council’s status and credibility and its function as a go-to international security arbiter. It would definitely jeopardize that over time.
Russia’s veto power is an important tool able to prevent Washington from getting legitimacy for its imperial wars. “The Security Council will lose its relevance” without it, Moscow’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin explained. It would “simply…rubber-stamp decisions…made in Washington, Paris, London, (and) Brussels…(It would prevent SC members from) do(ing) the important work of bringing about consensus decisions.”
Putin is expected to meet with Obama when both leaders address the General Assembly later this month. Churkin expects no major breakthroughs. If agreement is reached on anything, it’ll be an achievement, he explained. He dismissed the hype about alleged Russian military buildup in Syria as baseless Western propaganda. Russia fully observes international law. “There’s no secret about” its legitimate activities.
Putin’s initiative for world unity to confront Islamic State terrorists is the most effective way to defeat it, Churkin explained – impossible as long as Washington wants war.
US administrations under Republicans and Democrats are the greatest threat to world peace. It’ll take more than Security Council actions to reign in their madness.