Security Council veto power remains a conundrum, abolishing it the best way forward

26 Sep 2022 05:30pm
The United Nations Security Council meets at the UN Headquarters in New York City - AFP photo
The United Nations Security Council meets at the UN Headquarters in New York City - AFP photo
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KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob's call at the recent United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) that the veto powers of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) be abolished is the way forward in ensuring the United Nations (UN) return to its foundation.

Critics have described the veto as being the most undemocratic element of the UN and the main cause of inaction on war crimes and crimes against humanity as seen in the protracted conflicts and crises in the world such as in Palestine, Myanmar and Ukraine.

Last Friday, while delivering Malaysia’s National Statement at the 77th UNGA, Ismail Sabri called for the veto powers of the UNSC to be abolished in line with the principle of one country one vote and the growing calls for UNSC a key organ of the UN to be reformed.

The prime minister pointed out that the five permanent members of the UNSC (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) who have the veto power have used it in their favour and not for the benefit of the world.

Even before Ismail Sabri, Malaysia's former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had voiced his stand on the veto power calling for an end to the dominance of the five permanent members of the UNSC.

Though Malaysia's stand on doing away with the veto power of permanent members in the UNSC is shared by many members of the UN, a defence strategist and a geostrategist see a catch-22 situation in doing away with the veto power.

Deputy Director for Research in the Centre for Defence and International Security Studies (CDiSS) at the National Defence University of Malaysia Prof Adam Leong said the Prime Minister had concisely highlighted that it’s time to reform the UNSC’s P5 (permanent five) veto power - a remnant of the Second World War and does not reflect the dynamics of today’s world.

Leong pointed out that throughout the UN's history, numerous conflicts broke out and the UNSC was paralysed by the veto or threat of veto from the permanent members who wanted to protect their own and their allies' national interests.

"The UN's 'collective security' umbrella principle did not work. The world has changed and moved on," he told Bernama.
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Meanwhile, geostrategist Prof Dr Azmi Hassan noted that the proposal to restructure the UNSC to enhance its effectiveness and credibility could only materialise with the consensus of all existing five veto powers.

The Senior Fellow at Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research (NASR) said the proposal to restructure the UN’s top decision-making body will go nowhere without the consensus of the five superpowers, thus making it difficult for the world body to return to its foundation.

"To restructure (UNSC), you need (the) agreement of five superpowers, very unlikely they will agree to it though other 187 nations agree to the restructuring of UNSC. But without the nod from the five superpowers, the proposal will go nowhere and very difficult for the UN to return to its foundation," he told Bernama in response to the prime minister’s statement at the assembly.

Azmi said each of the veto power nations, at one point or another, had used that decisive vote to block moves they believed threatened their interests paying no heed to the greater good or larger public benefit.

"For example, the Ukraine-Russia war couldn't be resolved due to the veto power possessed by Russia. So a resolution that is binding cannot be put forward regarding the war in Ukraine," he said pointing to a UNSC resolution early this year vetoed by Russia that demanded Moscow immediately stop its attack on Ukraine and withdraw all troops.

In May, Russia and China vetoed forestall the release of a UNSC resolution drafted by the UK expressing its concern over the escalating humanitarian crisis in Myanmar.

It is clear the veto power has left the UNSC toothless and incapable of fulfilling its purported aim of maintaining global peace.

"This showed that (the) veto power possessed by five superpowers will be a hindrance to solving a particular global issue or conflict," he added.

Leong concurred with Azmi that despite the growing call for change, attempts to reform the veto powers in the UNSC will not be easy.

"One of the reasons is that any binding UN action can only be authorised by the UNSC which in turn, is ‘controlled’ by the P5 members with veto powers.

"The P5 will not easily give up their exclusive veto power. Their veto power is the most powerful body in the UN gives them prestige, leverage and control over the UN,” he said.

According to data from World Population Review, Russia has used its power to veto a resolution the most with 120 times followed by the US which has used the power 82 times.

The UK has used its veto power 29 times while France used it 16 times and China has vetoed a vote 17 times with most occurring in the past ten years. - BERNAMA