Better the United Nations; veto the veto

The United Nations (U.N.) is an international organization whose function, as stated in its Charter, is to “unite [member countries’] strength to maintain international peace and security.” However, given recent events, this goal has yet to be achieved.

The permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (UNSC), which include Russia, the U.S., the U.K., France and China, have varied political interests. Their extreme power to single-handedly veto any resolution that the UNSC, the most powerful group of the U.N., passes has led to the ineffectiveness of the U.N. because the action cannot be taken without the consensus of all five member states. This is why it is so crucial that there is an expansion of the permanent seats and a call for less usage of the veto power because it will allow the U.N. to be a more relevant and powerful international organization.

In February 2022, amidst the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the U.N. General Assembly voted 141 to five countries to stop Russia’s war in Ukraine with 35 abstentions, highlighting that an overwhelming majority of the world’s nations condemn the war. Unfortunately, the passage of this U.N. resolution has only resulted in a stern finger-wag at Russia. Why? When the UNSC passed a resolution that would demand that Moscow stop its assault and withdraw troops from Ukraine, Russia of course used its hefty power within the U.N. and vetoed it. This power imbalance among the five permanent members and the rest of the U.N. member states makes it very difficult if not impossible for the U.N. to mitigate the damage of the Ukraine war.

In order to create and maintain more considerable world peace, I believe that the U.N., and by extension the UNSC, must work properly in the interests of more than just the most powerful nations. The U.N. must reflect the diversity of the world, which means the inclusion of countries other than current superpowers or former colonial powers. This change of perspective is needed to counterbalance the injustices and atrocities of human rights committed by China and Russia, which the UNSC cannot outright condemn because of these countries’ powerful positions.

In his speech to the U.N. on Sept. 21, U.S. President Joe Biden stated that the U.N. should “become more inclusive so that it can become more representative of the world in which we live.” He then outlined U.S. support for making the use of veto power rarer by suggesting that it only be used in emergencies, and the expansion of the permanent members of the UNSC to include members from Latin America, Africa and the Caribbean.

As a country that has used its veto power in the UNSC 14 times in the past 22 years, the U.S. has shown a surprising turnaround on the issue of Security Council power. Just like Russia, the U.S. has used its veto power to promote its own policy interests that are counter to the majority of U.N. member states. This is why it is so dangerous for the five permanent UNSC members to have veto power — because it is often abused. The U.N. cannot be efficient while these global superpowers use their power to do whatever they would like.

On the other hand, lessening the use of the veto power is actually against America’s best interests. For example, 12 of the past 14 U.S. vetoes were used to protect Israel from resolutions condemning military action and expansion of settlements. Elliot Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) makes the bold claim that the “delegitimization of the veto is a step toward delegitimizing Israel,” which has not been in the interests of the U.S. Honestly, I think the U.S.’ support of Israel in this manner is abhorrent considering the human rights violations committed and the clearly self-interested endeavor of the U.S. in having power in the Middle East.

Additionally, Abrams points out that if the UNSC were to expand, there would be several countries fighting to be added while simultaneously fighting to keep their adversaries off the council. The permanent members’ conflicting agendas would make it extremely difficult to agree on the addition of specific countries. Any process changing the UNSC would require a two-thirds vote in the United Nations General Assembly, meaning that it would take sweeping global support to gain these additions to the Security Council.

It is not the purpose of the U.N. to do the bidding of the U.S., China, Russia or any single country for that matter. Frankly, UNSC veto power is too powerful for one state to yield, much less the same five states for the better part of a century. Even more infuriating is that these countries abuse their absurd power to halt the U.N. from taking any decisive actions, rendering it ineffective. It is better to have a delegitimization of the veto power rather than a continued delegitimization of the U.N. itself.