Explained | Veto power in the UNSC

A ‘no’ vote from any one of the five permanent members of the Council stops action on any measure put before it. Photo: AFP

The United States vetoed a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution that would have called for “humanitarian pauses” to deliver life-saving aid to millions in Gaza. 

Brazil, as president of the Security Council for October, responded to a call by Council members to forge a united response to the crisis and forwarded the draft resolution on October 18.

While 12 of the Council’s 15 members voted in favour of the Brazilian-led text, the United States voted against, while Russia, and the United Kingdom abstained.

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield explained her country’s veto in the Council chamber saying this resolution did not mention Israel’s right of self-defence.

The US is a close ally of Israel.

A ‘no’ vote from any one of the five permanent members of the Council stops action on any measure put before it. 

This was the Council’s second open meeting on the situation in Gaza. The failure by the UNSC to make its first public intervention on the Israel-Gaza crisis followed the rejection of a Russian-backed draft on October.

UN Security Council

• The United Nations Charter established six main organs of the United Nations, including the Security Council. It gives primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security to the Security Council.

• All members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council. While other organs of the United Nations make recommendations to Member States, only the Security Council has the power to make decisions that member states are then obligated to implement under the Charter.

• The Security Council held its first session on January 17, 1946 at Church House, Westminster, London. Since its first meeting, the Security Council has taken permanent residence at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.

• A representative of each of its members must be present at all times at UN Headquarters so that the Security Council can meet at any time as the need arises.

• The Security Council takes the lead in determining the existence of a threat to the peace or act of aggression. 

• It calls upon the parties to a dispute to settle it by peaceful means and recommends methods of adjustment or terms of settlement. 

• In some cases, the Security Council can resort to imposing sanctions or even authorise the use of force to maintain or restore international peace and security.

• The Council is composed of 15 members.

• Five permanent members are: China, France, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States. 

• Ten non-permanent members are elected for two-year terms by the General Assembly.

The right to veto

• The creators of the United Nations Charter conceived that five countries — China, France, the USSR (which was succeeded in 1990 by the Russian Federation), the United Kingdom and the United States — because of their key roles in the establishment of the United Nations, would continue to play important roles in the maintenance of international peace and security.

• They were granted the special status of Permanent Member States at the Security Council, along with a special voting power known as the “right to veto”. 

• It was agreed by the drafters that if any one of the five permanent members cast a negative vote in the 15-member Security Council, the resolution or decision would not be approved.

• All five permanent members have exercised the right of veto at one time or another. 

• If a permanent member does not fully agree with a proposed resolution but does not wish to cast a veto, it may choose to abstain, thus allowing the resolution to be adopted if it obtains the required number of nine favourable votes.

India’s stand on veto power

India has emphasised that the exercise of veto in the UNSC is driven by political considerations and not by moral obligations, saying that only five permanent members being given the privilege of using the veto goes against the very concept of sovereign equality of states.

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