UN Moves to Put Veto Users Under Global Spotlight Amid Russia's Invasion of Ukraine

A resolution passed by the General Assembly doesn't limit veto power of the five permanent Security Council members, but could put veto-wielders on the spot and let a raft of other countries be heard

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A meeting of the UN Security Council on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, at the UN headquarters in New York City, in April.
A meeting of the UN Security Council on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, at the UN headquarters in New York City, in April. Credit: ANDREW KELLY/Reuters

The UN General Assembly took a first step to put the five permanent members of the Security Council under a global spotlight Tuesday when they use their veto power, a move highlighted by Russia’s veto and threat of future vetoes that has paralyzed any action by the UN’s most powerful body on the Ukraine war.

The resolution, which was adopted by consensus by the 193-member assembly with the bang of its president’s gavel and a burst of applause, does not eliminate or limit the veto power of the permanent members – the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France.

But for the first time it will require the General Assembly “to hold a debate on the situation” that sparks a veto in the Security Council within 10 working days, and to give precedence on the list of speakers to the permanent member who cast the veto.

The assembly isn’t required to take or consider any action, but the discussion could put veto-wielders on the spot and let a raft of other countries be heard.

Liechtenstein’s UN ambassador, Christian Wenaweser, who spearheaded the resolution, has said it aims “to promote the voice of all of us who are not veto-holders, and who are not on the Security Council, on matters of international peace and security because they affect all of us.”

Presenting the resolution to the assembly on Tuesday morning, Wenaweser alluded to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 and the Security Council’s failure to take action saying: “There has never been a stronger need for effective multilateralism than today, and there has never been a stronger need for innovation in order to secure the central role and voice of the United Nations.”

The resolution had about 80 co-sponsors including the United States and the United Kingdom.

The reform of the Security Council, which is charged under the UN Charter with ensuring international peace and security, has been discussed and debated for more than 40 years, and was front and center in comments by countries before and after the resolution’s adoption on Tuesday.

There is widespread support for revamping the UN’s most powerful organ to reflect current global realities rather than the international power structure after World War II in 1945 when the United Nations was created. But all previous attempts, starting in 1979, have failed because rivalries between countries and regions have blocked agreement on the size, composition and powers of an expanded council.

The veto power of the five permanent members is one component on the reform agenda.

By now, more than 200 different Security Council proposals have been vetoed, some by multiple countries, according to UN records. The subjects have ranged from the Korean War and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to climate change, reporting on weapons stockpiles, and governance of a part of the Indian Ocean nation Comoros.

The former Soviet Union and its successor Russia have cast the most vetoes by far, followed by the United States. Far fewer have been cast by Britain, China and France.

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