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Why only five countries have veto power in the UN Security Council

  • Category
    International Relations
  • Published
    24th Dec, 2023

Context

The continued US support for Israel has been noted at the UN. It vetoed a resolution of the UN Security Council that called for a ceasefire.

Background

  • On December 12, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza. This non-binding resolution reflects the consensus among member nations.
  • Voting Dynamics: With 153 nations in favour, 10 against, and 23 abstentions, the focus shifts to the small number of countries opposing the resolution. The United States' consistent support for Israel, evident in previous UN votes, raises questions about voting patterns.

Explaining Veto Power in the UN Security Council (UNSC):

  • Definition: The UNSC, comprising the P5 countries, holds significant power. Each P5 member has the exclusive right to veto UNSC resolutions, making them legally binding or ineffective.
  • Historical Background: The origins of veto power trace back to the aftermath of World War II, where the victorious P5 nations were instrumental in forming the UN. The veto power was granted to acknowledge their key roles in establishing the organization and maintaining international peace and security.
  • P5's Role in Post-War Power Dynamics: The P5 wasprominent victors against Axis powers and sought to maintain their influential positions in global affairs.
  • The veto power was seen as a means to ensure their active participation in the UN, particularly during the formation phase.

Challenges to the Veto System:

  • Over the years, countries like Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Italy, and Switzerland voiced concerns about the exclusive veto power, claiming it could lead to unjust projects by major powers against smaller nations.
  • Efforts to amend the veto system, allowing for a more inclusive representation, have faced challenges. Countries like India have advocated for P5 membership, emphasizing the need for broader representation. However, these attempts have not resulted in significant changes.

Contemporary Perspectives:

  • Current Power Dynamics: While the relative influence of the UK and France has diminished, China, the US, and Russia continues to wield significant power in the UNSC. Power rivalries and the fear of rivals gaining influence have contributed to the preservation of the veto system.
  • Proposed Alternatives: Critics suggest reimagining the UNSC structure, making all 15 seats temporary with open competitions, term limits, and restrictions on lobbying expenses. Such changes aim to promote continuity and prevent domination by a few powerful nations.

Way Forward:

  • The recent UNGA resolution and the on-going use of veto power in the UNSC highlight the complexities of international diplomacy.
  • As the world evolves, discussions about reforming these structures persist, with differing opinions on how to achieve a more equitable and effective global governance system.

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