Abolishing the United Nations Security Council Veto

Kibungo Hill, a 25-year-old shopkeeper and farmer, suffered under the Rwandan genocide stating, “I no longer concerned myself with thinking about when I was going to die, since we were going to die anyway, only with how the cuts would hack at me; only about how long it would take, because I was very frightened of the suffering machetes bestow” (Hill). At the time, the United Nations (UN) was not interested in preventing the Rwandan genocide, and if action was taken, then it was dilatory. A few months after the genocide, Kofi Annan, head of the UN peacekeeping in 1995 lamented, “The international community failed Rwanda and that must leave us always with a sense of bitter regret” (Eadie, 2014). Twenty years after the genocide, in 2014, the UN chief reiterated the same message to thousands of Rwandans saying “never again” (Clover, 2014). Yet atrocities of this nature have occurred again on the United Nations’ watch. As they did in the past, permanent members of the United Nations Security Council are still taking actions through self-interest; most notably through the use of the UN Security Council’s veto power. The United Nations was primarily formed to end atrocities, but in the past three decades, six atrocities have taken place, and the UN Security Council veto allowed for world powers to avoid alleviating the atrocities, and, rather, focused on their own self-interests; for this reason, the UN Security Council should abolish the permanent members’ ability to veto a resolution.

The UN Security Council was formed to forestall and quell international atrocities from occurring. Although this idea of cooperation was harmonious, it was unrealistic and, rather, proliferated political abuse from the five permanent member states. Since its nascent stages the permanent member states have used their veto power for political play. As mass atrocities have taken place since 1945, the Security Council has ignored most of these events. When observing from 1945 to present day, six instances highlight this political play and lack of responsibility from the Security Council; these include[d] the conflicts in Palestine/Israel, Yemen, Syria, Crimea, Darfur, and Rwanda.

In the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, a number of human rights violations have occurred between 1948 to the present day, yet the United States protects its interests by using the veto before protecting human rights. Since the 1967 war between Israel, Egypt, and Syria, which resulted in Israel obtaining the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights; the Israeli government has continued to occupy these lands illegally according to the United Nations Geneva Convention (Human Rights Watch, 2016). The Security Council has voted on a number of resolutions condemning this occupation of land and has further written new resolutions on the Israeli settlements being built on this illegally occupied land. For example, Resolutions 605, 607, 636, 694,726, 799, 1435, and 1544 all condemned Israel’s occupation of these lands from the 1967 war (Hammond, 2010). Furthermore, in 2015, “Israeli authorities demolished 481 Palestinian homes and other buildings in the West Bank, displacing 601 people, including 296 children” to build Israeli settlements (Human Rights Watch, 2016). Unfortunately, the United States vetoed all of the resolutions. The reasoning from the United States, regardless of the president, follows a similar melody that says, “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the prospects for peace would be damaged by an action taken at the UNSC” (Middle East Policy Council, 2017). It is important to note that many of these resolutions brought forward also condemn Palestinian aggression and inhumane tactics used on Israeli civilians. In the future, regardless of how a resolution pertaining to Israel will be crafted, the U.S. cannot be a supporter of it.

The United States is dedicated to protecting Israel with the use of the veto because of past atrocities committed such as the Holocaust, and Israel’s political location in the Middle East is beneficial to US foreign policy. Stephen Zunes, of Foreign Policy in Focus, notes that the United States’ support is “through a mixture of guilt regarding Western anti-Semitism, personal friendships with Jewish Americans who identify strongly with Israel, a fear of inadvertently encouraging anti-Semitism by criticizing Israel, there is enormous reluctance to acknowledge the seriousness of Israeli violations of human rights and international law” (2002). Additionally, the majority of the United States comprises Christians, who see themselves as religiously connected to Jews, rather than Muslims. This results in 80% of Republicans and 50% of Democrats supporting Israel (Zunes, 2002). Zune says, that part of this favorability stems from Israel’s lobby in the US and their influence on the media. “[The Israeli lobby’s] role has been important in certain tight congressional races and in helping to create a climate of intimidation among those who seek to moderate U.S. policy…[while] widespread racism toward Arabs and Muslims so prevalent in American society, often perpetuated in the media” (Zunes, 2002). Besides pro-Israeli lobbies, military weapon manufacturers strongly support the United States’ military alliance with Israel and are constantly harping on Congress. Elected officials are much more interested in supporting a $2 billion arms deal to Israel, than a $60 million arms deal to Indonesia, “particularly when so many congressional districts include factories that produce such military hardware” (Zunes, 2002). If the United States were to allow a resolution to pass that pertained negatively to Israel, then the US would lose a vital interest. As can be seen, protecting this ally both delegitimizes the UN Security Council and collide personal interests and world interests.


The United States’ veto power has also played a major role in the current Yemeni Civil War between the Houthi rebels and the Saudi supported government, which has produced a wave of human rights violations according to international law. The Houthi rebels, who are under-supplied with military equipment and use guerrilla warfare tactics, have “endangered civilians in areas they controlled by launching attacks from the vicinity of schools, hospitals and homes, exposing residents to attacks by pro-government forces (Amnesty International, 2016). Additionally, it has been reported that the Houthi rebels catch journalists, human rights supporters, and pro-Saudi individuals, then detain and torture them (Amnesty International, 2016). On the other side of the civil war, the Saudi government forces have formed a “partial sea and air blockade [which has] further curtailed the import of food and other necessities, deepening the humanitarian crisis” in Yemen (Amnesty International, 2016). Yemen has also been crippled by the Saudi government’s indiscriminate attacks on “funeral gatherings, hospitals, schools, markets, factories…bridges, water facilities, and telecommunication towers” (Amnesty International, 2016). Throughout this war, Saudi Arabia has bought military weapons from the U.S., and, concurrently, the UN Security Council has placed an arms embargo on the Houthi rebels (UN News Centre, 2015). This civil war is divided between the U.S., France, and Britain sending military supplies to the Saudis and Russia supporting the Houthi Rebels (United Nations Security Council). This conflict is entirely political and both Russia and the U.S. are not interested in counting the civilian deaths because their interests are at stake. Once again, this is a display of political interests becoming convoluted with the objectives of the U.N.

The Yemeni Civil War is involving Iran and Saudi Arabia as proxies. If a UN resolution were to arise against the Houthi Rebels, then Russia would veto it because the Houthis and Iran are close allies. As is the same for the United States, they refuse to allow a resolution to pass condemning Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations because of their relationship. Diana al-Ghoul of Middle East Monitor comments, “Russia is showing signs of mirroring Iranian policy” and is unable to be fully involved in this civil war “simply because of the way that Moscow [is] dragged into the Syrian conflict. If the Kremlin was to expand its military operation in the Middle East overtly, it would be over-stretching its capabilities” (2016). As a result, Russia defaults to its power of the UN Security Council veto. Unlike Russia’s involvement, which is minimally and retractably involved, the United States’ obligation to Saudi Arabia is not a choice. Michael Pregent, of Foreign Policy says, “the fact is that Washington needs Saudi Arabia today more than ever if it is to defeat so-called Islamic State, al Qaeda, and their global offshoots” (2016). Saudi Arabia has been the leading player in fighting terrorism alongside the United States, and that if the U.S. ruins this relationship the region will fall into more instability, especially Yemen. “If Iran were to gain control of the strategic Bab al-Mandab strait in Yemen, it would significantly increase its capacity to funnel weapons and rockets to Palestinian and Hezbollah militants, further destabilizing the Levant” (Pregent, 2016). Also, while President Obama was in office, the extra demand to support Saudi Arabia derived from Obama’s Iranian Nuclear Deal, which questioned the Saudi-American relationship (De Young and Ryan, 2017). This led Obama to selling the Saudi government weapons for their fight in Yemen, and offered the United States tacit support for the alliance (De Young and Ryan, 2017). As for President Trump, he is fervently opposed to Iran and deeply dislikes the Iranian Nuclear Deal, so his antipathy for Iran leads him to vehemently support Saudi Arabia (De Young and Ryan, 2017). In other words, both presidents would quickly veto any bill obstructing their interests with Saudi Arabia.

In the Middle East, the Yemeni Civil War is not the only crisis being abandoned by the Security Council. The current Syrian Civil War and its mass atrocities have been at the forefront of world news since its inception. This is also a conflict that is both sectarian and politically- divided among world powers. Bashar al-Assad, the president of Syria, has used nefarious military approaches against both military rebels and civilians (Taub, 2016). Human Rights Council investigators found that President al-Assad had detention centers “where torture and summary executions were deliberate policies…in which detainees died as the result of torture” (Rossen, 2016). To make matters worse the al-Assad regime has blocked the United Nations’ humanitarian aid, such as food and medical supplies, from reaching civilians in dire need of these basic necessities, and he has used chemical weapons, such as Sarin gas, against his own people (Kerry, 2013). As this crisis exacerbated, the Security Council attempted to stop the al-Assad regime from using chemical weapons. On April 12, 2017, the Security Council drafted a resolution which “emphasized Syria’s obligation to comply with the recommendations of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapon’s (OPCW) Fact Finding Mission and the OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism by providing immediate and unfettered access to and the right to inspect any and all sites” (Security Council Meeting, 2017). Unfortunately, the resolution foundered because of a Russian veto. In the past four years, “vetoes by Russia and China have blocked resolutions that would have demanded all sides to the conflict to stop fighting [and] condemned the indiscriminate killing of civilians” (Eadie, 2014). Both Russia and China have done this because they have political interests involved in Syria, especially Russia.

If Russia was to allow this resolution and others to pass, both al-Assad and Russian leaders would be on trial for war crimes at the International Criminal Court for these atrocities in Syria. This possibility is one of the reasons why Russia withdrew from the International Criminal Court in November 2016 (Seddon, 2016). Moscow does not want to be held responsible for its war crimes in Syria and Ukraine. Syria is also the location for Syria’s only naval base in the Middle East, which is on Syria’s Mediterranean coast in the city of Tartus. This base is critical to Russia if it intends to supply its proxies such as Iran, Syria, or Hezbollah with weapons, and it allows for Russia to reach other trade markets such as North Africa or East Africa (Marshall, 2015). Similar to Russia’s interest in trade, China also has investments in Syria and intends to use the Syrian Civil War to its advantage. “China has announced plans to increase humanitarian support for the Syrian people as well as military support for the Syrian government in the fight against terrorism…[last August] China’s Central Military Commission pledged to expand Chinese military support for the Syrian government” (Global Risk Insights, 2016). As for after the war, China committed to a $10 billion deal with the Syrian government to rebuild their telecommunication infrastructure; this is part of their larger “Silk Road” $900 billion infrastructure initiative around the region (Global Risk Insights, 2016). Both Russia and China are seeking to improve their economies through the use of the Syrian Civil War, and, as a result, both countries will veto any resolutions obviating their future economic success.


Simultaneously, Russia has been persistent about not allowing the UN Security Council to vote on any resolutions relating to Crimea. In early months of 2014, Russia pursued a referendum that led to it annexing Crimea, which is an ethnically majority-Russian area in the southeastern part of Ukraine. This move by Russia was both illegal and violated international law (Euro Maid Press, 2016). Throughout this crisis, Russia has captured and detained Ukrainians who sully or lampoon the Russian government (Euro Maid Press, 2016). Likewise, a number of cultural and religious institutions have been shutdown in Crimea by the Russian government (Osborne, 2016). Therefore the United Nations General Assembly voted on a document calling Russia the illegal occupier of Crimea, and the bill passed (Euro Maid Press, 2016). As noted before, because the bill passed through the United Nations General Assembly the bill was only a recommendation, not legal action. Although this recommendation was not binding, it was a partial reason Russia withdrawing from the International Criminal Court (Seddon, 2016). Additionally, the most significant reason Russia annexed Crimea and will not allow a resolution to pass the UN Security Council is because of the warm water port that located there called Sevastopol (Marshall, 2015). All of Russia’s other ports (besides Tartus in Syria) are cold-water ports, meaning they freeze for many months throughout the year (Marshall, 2015). So this limits Russia’s ability to build a navy that can easily move or have many successful trade routes. The Crimean port, Sevastopol, allows for both. Russia trade ships are able to reach other markets such as Europe and Turkey with ease; as for the navy, “eight new ships are being commissioned, as well as several submarines” (Marshall, 2015). With the annexation of Crimea the Russians are increasing their strength around the Baltic States, and nobody is there to stop them, especially not the United Nations Security Council. This political manipulation demands that changes be made in regards to the Security Council veto.

Not only have the United States and Russia used their Security Council veto power to allow injustice to continue, China also played a major role in allowing genocide to continue throughout 2003 in Darfur. Darfur is in the western region of current-day Sudan, and it is mixed with Muslims, non-Muslims, Arabs, and Blacks. At the time, it was one of the poorest countries in the world. By the same token the Sudanese government’s “neglect left the people throughout Sudan poor and voiceless” (Darfur Australia Network). This led to an uprising by the non-Arabs living in Darfur against the pro-Arab government of Sudan. So the Arabs living in Darfur, with the assistance of the pro-Arab Sudanese government and army, slaughtered these non-Arab protests (Darfur Australia Network). The Arabs who lived in Darfur and committed the crimes were known as the Janjaweed (Darfur Australia Network). This group entered on horses and camels into villages and “destroyed houses and buildings, shooting the men, gang raping the women and children and shooting anyone who tried to escape” (Darfur Australia Network). By the end of the bloodshed, 400,000 people had died and 3 million had been displaced. During the crisis, it was expected that the Security Council would take action, but one of its permanent members had ties to Sudan. China was personally involved in Sudan, so any changes to the status quo would squeeze its economy. For example, in 2004 the UN Security Council proposed a resolution to impose oil trading sanctions on Sudan, but China threatened to veto the bill because “China was the largest investor in a Sudanese pipeline project”, where most of this oil went to China (Sudan Tribune, 2004). Around the same time, another Security Council resolution was focused on placing an arms embargo to Sudan and the Janjaweed, but China’s dilatory actions slowed the process. This was because Sudan was a major purchaser of Chinese weapons used throughout the Darfur Civil War (Eadie, 2014). Eventually, China allowed for the measures to pass because it abstained on the vote (Sudan Tribune, 2004). Again, the UN is expected to stop these atrocities from occurring, but it cannot help in doing this if certain member states are reaping benefits from atrocities occurring.

As the Darfur Civil War was unfolding, many diplomats spoke of it as genocide because it seemed to look similar to a genocide that occurred ten years earlier in Rwanda. The Rwanda conflict occurred between two ethnic groups: the Hutu and Tutsi. After Belgium colonized Rwanda, they placed the Tutsi people in-control (14% of the population) of the majority Hutu (84% of the population) population. After the Belgians left Rwanda, the Hutu retaliated against the Tutsi (Lalla). The genocide was systematic and organized by the government, who called for the Hutus to kill all the cockroaches (Tutsi) (Lalla). Rape was also a tool of the genocide, as Women Aid International notes that, “In 1994, almost every adolescent girl who survived the genocide in Rwanda was raped” (Lalla). During the time of the genocide, most states were fearful to say the actual words “genocide,” so they did not. This was especially true for the United States and France, where both states coerced “a ‘hidden veto’ (whereby a permanent member exercises its veto rights by threatening to veto a prospective resolution, thereby making it clear that the resolution, if taken forward, will fail)…while also ensuring that the definition of the crisis under International law was weakened” (Eadie, 2014). If the permanent members would have agreed to pass the resolution calling it genocide, then the world powers would have been legally obligated to interfere according to the Geneva Convention (United Nations).

The entire objective of the United Nations, and especially the Security Council, is to stop genocides and mass atrocities from occurring. Deciding to intervene cannot be based on the personal and political interests of the crisis, especially if a state is a member of a unified world organization that was created to rid all human rights violations and mass atrocities. The Security Council veto, as can be seen in the six instances above, is purely a self-interested political move in a collective moral organization; the two are mutually exclusive. For this reason, the Security Council veto must be abolished and reformed from the United Nations Charter. How many systematic mass killings will need to take place before the Security Council’s permanent members abdicate their veto power?


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