Can you bypass a U.N. Security Council veto?

Answers to your questions about the news.
March 12 2003 5:38 PM

Can You Bypass a U.N. Security Council Veto?

Russia and France are threatening to veto any U.N. Security Council resolution that authorizes military action against Iraq. Is a veto the same thing as a "no" vote?

For the Security Council's five permanent members, voting "nay" is, indeed, tantamount to a veto, per a rule known as "great power unanimity." The word "veto" is nowhere to be found in the U.N. Charter, but the document does mention that Security Council decisions "shall be made by an affirmative vote of nine members, including the concurring votes of the permanent members." So, if permanent members China, Russia, France, Great Britain, and the United States aren't unanimous in supporting a resolution, the measure dies. Even if the United States were somehow to coax "yeas" out of 14 of the 15 Security Council members—10 nonpermanent members serve two-year terms on the panel—a lone French "non" would nix the resolution's passage.

A permanent member may also abstain rather than vote "nay," which preserves the resolution. Such a move lets a nation make its moral or political objections clear, while at the same time allowing the resolution to pass; four "yeas" and an abstention will do the trick, for example, as long as five nonpermanent Security Council members also are on board. (The Korean War was authorized with the OK of only four permanent members; at the time, Communist China's seat was occupied by the exiled government of Chiang Kai-Shek, and the U.S.S.R. was boycotting the United Nations.)

Vetoes were common during the Cold War, with the United States and the Soviet Union casting the majority of negative votes. There have been 251 public vetoes since the Security Council's inception in 1946, 238 of which occurred between 1946 and 1990. Of those Cold War vetoes, the United States and the U.S.S.R. accounted for 185 of the total. France, by contrast, has exercised its veto only 18 times all told. Its last lone veto occurred in 1976, when it killed a resolution that would have recognized the island of Mayotte as part of the Comoros. America last cast a lone veto just three months ago, refusing to support a resolution that would have condemned the killing of U.N. employees by the Israeli army.

There's an esoteric maneuver to get around a threatened veto: invoking the obscure U.N. Resolution 377, also known as the "Uniting for Peace" Resolution. In early 1950, the United States pushed through the resolution as a means of circumventing possible Soviet vetoes. The measure states that, in the event that the Security Council cannot maintain international peace, a matter can be taken up by the General Assembly. This procedure has been used 10 times so far, most notably in 1956 to help resolve the Suez Canal crisis. Britain and France, which were occupying parts of the canal at the time, vetoed Security Council resolutions calling for their withdrawal. The United States called for an emergency "Uniting for Peace" session of the General Assembly, which passed a withdrawal resolution. (A simple majority vote is required.) Britain and France pulled out shortly after.

Yet these non-Security Council resolutions are more symbolic pressure tactics than anything else. The council still maintains responsibility for enforcement, so naysayers among the permanent members can likely prevent the actual dispatching of troops. Nor, as history has shown, will all nations buckle like Britain and France did in 1956. In 1980, the General Assembly convened in a "Uniting for Peace" session and passed a resolution demanding the Soviet Union's withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Soviets merely shrugged.



Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The U.S. Is So, So Far Behind Europe on Clean Energy

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Even if You Don’t Like Batman, You Might Like Gotham

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

John Oliver Debunks the Miss America Pageant’s Claim That It Gives Out $45 Million in Scholarships

Trending News Channel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Over There
Sept. 22 2014 1:29 PM “That’s Called Jim Crow” Philip Gourevitch on America’s hypocritical interventions in Africa.
Sept. 22 2014 1:37 PM Subprime Loans Are Back! And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.
Sept. 22 2014 2:55 PM Nuptial Expert Sarkozy Worries About Gay Marriage and the Family
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 12:29 PM Escaping the Extreme Christian Fundamentalism of "Quiverfull"
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 3:16 PM Watch the Best Part of Beyoncé and Jay Z’s On the Run Tour
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 12:14 PM Family Court Rules That You Can Serve Someone With Legal Papers Over Facebook
  Health & Science
Sept. 22 2014 12:15 PM The Changing Face of Climate Change Will the leaders of the People’s Climate March now lead the movement?
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.