Opinion | Columnists

Abolish Security Council veto to democratise UN

The power is anachronistic as it echoes of imperialism and smacks of elitism. And it is grossly out of date

  • By Linda S. Heard, Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 00:00 November 23, 2010
  • Gulf News

Abolish Security Council
  • Image Credit: GUILLERMO MUNRO, DANA SHAMS, Gulf News
  • The Obama administration has not only eschewed sticks in favour of carrots, such as the supply of 20 sophisticated warplanes, to bring Tel Aviv temporarily into line it has also promised to use its veto to prevent UN Security Council acceptance of any unilaterally declared Palestinian state or any peace initiative put before the Council to circumvent current negotiations.

Why should five United Nations Security Council member countries be empowered to veto decisions taken by the others? Why should the US, UK, France, China and Russia be permitted to hold the entire world hostage to suit their own narrow self-interest? As long as the veto system remains in place, the United Nations cannot be a fair and impartial international body that acts for the benefit of all its members.

The power of veto is anachronistic; it has echoes of imperialism and smacks of elitism. Moreover, it is grossly out of date as the five veto-holders are no longer the only nuclear-armed nations on earth. Since the UN was formed, India, Pakistan and North Korea have all joined the nuclear club — I've deliberately left out Israel because it refuses to admit its status as a nuclear power.

Moreover at least two veto-wielders France and Britain can hardly claim to be world powers when they've barely an aircraft carrier between them and together they represent just a little over 120 million people. Certainly, the five have no divine right to sit in judgment over all others and especially when two members have poor human rights records while another is the only country to have ever actually used atomic bombs during conflict.

There is surely something wrong when just one out of five countries can thwart the will of the entire international community. For instance, America's veto-power ensures the UN can never refer US officials to the International Criminal Court in The Hague for war crimes.

Thanks to the publication of classified US military Iraq War Logs by WikiLeaks and George W. Bush's televised admission that he personally authorised torture there is no shortage of evidence. But US civilian and military officials can sleep soundly at night in the knowledge they will never answer for any alleged crimes as long as Washington has a UNSC veto. America's veto also gives Israel a free pass to flout international law time and time again. Indeed, Washington is currently using its UN veto as a bargaining chip to persuade Israel to place a 90-day moratorium on colony expansion so as to jump-start stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The Obama administration has not only eschewed sticks in favour of carrots, such as the supply of 20 sophisticated warplanes, to bring Tel Aviv temporarily into line it has also promised to use its veto to prevent UN Security Council acceptance of any unilaterally declared Palestinian state or any peace initiative put before the Council to circumvent current negotiations.

This commitment in return for a construction freeze on Palestinian land is a diabolical misuse of power on the part of the Americans. Israel's colonies on the West Bank and within occupied east Jerusalem are illegal and should, therefore, be entirely dismantled. Instead of handing out sweeties to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and gang for a mere three-month building stoppage, Obama should put his foot down and demand a halt to all illegal construction. And what message does this send to the Palestinian leadership that has renounced a third Intifada preferring to pursue its goals through legal channels? Rather than consider each case brought before the UNSC on its merits the US is prepared to dangle its veto as a bargaining chip. Brazil, Germany, India and Japan have been lobbying for coveted UNSC permanent membership status for many years. Various American administrations have endorsed the applications of Japan and Germany and President Obama blessed India's bid during his recent visit to New Delhi to drum up trade contracts. But those already inside this exclusive club are in no hurry to dilute their own powers or let in rivals.

China, for instance, is less than enthusiastic about the entry of India and Japan and there is no country rooting for Brazil apart from the UK. It's likely, therefore, that wannabe P5 members will be knocking on the UNSC's door for a long time to come.

Last year, Libya's President Muammar Gaddafi, who is also President of the African Union, gave a speech before the UN General Assembly calling for the dismantling of the UN Security Council, which, he said, does not fairly represent all world interests. He suggested that the UNSC's role should be transferred to the 192-member General Assembly that would become the "parliament of the world".

That call wasn't taken very seriously but it should have been. For the UN to become a democratic entity every country, no matter how large or small, should get a vote in matters of war and peace and no nation should be armed with the power of veto. Critics will argue that larger and wealthier countries should get more say, in which case votes could be awarded based on population, size and GDP. This would mean that countries like China, Russia and the US would have more votes than, say, Haiti, Luxembourg or Nepal. Unfortunately, no matter how persuasive this argument might be the UNSC is here to stay. Without a revolution in the General Assembly's ranks the power of P5 nations will continue forever unchallenged. 

Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be contacted at lheard@gulfnews.com Some of the comments may be considered for publication.

Gulf News

Opinion Editor's choice

Technology vs humanity

Is technology not a match for mans cunning?

Quick Links

  1. Business

  2. Sport

  3. The latest Entertainment news

  4. The latest Lifestyle stories

  5. Blogs

  6. Opinion

In Opinion

  1. Meet Our Writers

  2. Columnists

  3. Editorials

  4. Off the Cuff

  5. Your say

  6. Speak Your Mind

Latest Columns

  1. Obama working hard on a legacy issue

  2. Al Assir sows seeds of discontent in Lebanon

  3. History will be far more kind to him

  4. Cameron’s coalition is a radical bazaar

  5. The climate change challenge

  6. Obama’s touch more murk than Midas