I understand the use of the veto to advance national interests but it is interesting to see what these interests were/are. The 1970s were a long time ago but the ratio of US vetoes vs China’s and Russia’s vetoes is instructive. But how do we explain our extensive use of the security council veto? Certainly not to achieve consensus.
Putting the UN veto in perspective
Official Washington has been rife with condemnation at the decision by the governments of Russia and China to veto an otherwise unanimous UN Security Council resolution condemning the ongoing repression in Syria and calling for a halt to violence on all sides; unfettered access for Arab League monitors; and “a Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, plural political system, in which citizens are equal regardless of their affiliations or ethnicities or beliefs.”
Human rights activists were outraged, as they should be. What is striking, however, is the response from US officials and pundits so roundly condemning the use of the veto by these two permanent members of the Security Council to protect the Syrian regime from accountability for its savage repression against its own citizens.
A little perspective is required here: Since 1970, China has used its veto power eight times, and Russia (and the former Soviet Union) has used its veto power 13 times. However, the United States has used its veto power 83 times, primarily in defense of allies accused of violating international humanitarian law. Forty-two of these US vetoes were to protect Israel from criticism for illegal activities, including suspected war crimes. To this day, Israel occupies and colonizes a large swath of southwestern Syria in violation of a series of UN Security Council resolutions, which the United States has successfully blocked from enforcing. Yet, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insists that it is the Russians and Chinese who have “neutered” the Security Council in its ability to defend basic human rights.
What draft resolutions by the United Nation Security Council did the United States find so terrible that both Democratic and Republican administrations felt compelled to veto? Just to give a few examples:
- Enforcement of sanctions against the brutal white minority regime in Rhodesia – 1970
- Opposition to South Africa’s occupation of Namibia – 1975
- The application of Vietnam to join the United Nations -1976
- A call for the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with strict security guarantees for Israel – 1976
- Sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa – 1977
- Condemning the ongoing occupation of southern Angola by apartheid South Africa – 1981
- Opposition to Israel’s de facto annexation of Syrian territory invaded and occupied in the 1967 war – 1982
- Calls for a halt to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon – 1982
- Calls for cease-fire between Israeli occupation forces and joint Lebanese-Palestinian forces during the siege of Beirut – 1982
- Opposition to the US invasion of Grenada – 1983
- Calls for an end of US-sponsored attacks against Nicaragua – 1985
- A call to honor the ruling by the International Court of Justice calling for an end to US-sponsored contras against Nicaragua – 1986
- Criticism of Israeli attacks against civilians in Lebanon -1988
- Opposition to the US invasion of Panama – 1990
- Condemnation of Israeli violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention in the occupied West Bank -1997
- Establishment of an unarmed human rights observer force in the occupied Palestinian territories – 2001
- Condemnation of the killing of UN employees and destruction of a World Food Program warehouse by Israeli occupation forces – 2002
- A call on Israel to cease construction of its separation wall deep inside the occupied West Bank – 2003
- Condemnation of Israeli assassinations of Palestinian leaders – 2004
- Reiteration of the illegality of Israeli colonization in the occupied West Bank and a freeze on additional construction of settlements – 2011
In virtually every one of these resolutions, the United States cast the sole negative vote in the otherwise-unanimous 15-member Security Council. And some of the resolutions vetoed by the United States involved governments responsible for even more civilian deaths than the Syrian regime in its bloody yearlong crackdown.
None of this justifies the Russian-Chinese veto of the resolution challenging the Syrian regime’s repression, of course. It does, however, make the self-righteous condemnation of this most recent veto by the very supporters of many of these earlier US vetoes look rather ridiculous in the eyes of those who support human rights and international law regardless of the offending regime’s geopolitical alliances.