How the US Uses the UN Veto – and How it is Used by Russia and China

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.

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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.


About carlos

I'm a curious person, of reasonable intellect, "on the beach" (retired) and enjoying my interest in anthropology, language, civil rights, and a few other areas. I've been a hippie/student/aerospace tech writer in the '60s, a witness to the Portuguese revolution in the ‘70s, a defense test engineer and witness to the Guatemalan genocide in the '80s, and a network engineer for an ISP in the '90s. Now I’m a student and commentator until my time is up. I've spent time under the spell of the Mesoamerican pyramids and the sweet sound of the Portuguese language. I've lived in Europe, traveled in Brazil, Central America, Iceland, New Zealand, and other places. My preferred mode of travel is with a backpack and I eat (almost) anything local. Somehow, many of the countries I have been to have had civil unrest (for which I was not responsible). I'm open to correspond with anyone who might share my liberal, humanist interests. I live in San Buenaventura, California.
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