To veto or not to veto, that is the question. As Palestinian officials have circulated an unofficial draft resolution condemning Israeli settlements, U.S. decision-makers are reluctant to say whether any such resolution would be vetoed if presented to the United Nations Security Council. U.S. lawmakers, on the other hand, are firmly in support of a veto.
The United States have a tradition to veto draft resolutions concerning the Israel-Palestine conflict, claiming that the United Nations is the wrong venue for peacebuilding, and that the parties themselves must be in control of the peace process. As Palestinian authorities are circulating a draft resolution, condemning Israeli settlements, among Arab countries, questions have arisen regarding whether the United States would veto such a resolution or not, if formally presented to the Security Council.
John Kirby, the U.S. State Department’s spokesperson, declined to comment on the draft resolution before it was presented formally, but he did say that they “are very concerned about the trends on the ground” and that they “have a sense of urgency about the two-state solution.” He also stated that the United States is considering all options for improving the prospects of lasting peace. These statements seem to confirm speculations that Obama may want to lay the basis for a new approach to the conflict before leaving office.
U.S. lawmakers, however, do not seem to be as open to all options. Last week, a letter signed by 90% of the House of Representatives was sent to the White House, urging President Obama to veto an attempt by the Security Council to impose terms of a peace deal on Israel, as such a resolution would be a danger to the resumption of direct negotiations between Israel and Palestine. The letter was this week followed by the introduction of a resolution in the House of Representatives, bearing the same message.
In December 2014, the Obama administration stated that it opposed UN-imposed peace plans on the conflict, in relation to a similar push for action from the United Nations Security Council. A similar draft resolution failed to pass in the Security Council in 2011, which was the last time the United States used its veto.
Image source: By DoD photo by Glenn Fawcett [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APentagon_Press_Secretary_Navy_Rear_Adm._John_Kirby_briefs_reporters_at_the_Pentagon_150203-D-NI589-046c.jpg)
As a new Secretary General will be chosen to succeed Ban Ki-Moon this year, the United Nations is trying to be more transparent. For the first time, the list of candidates for the position is published, and the candidates themselves are subject to public hearings at the General Assembly. Hopefully, this will reduce the power of the permanent members of the Security Council in choosing the next Secretary General. But many remain skeptical that the new process will change much.
On April 12-14, candidates for the job as Secretary General of the United Nations, for the first time, appeared before the General Assembly in order to answer questions from the member states, and from the public. This groundbreaking event comes as a result of pressures from member states and civil society in opening up the process of selecting a new Secretary General, and the aim is to give the world a better say in who receives the job, and to really make the Secretary General a representative for the whole world.
There is also hope that the new process will reduce the influence of the Security Council’s permanent five members. Traditionally, the candidates for Secretary General are only scrutinized by the Security Council, which then agree on one candidate and recommend that candidate to the General Assembly for a formal vote. As the permanent members have a veto in the Security Council, they have been able to block the recommendation of a candidate not to their liking, giving them significant influence over who is eventually elected. For example, in 1996, Boutros Boutros-Ghali failed to be re-elected as Secretary General, due to a veto by the United States in the informal straw poll conducted to establish Security Council support.
The idea is that a more transparent process will show the Security Council which candidates have the support of the world, and make it more difficult for the permanent members to reject candidates that are disliked by them, but favored by the rest of the world. But many are skeptical that the new process will have much effect: no votes will be conducted in the General Assembly to establish support for a specific candidate, and in lack of a clear favorite, it will be difficult to pressure the Security Council to recommend a specific candidate.
The current candidates for the position as Secretary General are: Irina Bokova, Bulgaria, UNESCO Director General; Helen Clark, New Zealand, current head of the UNDP and former Prime Minister; Natalia Gherman, Moldova, former Foreign Minister; Antonio Guterres, Portugal, former UN High Commissioner for Refugees; Srgjan Kerim, Macedonia, former Foreign Minister; Igor Luksic, Montenegro, Foreign Minister; Vesna Pusic, Croatia, former Foreign Minister; and Danilo Turk, Solvenia, former President.
Sources: EuroNews: Who will be the next boss of the UN?
The Guardian: Candidates for UN top job given public hearing
China has blocked the blacklisting of Jaish-e-Mohammad leader Maulana Masood Azhar, by using its veto power to prevent the issue from being taken to a vote. This has made India, who asked the United Nations to take up the issue, furious.
Hidden vetoes are not always easy to notice, but once in a while, it is very evident when a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council has blocked a vote to take place. Such a situation arose last Friday, when China put a hold on India’s request to put Maulana Masood Azhar, the leader of the Kashmir-based group Jaish-e-Mohammad, on the blacklist of groups with links to al Qaeda or the Islamic State. Jaish-e-Mohammad was put on the blacklist in 2001, but its leader has not yet been added.
Reportedly, all states on the Security Council, except China, were in favor of putting Masood Azhar on the blacklist, effectively making the Chinese hold a hidden veto. China’s Premanent Representative to the United Nations Liu Jieyu stated that Masood Azhar does not meet the requirements for blacklisting, but gave no further specification as to what requirements were not met. The blocking of the blacklisting has angered officials in India, who claim that China is cozying up to the Pakistani government in protecting Masoor Azhar.
India asked the United Nations Security Council to place Masoor Azhar on the blacklist following an attack on a terror attack on the Pathankot airbase on January 2, of which Masoor Azhar was the alleged mastermind. A blacklisting would mean the freezing of Masoor Azhar’s assets, and a global travel ban. China prevented a similar attempt to sanction Masoor Azhar in 2009, giving similar reasons for its decision to not support the blacklisting.
Image source: By Luca Marfe [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMFA_Paolo_Gentiloni_with_Amb._Liu_Jieyi%2C_PR_of_the_People’s_Republic_of_China_to_the_UN_(cropped).jpg)
Presidential hopeful Donald Trump has spoken out regarding the Israel-Palestinian issue, and vowed to use the United States’ veto to block any resolution on the issue presented to the Security Council if he is elected president. The statement expresses similar sentiment as those of Israeli Benjamin Netanyahu, who claims that a Security Council resolution could kill the chances for peace. At the same time, the White House is allegedly considering a break with traditions, and may support a resolution on the issue.
Speaking at the annual conference of AIPAC, Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s likely candidate for President of the United States, promised that he, as president, would veto any Security Council resolution on the Israel-Palestinian issue. Thus continuing the U.S. strategy of vetoing further UN involvement in the conflict. “An agreement imposed by the UN would be a total and complete disaster”, he was quoted as saying. “The United States must oppose this resolution and use the power of our veto.”
The statement fits well with the views of Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu. Addressing the very same annual conference, he claimed that that he was ready to resume talks on a two-state solution, but that it should be done without interference from the United Nations: “A Security Council resolution to pressure Israel would further harden Palestinian positions and thereby could actually kill the chances of peace for many, many years.”
Meanwhile, the White House is allegedly working for a push for peace in the region. During Obama’s years as president, there has been little progress in the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The president aims to change that during the last months of his presidency, and one of the options he is considering is supporting a Security Council resolution calling on both sides to compromise, according to the Wall Street Journal.
U.S. support for a Security Council resolution on the issue would break with a long tradition, where the U.S. has repeatedly vetoed resolutions on the issue, calling them counterproductive and claiming that they risk derailing the peace process. Since the end of the cold war, the U.S. has vetoed 13 draft resolutions relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
As Former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has passed, Stop Illegitimate Vetoes remembers his long career and service.
The sixth Secretary-General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, died on February 16, at the age of 93. He served as Secretary-General between 1992 and 1996. Egyptian diplomat Boutros Boutros-Ghali was the first African, and the first and so far only Arab, to serve as the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Boutros Boutros-Ghali was also the first Secretary-General not to be reappointed for a second term. On November 19 in 1996, the Security Council held a closed meeting, where an unofficial straw poll was conducted to establish support for his re-election. USA voted against his re-election, which led to his re-election never being the subject of an official vote, because the US veto prevented his reappointment.
Before his appointment to the United Nations, Boutros Boutros-Ghali had been an experienced diplomat in the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and a member of the Egyptian Parliament. He played a role in negotiating the Camp David accords between Egypt and Israel in 1978, which led to the countries’ peace treaty of 1979. During his term as Secretary-General, he witnessed conflicts in, among others, Haiti, Somalia, Rwanda, and Yugoslavia. He authored the report “An Agenda for Peace”, which analyzed ways to strengthen the United Nations’ capacity for preventive diplomacy, peacemaking, and peacekeeping. He was succeeded in 1997 by Kofi Annan.
Once again, North Korea is in the news. After conducting a nuclear test in early January, the nation has begun February with a rocket launch allegedly being part of the country’s space program, but believed by critics to be a test of a ballistic missile. The UN Security Council has condemned the launch, which violates previous resolutions, and promised expeditious resolutions in response.
On the 7th of February – a month and a day after its latest nuclear test – North Korea once again became the subject of debate at the United Nations Security Council, following a missile launch. North Korea characterize the launch as a satellite launch, part of its peaceful space program, but even so the launch used ballistic missile technology, which the country is explicitly forbidden to use. Regardless of the purpose of the launch, it constitutes a violation of previous Security Council resolutions, according to Rafael Darío Ramírez Carreño, the UN Permanent Representative of Venezuela, who delivered the Council’s statement.
The Security Council has stated it will respond to the violations with new resolutions, which will be adopted expeditiously, and reiterated its commitment to continue working toward a denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula by peaceful means.
The launch comes in the midst of negotiations regarding how the Security Council should respond to January’s nuclear test. While the United States and Japan has pushed for new sanctions, China has been more reluctant to impose harsh measures on its neighbor, fearing instability on its doorstep.
The disagreement over how to proceed has delayed a response from the Security Council, and the missile launch is likely to deepen the conflict in the Security Council. Since China wields a veto on the Council, no resolution deemed unacceptable by China can be passed. How much pressure China is willing to apply to North Korea, and what type of measures it deems acceptable, remains to be seen.
It is campaign season in the United Nations, and not just for the non-permanent seats of the Security Council (keep an eye on our Candidate Watch for more information on that). The African Union, as well as Japan and India, have lately called for an extension of the number of permanent members on the Council, suggesting that they deserve a privileged seat and veto-powers.
During the 26th General Assembly of the African Union, which took place on January -31, the outgoing chairman of the AU – Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe – took the opportunity to reiterate the continent’s claims for permanent seats on the Security Council. His demand that the continent be given at least two permanent seats were met with applause and standing ovations by the assembled politicians, expressing the frustration of a continent that is often the target of UNSC Resolutions, but with a minimal say in passing them. Africa is also the continent of 29% of the United Nations’ member states, making the lack of a permanent seat an issue of the representativeness of the Council. If the United Nations fails to reform the Security Council, Mugabe warned of a mass exodus of African nations from the United Nations, claiming that the countries would not tolerate being unequally treated as “artificial members”.
Japan has also stepped up its campaign for a permanent seat, after taking a non-permanent seat in January. Japan intends to use its non-permanent seat to forward proposals for Security Council reforms, of which one would be the inclusion of Japan as a permanent member. The island country cites its 70 years of peace and pacifism, as well as its significant financial contribution to the United Nations during the years, as reasons for supporting that it should gain more influence.
India has also made repeated calls for reform and a permanent seat on the Council – owing to its huge population, growing economy, and being an example of an Asian democracy. However, the long-running conflict with Pakistan over the region of Kashmir has been seen as an impediment to India’s calls. Resolving that issue would likely improve India’s chances and diplomatic clout in the United Nations.
In 2005, the then-Secretary General of the UN Kofi Annan undertook an initiative to launch formal negotiations on expanding the Council. but Such attempts have repeatedly failed, as the current veto-wielding powers show little enthusiasm to expand the privilege, and they hold different opinions as for to which countries this privilege should be expanded.
Nort Korea’s latest nuclear test has been condemned by the UN and individual states, and negotiations on sanctions against the country are underway. But how far the final sanctions will go are uncertain.
On the 6th of January, North Korea announced that it had successfully detonated a hydrogen bomb in an underground test site. It would be the state’s fourth nuclear test since 2006, and its first of such an advanced bomb. The announcement has been questioned by nuclear experts, who doubt the blast was large enough to be produced by a hydrogen bomb, deeming it more likely to be a boosted version of regular bombs already believed to be in North Korean possession.
The test has been met with substantial criticism from the rest of the world. The UN Security Council gathered for an emergency meeting on the day of the test, issuing a statement strongly condemning the North Korean action. The countries also agreed to initiate negotiations for a resolution imposing significant measures such as sanctions on the country.
It remains unclear how far these measures will go. As a veto-wielding state, any resolution would have to be accepted by China, which is North Korea’s closest ally. While China did join the rest of the UNSC in condemning the test, and has stated its firm opposition to the actions, its deputy envoy to the UNSC, Wang Min, stressed that the response should be “appropriate”. It is likely that a resolution will be passed, but measures will probably be weaker than those states such as the United States, South Korea, and Japan are advocating for.
BBC: North Korea nuclear H-bomb claims met by scepticism
Independent: North Korea announces ‘successful hydrogen bomb test’ as UN Security Council calls emergency meeting
The Economist: Another Bombshell
Foreign Policy: China’s Nuclear Test
Image source: Image attribution: By U.S. Department of Energy (http://images-of-elements.com/fermium.php) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons