Under the rules-based liberal international order established post-World War II, international organizations are responsible for maintaining global peace, ensuring compliance with international law, and overcoming anarchy. The UN Charter accords the primary responsibility of upholding peace and international stability to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
The UNSC has fallen prey to power politics and increasing polarization over the decades, mainly due to the extraordinary power vested in the hands of the major powers under the UN Charter.
The five permanent members of the UNSC – the United States, United Kingdom, China, Russia, and France – have recurrently exercised their veto power to block resolutions despite ongoing war, genocide, and crimes against humanity. In the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, Russia has repeatedly vetoed UNSC resolutions calling for immediate cessation of hostilities and withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine. In the current Israel-Hamas war ravaging the Middle East for more than three months now, the US has consistently blocked resolutions calling for a permanent ceasefire.
Since October 2023, Israeli airstrikes have killed more than 20,000 Palestinian civilians, half of which are children. The gravity of violence, trauma, and horror witnessed by the Palestinian population brings into question the efficacy of the UNSC, and broadly the UN as the largest intergovernmental organization, in maintaining world peace.
According to Stephen M. Walt, a renowned American political scientist, the US is the root cause of the latest Israel-Palestine war. It is crucial to look into why the US continues to misuse its veto power to provide unparalleled support to Israel to conduct mass atrocities in the West Bank and Gaza, despite President Joe Biden’s prior criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s right-wing government.
There are three main factors. Firstly, Israel is the only so-called democratic ally of the US in the Middle East and hosts a US missile defense base. It is strategically vital to the US in containing Iranian influence in the region and stunting Iran’s alleged nuclear efforts. Secondly, Israel is the US’s largest arms importer and the historical recipient of US aid. Recently, the Biden administration invoked “emergency authority” to approve the immediate sale of 14,000 120-millimeter tank munition cartridges to Israel, circumventing the standard 15-day congressional review period. Thus, the US is a major economic beneficiary of the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.
Thirdly, the US and Israel’s energy interests largely converge. The two countries enjoy an energy cooperation agreement that provides unprecedented American support to Israel for the exploration of natural gas in two major gas fields off the Gaza coast – Gaza Marine 1 and Gaza Marine 2. Israel seeks to attain complete control of these gas fields to reduce its energy dependence on other countries.
It will also provide the US and European states with better and friendlier alternatives for gas supply amid the ongoing Russia-Ukraine episode. Together, this intricate web of overlapping interests results in the misuse of veto power by the US at the UNSC to continue asserting Israel’s right to unaccounted violence.
The veto power, originally conceived to safeguard global peace and stability, has paradoxically transformed into a formidable obstacle to these very ideals.
This also shows that anarchy continues to enjoy primacy over international organizations in this so-called liberal international world. States, as the primary and rational actors in the international system, continue to manipulate international organizations and use them as tools to further their interests. The dominant actors dictate the offense-defense equation, leaving little to no potential for cooperation. With major powers abusing the right to veto, the UN has failed to reduce, let alone eliminate, conflicts and violence.
There have been several initiatives taken to restrain the use of the veto in the events of genocide, war, and crimes against humanity. A “responsibility not to veto” was incorporated into the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine in 2001 but has never been fulfilled. In 2015, the Accountability, Coherence, and Transparency (ACT) Group proposed a “Code of Conduct” for the UNSC, urging both the permanent and non-permanent UNSC members to not veto any credible draft calling for an end to humanitarian offenses. Similarly, the 2015 French/Mexican “Political Declaration on Suspension of Veto Power in Cases of Mass Atrocities”, signed by 104 UN member states, exists as a solid veto restraint initiative. However, in the face of escalating conflicts and amidst the worst humanitarian crises of the decade, these efforts have proven futile.
It is high time that the UN actively works towards effective implementation of these veto restraint initiatives and demands immediate cessation of Israeli attacks and all acts of violence against the Palestinian population. Violence as a tool to fulfill political objectives only incurs destruction and discrimination, narrowing the path of viable solutions. If the UNSC continues to act handicapped, it largely puts the credibility of the UN in jeopardy, providing powerful states with a leeway to achieve their political interests at the cost of human lives. Moreover, it renders the UN incapable of global governance in the emerging multipolar world.