The Great Power Veto Must Go!

Security Council Chamber

The UN Security Council met for the first time on January 17th, 1946 with an unequal amount of power in the hands of the P-5 nations: the United States, Great Britain, France, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and China. In its earliest meetings, UN member states raised questions concerning the misuse of the veto power by way of the “double veto.” Additionally, member states began to eye with suspicion whether the Security Council was able to act on their primary responsibility of international peace and security without first considering the political interests of the P-5 members. Finally, the Security Council drew ire from member states over the reservation of the veto power for only the permanent five nations which precluded equality of the Council’s members in the decision making process. Today, as the Security Council adapts to face modern threats, their method of voting ought to also adapt to the modern realities of globalization; the Great Power veto must go.

During its first decade, the Security Council faced an unforeseen failure of its voting method. The Yalta voting formula, which had been agreed upon by the three allied leaders Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill at the conference in Crimea near the end of World War II, provided a veto power held by the permanent five members on substantive issues. As early as September 1950 the Security Council began addressing the voting failure which came to be known as the “double veto.” (Rudzinski 443) A “double veto” occurs when a permanent member calls for a substantive vote on whether or not a previous procedural vote was indeed procedural. By vetoing this subsequent vote, the original procedural vote becomes substantive and therefore any vetoes by a permanent member would block the action even if it had passed as a procedural motion. (Rudzinski 448) The Council addressed the issue of the “double veto” in its 506th meeting where the Formosa precedent was devised which allows the sitting president of the Council to decide if there is sufficient doubt in whether a question is procedural before allowing it to become a substantive action. (Rudzinski 454-455) This precedent still relies wholly on the whims and political persuasions of the sitting president. (Rudzinski 461) In this sense, the problem of the “double veto” was never resolved, it was only bandaged to allow the Council to continue functioning without voting reform.

As peacekeeping is considered a substantive issue, it requires the consent of the P-5 nations. Any single veto can prevent the creation of a peacekeeping force and thus stop the Security Council from aiding in the prevention or pacification of conflict. The blocking of such resolutions prevents the Council from fulfilling its primary responsibility as written in article twenty-four paragraph one of the UN Charter: the maintenance of peace and international security. Instead of acting in the interest of their primary responsibility, the Security Council often acts as a chess board for superpowers attempting to expand their geopolitical influence. (Gagnon 812) This ongoing exclusive political game hampers the original intent of the Council and thus often renders it ineffective in achieving its primary responsibility. Without reforming the Yalta voting formula, obstruction of the Council’s responsibility to international peace and security will continue unabated.

In the 2000s the Security Council has found itself facing a familiar foe, the UN Charter. The fairness of permanent seats on the Council are again in doubt and member states are scrutinizing the Charter for answers. The veto power, reserved for use by only the five great powers, seems to be directly in conflict with article two paragraph one of the UN Charter which reads “the Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members.” Even with active discussions on veto power reform, member states have been unable to agree on what the exact problem is and how to resolve it. Developing nations dispute the Council’s unsatisfactory geographic representation while economic powers claim the rights to permanent seats for paying comparatively large dues over smaller member states. (Gareth 9) Additional concern has been voiced due to the authoritarian nature of the Council’s newfound legislative powers. (Talmon 177) The uneven and exclusionary voting formula employed by the Security Council undermines the powerful ideals of sovereign equality so touted by the UN Charter, this duplicity should be reason enough to reform the Council’s method of voting.

Tasked to prevent future large scale conflicts, the Security Council is perhaps the most important body within the United Nations. Although the Council has functioned for sixty-eight years, it has done so with a flawed and elitist voting model. The world at large relies on the Security Council to uphold its responsibility of ushering in an era of peace and stability. This reliance comes at a great cost to UN member nations, the cost of unavoidable authoritarianism at the highest levels of governance. The United Nations was built on the premise of egalitarianism between sovereign member states and it’s time that the Security Council adopts a reformed voting formula which reflects this reality.


  • Gagnon, Mona Harrington. “Peace Forces and the Veto: The Relevance of Consent.” International Organization 21.04 (1967): 812-36. Print.
  • Rudzinski, A. W. “The So-Called Double Veto: Some Changes in the Voting Practice of the Security Council.” American Journal of International Law 45 (1951): 443-61. ProQuest. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.
  • Talmon, Stefan. “The Security Council as World Legislature.” The American Journal of International Law 99.1 (2005): 175. Print.
  • “Top Table Trouble.” The World Today 61.8/9 (2005): 8-9. JSTOR. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.