Vetoing the Rule of Law: Thoughts on the Security Council’s veto power and its impact on the international order, rule of law, and allocation of justice

Part of the United Nations’ global agenda is the accomplishment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), among which there is the SDG number 16, namely “Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions”. Nevertheless, one can observe an oxymoron; the actual structure of the organization’s most influential organ, the Security Council, and the veto power of its five permanent members are censured by organizations like Amnesty International for exacerbating global crises for being excessively politicized. Despite its major power to solve issues, the Security Council occasionally does contradict the UN’s ideals. Let’s discuss on Vetoing the Rule of Law: Thoughts on the Security Council’s veto power and its impact on the international order, rule of law, and allocation of justice.

The root of the Council’s immense control on the course of global affairs is the fact that its resolutions are legally-binding while having the authority to impose sanctions. A striking example is the verdict of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1986 in favor of Nicaragua in its proceedings against the United States. For inciting action against the Nicaraguan government by supporting the Contras rebel group. Yet, reparations were never awarded to Nicaragua owing to the US veto of a resolution upholding the enforcement of the ICJ judgment. Allocation of justice was rendered unfeasible, despite the compulsory nature of ICJ decisions and the law obeyed to petty interests.

Among the many criticisms on the organ, the Security Council is also used as an ideological instrument to benefit international alliances protected by the P5. Over the course of the Syrian civil war, Russia has vetoed more than a dozen Security Council resolutions relevant to reaching a ceasefire, condemning the bombing of Aleppo and initiating investigations on the responsibility for the alleged use of chemical weapons in Douma. Russia’s support for Bashar al-Assad comes with the failure to terminate the abhorrent atrocities committed by his same regime. Innocent civilian populations are unjustly placed in the center of the international political debate, being victims of one of the acutest humanitarian crises of all times, whose end cannot be discerned due to the Security Council’s inability to find the middle ground.

Not only does the Security Council fail to placate the plight of the planet’s most misfortunate, but it also perpetuates it; the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a subject of the Council’s heated debates since its creation, in 1945. Between 1945 and the present, the United States has vetoed more than thirty resolutions related to the dispute, thus aggravating the situation for the Palestinians that lack the support of a particular P5 member. Hence, no international solution can be put to the table unless the United States approves of it and is fully aligned with Israel’s goals.


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Ultimately, it is highly doubtful that a reform of the Security Council will occur, as the P5 veto power constitutes the bulwark protecting the supremacy of the world’s most powerful States. And that fact is synonymous with the world’s inability to cooperate efficiently, reach consensus, and not putting interests above values. The establishment of the international rule of law is often paralyzed by the United Nations, the organization that strives to achieve the very same purpose.


Maria Kollia
student, American College of Greece
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