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Veto Power: Meaning and Permanent Member Countries Holding It

united nations security council where veto power is execised
Dashamlav | 25 June 2020 (अंतिम बदलाव: 17 January 2021)

Veto Power is one of the most important terms in the global politics. There are five permanent member countries in the United Nations Security Council holding veto power. For the execution of any decision, all the permanent member countries must agree to it. If any of the members veto a decision, it will not get implemented. Such is the extent of veto power. In this article, we will be answering all the important aspects of this exclusive power. From its meaning to its history. And, from its importance to its extents. All of it!

What is the Meaning of Veto Power?

Veto stands for the power or right to accept or reject an official decision. The word veto has a Latin origin. It means “to forbid”. So, in most cases, if someone has to put a stop to an official action – he/she will put a veto to it. Veto power is usually exercised by any person, organization, country, and even states in an official capacity. However, nowadays, veto power refers, most commonly, to the five permanent member countries of the United Nations Security Council.

Veto Power Holding Five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council

These five nations, often refer to as Permanent Five, Big Five, or P5 nations, can not be removed from the UN Security Council. These nations are:
  1. French Republic
  2. People’s Republic of China
  3. Russian Federation (formerly the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics)
  4. United Kingdom
  5. United States America

Proposal of Including More Permanent Members in the UNSC

Brazil, Germany, India and Japan have been mutually supporting each other’s claim for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. These four countries are together called the G4 Group.

Some regional rivals of G4 countries, however, have been opposing such a move. Italy and Spain (opposing Germany), Mexico, Colombia, and Argentina (opposing Brazil), Pakistan (opposing India), and South Korea (opposing Japan) are among the countries who form the Uniting for Consensus group that opposes the expansion of permanent seats in the UN Security Council.

united nations security council where veto power is execised

History of Veto Power

Romans were the first ones to use the veto power sometime around the 6th Century BC. Romans called it as intercessio. In those days, the ancient Roman empire consisted of a political institution called the senate. It was the governing and advisory assembly of the aristocracy. It was patricians, royal ruling class of Rome, who dominated the senate during those times. Thus, to protect the interest of common citizens of Rome, the tribune of plebs (first office of the Roman state open to common people), exercised the veto power. The veto meant that the bill passed by the senate denied the force of law. Even consuls enjoyed veto powers. In ancient Rome, two consuls were elected every year who served jointly. Both the consuls had the power to invoke intercessio against each other.

The Extent of Veto Power

Veto power is commonly assumed to be an absolute one. But, this is not always the case. Veto power can be limited too. We will understand both the scenarios through examples. The veto power of permanent members of the UN Security Council is absolute in nature. Thus, nothing can override that decision and it will put a complete stoppage to the proposed action. On the contrary, The US President enjoys the veto power in a limited way. If both of the houses of the US Parliament decide against the presidential veto and with the 2/3rd majority, it will have an overriding effect on the presidential veto.

Can Veto Power Amend Decisions?

The power of amendment through a veto depends on the law/rule guiding such veto. Let us try and understand the difference in the context of the President of the United States and the President of India. The US President can only veto a decision to protect the status quo and nothing further. Contrary to this, India’s President has the power to also recommend changes to the Parliament.

Veto Power & the United Nations

The United Nations Security Council is a body working for global peace and security. It is one of the principal organs of the United Nations. There are 5 permanent member countries in UNSC and 10 non-permanent members. One of the most significant differences between the permanent and non-permanent is the veto power.

Article 27 of the United Nations Charter

Article 27 of the United Nations Charter deals with the rule of veto power. It is interesting to note that the charter in itself does not mention the term “veto”.

Here is the relevant text from the UN Charter:

Article 27

(1) Each member of the Security Council shall have one vote.
(2) Decisions of the Security Council on procedural matters shall be made by an affirmative vote of nine members.
(3) Decisions of the Security Council on all other matters shall be made by an affirmative vote of nine members including the concurring votes of the permanent members; provided that, in decisions under Chapter VI, and under paragraph 3 of Article 52, a party to a dispute shall abstain from voting.”

As per clause 27(3), affirmative votes of 9 members including “concurring votes of the permanent members” is a must. This is for all matters other than procedural ones. So, there is no mention of veto directly but even if one permanent member vetoes, there would be no concurring votes and the proposed resolution meets a dead end.

Total Vetoes used by Permanent Members

The Russian Federation takes the top spot when it comes to using the veto power. They have exercised veto 143 times until June 2020. Here are the details of vetoes used by permanent members are as follows:

Number of times veto is used by permanent member countries of the UN
Permanent Member Country Number of times veto used (as on June 2020)
Russian Federation (formerly USSR) 143
The United States of America 83
The United Kingdom 32
France 18
People’s Republic of China 16
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