Global Policy Forum

Statement by Amb. Sir John Weston of the UK (May 21, 1996)


May 21, 1996


Statement on 21 May 1996 by Sir John Weston, KCMG, Permanent representative of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

May I first of all welcome your efforts and those of your co-vice-chairman, both here and in less formal settings, to take our work forward.

We have spoken before on the subject of decision making in the Security Council, but, given your appeal to the Permanent Members this morning, there may be value in our speaking again at slightly greater length, in the interests of clarity.

The manner in which Article 27(3) is expressed on what we colloquially call the veto power makes clear that the purpose is not to confer upon certain states a privilege which they may abuse, but to ensure that the important decisions of the Council, which may involve the use of force or economic measures to uphold international peace and security, are taken with the commitment of the permanent members to cooperate in applying and supporting such measures. It is the one provision which, perhaps together with the limited size of the Council, most distinguishes the Security Council from the other bodies of the United Nations and contributes most directly to the authority of the Council and the achievement of decisions by the highest possible degree of consensus. As such we believe it is vital to retain this central part of the constitution of the Security Council given what the Charter has to say about the need for prompt and effective action by the United Nations.

The veto power is popularly associated with the period of the Cold War when the Council was largely unable to function in major confrontations between the two major blocs. Even then, as has been noted by several in this Working Group, the existence of the veto at least protected the authority of the United Nations from being coopted or usurped by one bloc or the other. The role of the UN may have been diminished during the Cold War but a consequence of the veto in those years was that the United Nations survived, and that the Organisation has become the forum for genuine cooperation between the members of the same blocs since the end of the Cold War. While we see no likelihood of a return to international bloc politics, the fact that the veto served in those years to protect the neutrality of the United Nations and its unique position as the single global forum accepted by all is still relevant.

Overall, both within the United Nations and beyond, the verdict on the cooperation of the permanent members in managing international peace and security in post-Cold War years so far has been largely positive. Today's multi-polar and interdependent society recognises the need for an international capability and authority for the application of legally endorsed measures for the maintenance of international peace and security. The pressures from the international community on all members of the Security Council, including the permanent members, to cooperate in expressing the will of the international community and finding real solutions to intractable problems is extremely strong. Hence, for example, the Security Council was able to reach a unanimous position on recent events in Lebanon which was not possible in the General Assembly.

That is why the Council, including the permanent members, regularly strives to avoid conditions in which a veto could be used and in this it very largely succeeds. The very few instances on which it has been used or threatened do not invalidate the overall judgement that the existence of the veto has not impeded, but actually enhanced the cohesion of the Council during these latter cooperative years.

If the international community is to be in a position to ensure, through the Security Council, the prompt and effective action demanded by the Charter in confronting the day-to-day challenges of international peace and security, it is essential that its decisions be backed by the collective commitment of the Council's members, including the permanent members. That is what Article 27(3) is designed to ensure and it continues to prove its worth.

More Information on Security Council Reform in 95/96


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