Global Policy Forum

Statement by Cameron R. Hume (May 23, 1996)


US Minister Counselor for Political Affairs

May 23, 1996

Statement to the open-ended working-group in the question of equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council and other matters related to the Security Council decision-making process in the Security Council, including the Veto.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
My remarks today bear primarily upon the question of decisionmaking within an expanded Security Council, specifically the veto. The issue of Security Council decision-making is of course larger than this since it involves the number of votes necesarry to adopt procedural decisions as well as the size of the requisite majority for decisions on all other matters.

While important questions, both of these are difficult to address meaningfully without reference to the number of totall votes represented by the new Council. The vote is different because its status does not depend upon the total size of the Council, a number that has changed once since 1945 and may, if this working group is successful, change again.

The unique constitutional character of the veto expresses an important and abiding reality in a world of nation states. This is the fact that international political authority cannot endure as an abstraction. Rather, it draws its life and meaning from the willingness of countries, including in particular the most powerful countries, to support that authority. The function of the veto is to help give effect to that abstraction by fusing power with authority in two ways.

First, the veto excludes the possibility of disagreement among the permanent members or between some of them and the Council. Either of these circumstances could disable the Council's capacity to act and could even provoke major conflict. Second, it assures that when the Council does act it acts with the support of its most powerful members. Its measures are thus more credible and efficacious.

Some delegations concede that these considerations were relevant in 1945 but argue that following the cold war they have become anachronisms. We disagree for two reasons. First, the veto is not a symptom of world politics but a way of regulating it. The welcome reduction in tensions between the major powers does not take away the need for the veto as a kind of emergency circuit-breaker - however less frequent may be the the need for its use. Second, even as the potential for nuclear and ideological conflict between the major powers has declined , the need for their cooperation in global security efforts by, or in conjunction with, the United Nations has intensified. This growing impetus to cooperate influences the permanent members to minimize those occations which could give rise to the threat or use of the veto.

Mr. Chairman, the movement of non-aligned countries and others have suggested restrictions on the scope of the veto as a step toward its eventual abolition. In its paper the NAM recounts the discussion concerning the scope of application of the veto that took place in various venues from 1945 through 1949 and reports that this early attention did not lead to a legally binding agreement. On this basis the NAM concludes that there is now an urgent need to clarify the scope of veto application.

The United States agrees that article 27 (3) is not dispositive on procedural vs non-procedural questions. However, we do not agree that such lack of specificity is a flaw in the charter or rules of procedure or that it is a matter which urgently requires correction. Indeed, the NAM paper offers no substantive reason to change it. Decision-making is the core of this Council's capacity to function and we ought not to embark upon change casually. The onus is upon those who seek change to show that the lack of specificity on procedural as opposed to non-procedural matters has particular cases prevented the Council from fulfilling its mandate. We see no evidence that this has.

Furthermore , we see no grounds for regarding this as an urgent question. On the contrary, for more than 35 years the veto has not been used to block an action which a majority of Council members regarded as procedural. The Council has decided between procedural and substantive questions without particular difficulty and certainly without the dramatic step of charter amendment.

With respect to the NAM proposal to restrict the veto to chapter VII and to the Mexican paper detailing the resulting charter amendments, I believe the United States has a profound difference of view. The necessity for consensual decision-making involving all of the permanent members exists in a wide variety of situations and not only in the case of actions under chapter VII.

The distinguished permanent representative of Mexico maintains that the permanent members, in their capacity as permanent members, lack any particular role or responsibility regarding the admission of new members of the United Nations, the suspension or expulsion of UN members, the restoration of the same, the selection of a Secretary-General and the ratification of charter changes. He argues that these are not matters relevant to the Council's primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.

We disagree. Regarding UN membership, there is relatively recent evidence , in the Balkan states and elsewhere, that considerations of regional and international security can have a direct and important bearing on all membership issues. Likewise, the capacity of a future Secretary General to play a constructive role in international peace and security matters, in cooperation with those countries having special responsibilities in this area, is surely at the heart of an assessment of his or her qualifications for the job. Our views on the proposed deletion of the veto from articles 108 and 109 are implicit in what we have said today and since 1993: the veto is not a matter we are prepared to submit to negotiation or vote in a general conference or other venue.

Finally, the case for exempting chapter VI from the veto is in our view unconvincing. The history of conflict, including conflict since the end of the Cold War, demonstrates that international tensions and Security Council actions bearing upon them are not separable into distinct baskets according to some measurable quotient of their vital security content. For this and similar reasons the four power statement of June 1945 explicitly applied the veto to the entire spectrum of Council actions regarding disputes, from proposals for peaceful settlement to actions for the removal of threats.

The United States views chapters VI and VII as legal categories that describe member state obligations and not as reliable tools for assessing, in advance and in the abstract, security concerns in a particular case and thus the relevance of the veto. In that regard it may be instructive to consider the most sensitive chapter VI peace-keeping missions and ask whether, if the views of the most concerned permanent members were over-ruled, would such a trend make the world more or less safe?

Mr. Chairman, in closing let me make two comments. First, the United States has not yet taken a position on the question of extending the veto to new permanent members.

Second we are disturbed to hear a few delegations comment that without action on the veto they see no possibility for agreement. From the time of our initial statement in June of 1993 until today's meeting the United States has stated consistently that the veto is not a subject on which we are prepared to negotiate. That is not news for my colleagues.

I believe that most members of that working group have engaged in these discussions for two and a half years without expecting that at the last minute the permanent members might be persuaded to set aside the veto. Nor, and here I respectfully disagree with the Permanent Representative of Australia, is agreement to adjust the veto a part of our mandate.

Our mandate is "to consider all aspects of the question of the increase in the membership of the Security Council and other matters related to the Security Council." The reason our mandate includes no explicit reference to the veto is that there was no agreement to do so in 1993 and that remains the case today.

Mr. Chairman, The United States will continue to seek broad agreement on an appropriate expansion of the Security Council. However we would not be acting in good faith if we were to suggest that such an agreement could include a change in the existing veto right.
Thank you.


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