The Western ability to influence the Security Council without much recourse to the veto is perhaps the most noticeable factor during the first two decades of Security Council vetoes. The next two and a half decades (up to May 1990) were dominated by Third World attempts, in an enlarged Security Council, to get changes from the Western powers on issues of concern to them (particularly Southern Africa and Palestine). In this they were reasonably successful – Namibia became independent in 1990 and the changes in South Africa have now taken place. There have been no vetoes on Southern Africa since March 1988. The US, France and the UK kept in step on Southern Africa between 1974 and 1981. There were no vetoes 1982–1985: the subsequent seven vetoes on this subject cast between 1985 and 1988 were only cast by the UK and the US.
On Palestine, the long standing divergences between the Permanent Members remain. Between 1972 and 1997 inclusive, the UK and France voted the same way as China and the Soviet Union/Russia, and the opposite way to the US, on almost 80% of Middle East resolutions. Since 1997 the US has vetoed 10 draft resolutions on Middle East issues. The Russian Federation and China have voted in favour of all of these, France has abstained on one (in 2001) and voted in favour of the others and the UK has abstained on eight and voted in favour of two (one in 2002 and one in 2011).
The, to that point, unprecedented two-year period (1991–2) when no vetoes were cast reflected the improved cooperation between the Permanent Members (most notably demonstrated by the Security Council’s response to the Gulf War); the ending of East-West antagonism; and the Third World’s achievement of some of their political aims on Southern Africa and, as it seemed at the time, Palestine. Similar periods in which no vetoes have been cast (September 1995-January 1997, March 1997-February 1999 and October 2004-July 2006) reinforce this overall trend. Cooperation has allowed contentious issues to be resolved before resolutions are drafted and votes taken.
The trends of veto use by each Permanent Member 1946-2012 are displayed in Figure 2. Overall, the use of the veto has dropped substantially since 1985. This is particularly apparent in the case of Russia, which has cast a relatively high number of vetoes (123 – see Figure 1) because of its extensive use of the veto during the Security Council’s first decade. China has exercised its veto powers least: only ten times to date. But China has begun to wield the veto much more in recent years; five out of the ten were cast since 2007. And in that same period, China and Russia cast their vetoes together with the sole exception of Russia’s veto on Georgia in 2009 (where China abstained). This suggests a level of coordination between these two permanent members. In recent years, China and Russia have cited concerns at the broadening of the Security Council’s role and what they deemed to be interference in states’ internal affairs to justify their use of the veto in some instances. The US is currently the most frequent user of the veto. Its veto of thirteen draft resolutions on Israel/Palestine between May 1995 and February 2011 continued a long tradition of US support for Israel on this issue. France and the UK have not vetoed a draft resolution since 1989.
Figure 1: Total number of vetoes per Permanent Member 1946-August 2012
Figure 2: Permanent Members’ veto use 1946-August 2012
A veto in the United Nations Security Council is the negative vote of a Permanent Member cast during consideration of a substantive issue so that the draft resolution is not adopted. A vetoed draft resolution had to have 7 positive votes out of 11 before the end of 1965 and 9 votes out of 15 after 1965 (ie the draft resolution would have been passed if the Permanent Member’s negative vote had not been cast). Procedural issues are not subject to veto. When there is disagreement between Council members on whether an issue is procedural or substantive, the question is itself treated as substantive and therefore subject to veto; the so-called “double veto” (see vetoes 3 and 4; 25 and 26).
The vetoes made publicly in the Security Council are listed and numbered in chronological order. Each number refers to a single vetoed text or sometimes (see para 3 below) part of the text. Draft resolutions vetoed by more than one Permanent Member are only counted once in column 1. Information about the number of vetoes appears in column 8 (see vetoes 4, 79, 80 138-140 and others).
Negative votes cast against amendments and individual parts or paragraphs of draft resolutions are counted as vetoes (see vetoes 166-8). However, when separate votes are taken on individual sections of the draft resolution which is also voted on as a whole (see vetoes 2 and 119), only the final negative vote is counted in column 1. The votes on individual sections of such draft resolutions are recorded in column 6 under “Remarks”.
Column 2 contains the date on which the vote was taken and the reference number of the vetoed draft resolution. The date of the vote is not necessarily the same as that on which the draft resolution was issued as a Security Council Document. Where an electronic or hard copy version of the Security Council Document is not easily available, Column 2 shows the page number of the UN Yearbook from the year in question.