United Nations

Why the UN Security Council is Fundamentally Flawed

and why it needs to change.

Dialogue & Discourse
6 min readAug 15, 2020


The UNSC meeting room in New York — Neptuul in Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

On the 7th of July 2020, a resolution for humanitarian assistance in Syria was voted upon by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). But this resolution proved futile because it was vetoed by Russia and China, both permanent members of the UNSC. This was no surprise because Russia and China support the regime of Bashar-al-Assad (who has been accused of human right violations) in Syria and are suppliers of arms to the same.

Similarly, on the 16th of February 1946, the Soviet Union¹ vetoed a request submitted by the Lebanese and Syrian governments for the withdrawal of French and British troops, because (according to Soviet Diplomat Andrei Vishinski), “The amendments which would have enabled me to vote for it have not been accepted.” This was the first UNSC resolution to be vetoed.

Both incidents demonstrate various aspects of the veto power being exercised. The first veto was used to keep the other powers in check and the latest veto was used to protect one’s self-interest. The world has transformed since the first drafting of the UN charter and the governance structure made during that time does not suit or represent the world of today.

Background of the UNSC and its Veto Power

The concept of the United Nations was developed by the Allied powers through World War II agreements and conferences like the Arcadia Conference, the Atlantic Charter, and the Moscow Declaration. Along the same lines, Dumbarton Oak Conference was organized in 1944 to discuss the UN’s structure. The Allied powers (namely the Soviet Union, the Republic of China², France, the UK, and the USA) wanted to exercise their control over world affairs, emboldened by their victories during the war. To do so, they put forward the idea of a United Nations Security Council. This council would consist of them as permanent members, having enhanced powers compared to the other members of the UN.

The most heated point of debate during the conference was the Soviet Union’s suggestion of absolute veto to the UNSC’s power. The British delegation argued, stating that veto power should not be entrusted to UNSC members involved in the dispute being voted upon. During the Yalta Conference of 1945, the Allied powers decided to declare the basic UN structure to be as follows:

  • There would be a UN General Assembly (UNGA) with equal representation consisting of member nations and states with observer status. Resolutions would be passed with a simple majority, except budgetary resolutions, which are passed with a two-thirds majority vote.
  • There would be a UN Security Council with five permanent members and fifteen non-permanent members for two-year terms. These countries would have the ability to veto any substantive resolution (resolutions calling for action) passed by the UNGA.

The post-war world was broken and unorganized; the Allies were the only ones who could bring it together. Hence, the creation of permanent seats in the UNSC and veto power was needed to maintain peace and security. Even the UN’s predecessor, the League of Nations was unable to prevent the outbreak of another World War and resolve conflicts such as the Abyssinian crisis of 1935(which I have written about here), due to the absence of active participation and adequate power. Though the idea seemed suitable in paper, over the years, there has been rampant misuse of veto power.

Past Incidents of the Misuse of Veto Power

Incidents wherein the five permanent members (P5) have used a veto to block resolutions to protect their allies or their interests are quite common. France and the UK used the veto on a resolution of the Suez Crisis, apartheid in South Africa and other conflicts concerning their colonies. The US has vetoed many resolutions that would not favour Israel, one of its allies. There are numerous more examples of countries exercising veto for their self-interests.

Besides the example of Syria mentioned before, Russia and China have also vetoed a resolution concerning the situation in Venezuela. Some resolutions are not being discussed in the General Assembly at all because they will anyway be vetoed by a P5 nation. A prominent example of this is the plight of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. China and Russia had already expressed their intentions to veto any resolution on this matter because Myanmar is one of their strategic allies.

The UN Security Council’s work is to maintain peace and security in the world. But by vetoing crucial resolutions that may end conflicts, it is doing the opposite of what it is supposed to do.

What do non-P5 countries think about the UNSC?

One of the main criticisms of the UNSC is that it was formulated during the Second World War. 75 years have passed since the war ended and the arena of international politics is no longer the same anymore. Germany and Japan have risen from their defeats in World War II and have become some of the most influential and developed countries in the world. India and Brazil are also developing economies with much sway in world affairs. All four countries are known as the Group of Four (G4) and all of them have expressed their intentions to be a permanent member of the UNSC.

The P5 consisting of only developed nations and them being restricted to only three continents is also another criticism of the UNSC. The African Union is also against the dominance of the P5 and it repeatedly calls for greater representation in the UNSC.

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said, addressing the UNGA,

“Each one of them [the P5] can negate the wishes of the nearly 200 other members [of the UN]. It’s totally and absolutely undemocratic. Yet, there are among them those who berate other countries of the world for not being democratic or being not democratic enough”

An Interim Way Forward

One of the demands of the G4 is to expand the UNSC to incorporate themselves and two African nations as permanent members. Though this move will ensure that the other powers will be in check, it will not prevent countries from using veto for their self-interest.

The UK and France are quite open for discussion on this matter as opposed to the US, Russia, and China and have called for voluntary restraint to combat this issue, but it will seldom work as this concept cannot be enforced.

Completely abolishing the UNSC will also not serve any purpose. The main function of the UNSC to prevent the advent of another war and maintain peace. This is only possible when influential world powers are kept at check. Hence, we cannot afford to dismantle the UNSC at present. The world is simply not ready for the equitable decision-making rights for every country at present.

In my view, eventually, the concept of permanent members of the UNSC should be removed, and that all twenty members should be elected by the UNGA, with a system of checks and balances to make sure that the same country should not be always elected. The time will be ready when the Sustainable Development Goals³ are achieved. To prevent the misuse of veto power, permanent members should not be allowed to veto any resolution about a dispute they are involved in, as earlier recommended in the Dumbarton Oak Conference in 1944.

The first few lines of the UN charter are:


To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and

to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and nations large and small

Over time, the structure of the UNSC and veto power has come to undermine and contradict the principles by which the UN was conceived. The P5 countries have shifted away from their initial motives towards protecting their interests. Wider representation is the first step to transform the UNSC and hopefully, more changes will follow, as efforts to do so increase every day.


¹The Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, with a major portion of its area forming modern-day Russia. Russia replaced the Soviet Union in the P5

²The Republic of China, which was part of the Allies was later taken over by the Chinese Communist Army, making it the People’s Republic of China. The latter replaced the former in the P5. The disputed territory of Taiwan is the only remnant of the Republic of China.

³The Sustainable Development Goals are seventeen goals geared towards achieving a better future by 2030. United Nations unveiled them in 2015 to replace the Millenium Development Goals which had expired the same year.



Dialogue & Discourse

Sunset Warrior; Harbinger of Doom. 9th grade student who calls India her home. I write and write about Politics, Economics, History, Literature, and Cinema :)