Featured Notes Owei Lakemfa

Veto: UN dribbles self in search of relevance

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By Owei Lakemfa

THE United Nations  Assembly, UNGA, deliberations and resolution on the veto power that was held on Tuesday, April 26, 2022, was two years in the making but was all hot air without substance.

It was a poor stage drama with a linear plot. The event was like a dog sharpening its teeth over two years for a great bite, only to realize it is toothless. The veto truth stood naked, but the 81 members who moved Tuesday’s motion preferred to wrap it in layers of beautiful words and an inelegant top lace resolution which even the movers cannot explain.

The General Assembly meeting was a waste of time, its resolution an exercise in self dribble and self-deceit gave the mistaken impression that it was moving to address the veto issue while in reality it was engaged in mere motions without movement. 

 What the world needs, are not exhibition matches but a reversal of the veto provision that would give power to the General Assembly in line with democratic practices where the vote matters; where the minority will have its say while the majority, it’s the way. To ensure the UN is not misused, resolutions can be carried out or reversed by two-thirds of the Assembly. A case where one country’s vote is greater than the votes of 192 countries combined is unsustainable.

A situation where three European brothers: Russia, France and neighbouring Britain can team up with their first cousin, the United States, and China, the lone voice from Asia, to dictate to the world, cannot continue. In fact, to show that the Security Council is essentially a European racket, there was a 22-year period from 1949 when following its revolution, China was denied its seat in the Council.

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The veto which essentially grants five countries proprietorial rights over the world body was inserted into the UN Charter at birth in 1945 after the collapse of the 1919 League of Nations. The League had collapsed under its own weight of vengeance against Germany leading to the second European war which was christened the Second World War, WWII. Then, most of the world was under European colonial occupation and the colonized were simply thrown into a war they knew nothing about. It was of no comfort to the colonized whether their oppressors were German, Belgian, Dutch, Briton, American or French.

The five countries which awarded themselves the veto when the UN was founded are often presented as the gallant victors who saved the world from Hitlerite Germany. The truth, however, is that China, which was under Japanese invasion, was not in a position to declare war against Germany. Russia, Britain and France were initially allies of Hitler, while the US was too timid to join WWII until 27 months into the conflict.

Britain under Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain sought to appease Germany in the 1930s to the extent of allowing it to seize territories. Britain in fact, regarded Hitlerite Germany as an ally with which it could go into a military alliance to destroy its main enemies: the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, USSR (now inherited by Russia) and Imperial Japan.

 The overwhelming populace of France and their government-supported Hitler and fought on the German side for four-fifth of WWII before switching sides. France which fought the allied forces, including outside Europe, only turned against Germany when it was obvious the latter was losing the war.

The US in the first two years of WWII declared it was neutral and its Congress refused to support either side of the war until December 7, 1941, when Japan was said to have attacked Pearl Harbour. Even at, it was against Japan it declared war and did not enter WWII until after Germany and Italy declared war on it for attacking their ally, Japan. One week before WWII started, the  USSR declared its neutrality by signing the August 23, 1939 “Treaty of Non-Aggression between  Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics”. Also known as the Molotov- Ribbentrop Pact, the agreement which was planned to last for 10 years was a written guaranteed peace between both countries and a pledge not to aid the enemy of either side.

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So effectively, the USSR was neutral in WWII  until June 22, 1941, when Germany unilaterally terminated the agreement by invading it. While the USSR suffered the highest casualty rate in the war with 20-25 million dead, it inflicted the greatest casualties on Germany by killing 76 per cent of the total German military fatalities in WWII. 

 In the case of China, it was invaded by an ally of Germany, Japan, from July 7, 1937 –to September 9, 1945; so it merely tried to survive during WWII. 

So the claims that the five permanent members earned their pips saving the world and guaranteeing world peace are not exactly correct. The simple fact is that they were those at the table when the UN was being founded while most of the world either lay in ruins or were colonies.

It was assumed that unless the five agreed, the UN was doomed; so they were empowered to make decisions that would be binding on all members, including levy war. On the over 200 occasions the veto had been applied, it had been abused; used merely to further political, economic or racial interests such as maintaining minority White rule in Zimbabwe, Apartheid in Namibia and South Africa and Israeli genocide in Palestine.

 This Tuesday’s vote was primarily a farce because it in no way challenged the suffocating veto power; it essentially asks the member wielding the veto to explain its actions which in any case can neither be legally challenged nor overturned.

If under the new resolution, the General Assembly meets within 10 workdays to listen to why a veto was used and debates it while being aware it has no power to reverse it, is it to exhibit its impotence or a mere moral challenge? Even the Liechtenstein’s U.N. ambassador, Christian Wenaweser, who led 80 co-sponsors of the resolution, hinted at its impotence when she admitted that all it aims to achieve is “to promote the voice of all of us who are not veto holders, and who are not on the Security Council, on matters of international peace and security because they affect all of us”. Such exercise in futility is like a dog barking at its owner; what can it do, bite? In any case, even if a dog is to bite, it must have teeth that the General Assembly does not have. Only the death of veto power can transform the United Nations from a rubber stamp assembly to a body reflecting the wishes of most of humanity.

  • Owei Lakemfa is a veteran journalist, social activist and labour leader

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