Skip to Content

Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2679

Western View of U.N. Vote on Burma a Hogwash

Thalif Deen - Inter Press Service

United Nations, 16 January, (IPS): As the only politically-influential U.N. organ with powers of enforcement, the 15-member U.N. Security Council is considered the final arbiter in the world body.

And all Security Council resolutions -- which are mandatory, if adopted -- are valid only with nine positive votes and no vetoes.

So when a joint U.S.-Britain sponsored resolution critical of the military junta in Myanmar (Burma) received nine favorable votes last week, both the United States and Britain virtually claimed moral victory -- despite the fact it was hit by a rare double veto from Russia and China and therefore failed to pass muster.

British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry claimed that the nine votes (out of 15) were a significant achievement and that the resolution's rejection, because of the two vetoes, was regrettable.

"I regret very much that the Council was unable to reach a decision despite nine positive votes for that resolution," Parry told reporters. "But the positive side is what united the Council," he added.

Parry also insisted that the resolution against Myanmar "has been carried by a majority in the Council."

"The lesson ought to be that despite the protection, from what I would call an 'ideological veto', actually the wish expressed by members of the Security Council was quite clear and robust."

Concurring with that view, U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff told reporters: "Regrettably, the resolution did not pass, but it enjoyed a majority of support by the membership of the Council."

But one Arab diplomat told IPS the same argument has never been used either by the United States or Britain when Washington is in a minority or when it exercises the sole veto against Security Council resolutions passing strictures on Israel -- all of which have received either nine positive votes or more.

He pointed out that both the United States and Britain have a longstanding notoriety for interpreting Security Council decisions to suit their own political whims and fancies.

"Clearly, they cannot have it both ways. Nine positive votes is a majority opinion when it suits them -- despite vetoes. And a single veto is also justifiable to overrule the nine when it is in their interests to do so. This is pure political hogwash," he said.

Last week's resolution, urging the Myanmar government to cease military attacks against civilians and begin a substantive political dialogue, also had three abstentions (Congo, Indonesia and Qatar). The nine positives came from the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Belgium, Ghana, Slovakia, Panama and Peru.

Stephen Zunes, professor of politics at the University of San Francisco who has done exhaustive studies on the voting patterns in the Security Council, points out that since 1970, the United States has vetoed 86 Security Council resolutions -- "more than all the vetoes by all the other members of the Security Council combined."

"Therefore, to claim a moral victory by gaining a majority of Security Council votes on the Burma resolution -- despite the Russian and Chinese vetoes -- essentially acknowledges that these 86 resolutions vetoed by the United States, all of which received at least nine affirmative votes, were also moral victories by the resolutions' supporters," Zunes told IPS.

In 63 of the 86 resolutions, Zunes said, the United States was the only negative vote. More than 40 of these have been in regard to Israeli violations of international law, he noted.

Others have included Vietnam's application to join the United Nations (1975); criticism of the U.S. invasion of Grenada (1983); calls for an end to U.S.-sponsored attacks against Nicaragua (1985); calls to honor the ruling of the International Court of Justice against U.S attacks against Nicaragua (1986); and criticism of the U.S. invasion of Panama (1990), among others.

According to Zunes, the last two resolutions, which suffered defeats because of U.S. vetoes, garnered more than the requisite nine votes in the Security Council.

In July 2006, a Security Council resolution calling for an end to the Israeli military offensive in Gaza failed despite 10 votes in favor, with four abstentions, and one U.S veto.

In November 2006, the vote condemning an Israeli attack in Gaza that killed 18 civilians was identical: 10 in favour, one veto and four abstentions.

Phyllis Bennis, a senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, said that since 1967 the United States has used its veto as a key component of its multi-faceted defence of Israel.

During the Cold War, when Israel played the role of "cat's paw" of U.S. military strategy not only in the Middle East but around the world (in places as far afield as Angola, Mozambique, Guatemala and Nicaragua), Washington's diplomatic support in the United Nations bolstered the economic and military backing of its ally, Bennis told IPS.

After the Cold War, even as the value of the U.S. ties to Israel became less obvious, U.N. backing remained a key part of U.S. strategy.

"And after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the U.S.-Israeli links tightened again, and the U.S. continued to prevent Israel from being held accountable for its violations of international law," said Bennis, author of the forthcoming book 'Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: A Primer.'

She said that in the 192-member General Assembly, the most common vote criticizing Israel is 160 or more countries in favor, with the U.S,. and Israel backed only by two or three of the small island states who are completely dependent on U.S. support (such as Micronesia, the Solomon Islands and one or two others) and whose independence, as a result, remains a question.

Since there is no veto in the General Assembly, the resolutions pass, but too often the United States still uses its overwhelming strategic and diplomatic power to prevent their implementation, Bennis argued.

- Inter Press Service (IPS) News Agency -

Share this