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Updated on 7 March 2019

Chapter 6:   VOTING

Section 1:   Substantive decisions and the veto


As seen with Venezuela, Council members are increasingly using votes to highlight their differences


In what has become a more frequent scenario, two draft resolutions, this time on the situation in Venezuela, were brought to a vote in the Security Council on 28 February 2019.  Neither of the drafts was adopted.  And, as was pointed out in the statements of some Council members, these outcomes were fully expected at the outset.


The first resolution (S/2019/186) was drafted by the United States.  It received the necessary nine votes[1] to be adopted, but was vetoed by China and the Russian Federation.[2]  Also voting against the United States draft was South Africa, while Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea and Indonesia abstained.


The second resolution (S/2019/190) was drafted by the Russian Federation.  It fell short of the required minimum, receiving the affirmative votes only of China, Equatorial Guinea, the Russian Federation and South Africa.  Seven Council members[3] voted against the draft.  Côte d’Ivoire, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia and Kuwait abstained.


The present decade has been marked by a surge of draft resolutions brought to a vote with no chance of actually being adopted.  During the nine-year period from 2010 to early 2019, twenty resolutions were predictably vetoed[4] and nine resolutions unsurprisingly failed to receive the required minimum of votes.  During the previous 10-year period from 2000-2009, fourteen resolutions were vetoed and only one draft received insufficient votes.


Table 1 below lists the details of vetoes cast since 2000, while Table 2 lists insufficient votes occurring over the same time period.  The majority of draft resolutions at issue have been on the subject of Syria, but others have related to the Palestinian question, Ukraine (Crimea and the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17), Yemen, South Sudan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kenya and the International Criminal Court.


Council members on opposite sides of an issue have sometimes criticized each other for bringing resolutions to a vote when they know there is no chance of their being adopted.  Such criticisms usually fault drafts for containing specific provisions which are known to the drafters to be unacceptable to one or more Council members.  But criticism has also been directed against the failure to hold negotiations, or the holding of negotiations without any real attempt to reach consensus. 


Some Council members have charged that bringing to a vote resolutions which have no chance of adoption has been for propaganda purposes or as a “political show”.  For example, at the 28 February 2019 meeting on Venezuela, prior to the vote, the Russian representative contended that


“the United States delegation cannot but note that their resolution has no chance of being adopted.  Nonetheless, they are deliberately tabling it at the Council to then point a finger at those who are allegedly obstructing the establishment of democracy in Venezuela.” 


In the particular case of expected vetoes, the book (on page 299) notes that


“the sponsors may know in advance that a veto will be cast, but decide that the point must be made publicly that a majority of Council members are in favour of a certain course of action, and are blocked from effecting it owing to the opposition of one or more permanent members.”

In the case of draft resolutions which receive insufficient votes, the proponents seem not to be uncomfortable at conspicuously demonstrating that they are in a minority on the Council in such instances.  Rather, they seem intent on highlighting exactly this point, with an emphasis on what they often characterize as their stand on principle.  This was the case, for example, when on 1 June 2018, the United States was the sole Council member to vote for its draft on the Palestinian question (see related article on this website).


At the 28 February meeting (S/PV.8476), although neither draft resolution was adopted, it was clear that both sides found political value in highlighting the differences exemplified by the contents of the two competing texts, the respective negotiations, and the voting outcomes. 


In this connection, in addition to his criticism of how the United States brought its text to a vote, the Russian representative complained that “We heard not a single specific comment on our draft”, and that in fact Western Council members “said they would not work on our text”.  The representative of South Africa called it “unfortunate” that the United States had “rushed” its text to a vote. 


After the American draft was vetoed, the United States representative highlighted what in his view was the political significance of the vote.  He affirmed that some Council members, by voting against the American draft, “continue to shield Maduro and his cronies and prolong the suffering of the Venezuelan people.”  He underscored that “a clear majority of the Council” supported the draft”, which showed that “democracies around the world . . . are mobilizing behind interim president Guaido.”  The representative of Peru also gave value to the number of affirmative votes received when he stated that “We are encouraged to see that the majority of members of this Council have reaffirmed their commitment and solidarity with the brotherly people of Venezuela”.


The representative of the United Kingdom contrasted the outcome of the voting on the two draft resolutions in concluding that “the fact that the Russian resolution failed, whereas the American text was vetoed, accurately pinpoints the unease that very many members of the UN feel about the situation in Venezuela.”


Regardless of the positions taken by Security Council members on specific draft resolutions which have failed to be adopted, virtually all members have expressed regret that the Council remains divided over key issues on its agenda.  Yet while Council members have voiced such concerns in a general way, it was the representative of Indonesia who, at the 28 February 2019 meeting on Venezuela, connected the problem specifically to the pattern of competing draft resolutions.


The Indonesian representative, who abstained on both draft resolutions, affirmed that “The fact that we are having two separate draft resolutions is a clear evidence of the lack of sense of unity among the Council members, which is sad.”  This, he affirmed was “a collective failure” of all 15 members seated at the Council table, “because we all came here today knowing that we would not reach the needed consensus for the adoption of a resolution.”


The Indonesian representative was straightforward in faulting both of the drafts, calling them “not comprehensive enough”, “overly politicized”, and evidencing “little attempt to finding a consensus on this highly sensitive matter.”  He stated that his delegation “would have liked to see more balanced and all-embracing drafts” and would also “have valued a more thorough consultative preparatory process involving all parties in the discussion.”


Cautioning that the Council should not take actions that could exacerbate the situation in Venezuela, he then set out four points which he felt “should be the elements of a good consensual Security Council resolution”.  He concluded by saying, “If we really care about the people of Venezuela, then we should have a united front and find a joint solution.”


In the specific case of Venezuela, it remains to be seen whether the Security Council members will heed this appeal and return to negotiations in order to produce a single text which can successfully be adopted.  More generally, it will be of interest to see whether Council penholders in future will, with the same frequency, bring to a vote draft resolutions which are certain not to be adopted. 


(This update supplements pages 299 and 313.)


[1] Belgium, Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Kuwait, Peru, Poland, United Kingdom and United States voted in favour.

[2] This was the first time since 2017 that China and the Russian Federation vetoed the same draft resolution; in the intervening two years, the Russian Federation cast the sole veto in six cases.

[3] Belgium, France, Germany, Peru, Poland, United Kingdom and United States.

[4] The Russian Federation cast 17 vetoes, China cast seven, and the United States cast three.


                                                                                                   Vetoes since 2000                              Insufficient votes


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