Updated on 30 October 2020
Chapter 6: VOTING
Section 1: Substantive decisions and the veto
Vetoes, insufficient votes and competing drafts reveal an increasingly divided Security Council
Since 2000, and especially since 2010, there has been a marked increase in divisive votes in the Security Council. In large part, this reflects the polarizing nature of some key items presently before the Council – including Syria, Yemen, Ukraine, the Palestinian question and Venezuela. However, it also reflects the fact that some Council members have become less willing to shield the Council’s divisions from public view.
These cleavages are evident in three particular voting patterns:
1) Council penholders are increasingly bringing to a vote draft resolutions which they know will be vetoed;
2) Penholders are increasingly bringing to a vote drafts which they know will receive insufficient votes to be adopted; and
3) It is now more frequent to see two or more competing draft resolutions on the same issue brought to a vote.
These trends are reflected in the following statistics:
Decade from 1990-1999: 9 vetoes
Decade from 2000-2009: 16 vetoes
Decade from 2010-2019: 31 vetoes
2020: 5 vetoes
Decade from 1990-1999: 3 draft resolutions
Decade from 2000-2009: 1 draft resolution
Decade from 2010-2019: 11 draft resolutions
2020: 4 draft resolutions
Competing draft resolutions on the same issue brought to a vote
Decade from 1990-1999: 4 draft resolutions
Decade from 2000-2009: none
Decade from 2010-2019: 16 draft resolutions
2020: 3 draft resolutions
(See the Tables at the end of this article for details of these voting patterns.)
Resolutions which fail to be adopted are no longer cases of miscalculating prospective votes, or of a Council member having concealed its intentions prior to a vote. Rather, these instances reveal that the member(s) submitting these drafts to a vote are finding political value in publicly highlighting their differences with other Council members in this way.
At the same time, 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. Criticism has also been directed against the failure to hold adequate negotiations.
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 (S/PV.8476), 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 this connection, 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.”
As for draft resolutions which receive insufficient votes, the proponents seem no longer to be uncomfortable at conspicuously demonstrating that they are a minority on the Council. Rather, they appear 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 own draft on the Palestinian question (see related article on this website).
The increase in competing draft resolutions brought to a vote suggests that in such cases, one or more Council members feel that the content of the initial draft is so far removed from their positions on the matter that there is no point in even trying to influence the text through continued negotiations. So instead, they produce their own, quite different drafts.
Cleavages have always existed among Security Council members over certain types of issues. Historically, members have had to consider to what extent it is better to screen these divisions from the wider public, or to clearly delineate them. It seems that particularly in this decade, once several such divisions were made plainly visible through voting patterns, this has created momentum for such displays to occur much more frequently.
Voting patterns which demonstrate the Security Council’s cleavages clearly are not helpful to the image of the Council itself. However, the underlying issue is the Council’s inability to act decisively on key issues of its agenda. In this context, it is important to recognize that divisive votes are not creating these impasses, but are merely accentuating them.
Vetoes Insufficient votes Competing texts