Background information: The right of veto (2023)

The source of the veto

Article 27 of the Charter of the United Nations stipulates that resolutions can only be passed with the “affirmative vote of nine members [out of 15] including the concurring votes of the permanent members.” The permanent members can thus block any resolution by voting against it. This is known as the “right of veto”, although the word “veto” does not appear anywhere in the UN Charter.

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The function of the veto

The right of veto was introduced by the authors of the Charter in order to ensure that the victors of World War II spoke with a single voice on matters of war and peace – and not to give each of them the means of blocking any resolution they chose. The Charter’s authors assumed that the victors would, on the whole, be willing to agree on appropriate action – but soon after the end of World War II it became clear that they were not.

During the East‑West confrontation, the right of veto thus played a rather negative role, and the criticism of this Charter provision – criticism which has endured to this day – was entirely justified. However, since the end of the Cold War, the right of veto has only been used sparingly. That is not to say it has become irrelevant. What tends to happen now is that permanent members threaten, more or less subtly, to use the veto in order to ensure that Security Council resolutions are drafted in line with their wishes or to prevent them from being put to a vote at all.

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Non‑permanent members also have a right of veto

The fact that the non‑permanent members also have a kind of “collective right of veto” attracts less attention. If more than six members of the Security Council do not support a resolution, it will fail since there is no way in which it can obtain the nine votes required for a majority, even if all permanent members vote in favour. However, this happens very rarely.

Use of the right of veto

Ever since the founding of the United Nations, the permanent members have made use of their right of veto. Instances of its use can be counted in various ways. For example, if several permanent members vote against a draft resolution, this could be counted either as a single veto, or as several. Vetoes have also been used against individual paragraphs within resolutions, or against specific annexes.

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The permanent members responsible for the greatest use of the veto have varied from one politico‑historical period to the next.

Veto list (1946 to the present)

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What is the background of veto power? ›

The concept of a veto originated with the Roman offices of consul and tribune of the plebs. There were two consuls every year; either consul could block military or civil action by the other. The tribunes had the power to unilaterally block any action by a Roman magistrate or the decrees passed by the Roman Senate.

What is the right of veto? ›

The power of the President to refuse to approve a bill or joint resolution and thus prevent its enactment into law is the veto. The president has ten days (excluding Sundays) to sign a bill passed by Congress.

What is the purpose of the veto power? ›

The veto allows the President to “check” the legislature by reviewing acts passed by Congress and blocking measures he finds unconstitutional, unjust, or unwise. Congress's power to override the President's veto forms a “balance” between the branches on the lawmaking power.

When did the veto power start? ›

President George Washington issued the first regular veto on April 5, 1792. The first successful congressional override occurred on March 3, 1845, when Congress overrode President John Tyler's veto of S. 66.

What was the first veto used for? ›

Ambassador Charles W. Yost cast the first US veto in 1970 over Rhodesia, and the US cast a lone veto in 1972 to block a resolution that condemned Israel for war against Syria and Lebanon.

How does veto work? ›

In the United States, the president can use the veto power to prevent a bill passed by the Congress from becoming law. Congress can override the veto by a two-thirds vote of both chambers.

How does a veto become a law? ›

If the President vetoes the bill it is sent back to Congress with a note listing his/her reasons. The chamber that originated the legislation can attempt to override the veto by a vote of two-thirds of those present. If the veto of the bill is overridden in both chambers then it becomes law.

Why the veto is important United Nations? ›

Permanent members use the veto to “defend their national interests, to uphold a tenet of their foreign policy, or, in some cases, to promote a single issue of particular importance to a state,” according to a U.N. Security Council report.

What is the meaning of the word veto? ›

transitive verb. : to refuse to admit or approve : prohibit. also : to refuse assent to (a legislative bill) so as to prevent enactment or cause reconsideration.

Who discovered veto power? ›

use of the veto power. On April 5, 1792, in a terse, three-paragraph veto message, Washington negated a congressional apportionment bill. Almost four years passed before he cast his second and final veto, on February 28, 1797, of a bill relating to the military establishment of the United States.

What was the first veto in American history? ›

George Washington was the first president to veto Congressional legislation, exercising that prerogative once in each of his administrations. After consulting with the attorney general and his department secretaries, he vetoed the Apportionment Bill on 5 April 1792 on constitutional grounds.

Who was the first ever veto? ›

Original bill

An earlier apportionment bill was vetoed by President George Washington on April 5, 1792 as unconstitutional, marking the first use of the U.S. President's veto power. Washington made two objections in a letter to the House describing the reason for his veto.

How are veto power decisions taken? ›

A veto is granted to each member of the Security Council. A majority of nine members of the Security Council must vote affirmatively on procedural questions. The Security Council's decision on all other matters is taken by an affirmative vote of nine members, including the permanent members' concurring votes.

What government can veto laws? ›

Each branch of government can change acts of the other branches: The president can veto legislation created by Congress and nominates heads of federal agencies. Congress confirms or rejects the president's nominees and can remove the president from office in exceptional circumstances.

Who can veto or approve laws? ›

The President may veto bills Congress passes, but Congress may also override a veto by a two-thirds vote in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Article I of the Constitution enumerates the powers of Congress and the specific areas in which it may legislate.

Who has the power to veto state laws? ›

Veto Power

All 50 state Governors have the power to veto whole legislative measures. In a large majority of states, a bill will become law unless it is vetoed by the Governor within a specified number of days, which vary among states.

Why should veto power be abolished? ›

The veto does more harm than good, both to the UN's overarching mission and to the Security Council's role in it. The UNSC is meant to maintain international peace and stability, which it can't do when conflicts involving the five permanent members frequently lead to vetoes.

Where did the word veto come from? ›

From Latin veto (“I forbid”).

How many times has the President used the veto? ›

There have been 2,584 1 presidential vetoes since 1789. Bill No. The Senate sustained the veto on May 7 by vote No. 84 (49-44).

How many vetos are there in American history? ›

The total number of vetoes tabulated is 2,584 .

Who has the right to use veto power? ›

Of course, it is also possible to abstain from a vote, effectively casting a negative vote without formally vetoing the motion. The five countries with veto power within the United Nations include China, Russia, France, The United Kingdom, and the United States.

Who has the right to veto a law or a bill *? ›

A bill may be vetoed by the President, but the House of Representatives may overturn a presidential veto by garnering a 2/3rds vote. If the President does not act on a proposed law submitted by Congress, it will lapse into law after 30 days of receipt.

Who has the right to veto in the UN? ›

The Right to Veto

It was agreed by the drafters that if any one of the five permanent members cast a negative vote in the 15-member Security Council, the resolution or decision would not be approved. All five permanent members have exercised the right of veto at one time or another.

Who has right to veto UN? ›

In the United Nations' Security Council, decisions are made with a majority of 9 votes of the 15 Council members' votes. All decision is rejected if one of the five permanent members of the Security Council (China, United States, France, United Kingdom, Russia) makes use of its veto.

What does veto mean in politics? ›

In a political context, "veto" usually refers to the power of a chief executive to block or complicate passage of a legislative bill by refusing to sign it into law. Article One, Section Seven of the U.S. Constitution gives the President veto power over all bills passed by the Congress.

How many times has the veto been used? ›

There have been 2,584 1 presidential vetoes since 1789.


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