It basically makes the UN a paper tiger since getting all of them to agree on something important is impossible.

For example, if you consider the Russian annexation of Crimea wrong, good luck getting a resolution requiring all UN members to intervene. The same goes if you think the USA's Iraq invasion was wrong.

  • 3
    Good luck convincing either USA or USSR to provide that army :)
    – user4012
    Apr 10, 2017 at 5:01
  • 13
    Two World Wars in the 30 years before the creation of the UN. Zero in the 70+ after. I'd say the claim that the UN is useless/worthless is not proven. Maddeningly bureaucratic and slow to stir, sure, but the main purpose was to prevent future world wars. Apr 10, 2017 at 17:11
  • 1
    There have been 77 resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council in 2016. See un.org/en/sc/documents/resolutions/2016.shtml for the full list. Whether there is anything important among those, depends on your definition of "important."
    – Sjoerd
    Apr 12, 2017 at 19:26
  • Great Powers don't shoot at each other as much when they're talking to each other.
    – RonJohn
    Jun 21, 2023 at 17:24

5 Answers 5


What is the point of the UN Security council if permanent members have veto power?

The Security Council's main purpose is to reduce the risk of accidentally starting World War III.

The point is that when no veto is used, a resulting conflict is very unlikely to grow from a minor conflict into a major conflict.

For any council to work that way, a veto for Major Powers is required. If a Major Power can be outvoted, any conflict after being outvoted can still grow into a major conflict, defeating the purpose of the council.

If the veto of Major Powers were to be removed, the Security Council would enjoy the same fate as the UN General Assembly: being ignored by the Major Powers and becoming a playground for the unimportant powers.

  • So Russia is among others guaranteeing world peace. I know it's quite ironic. Jun 20, 2023 at 5:54

The primary reason why the United Nations has a UN Security Council with five permanent members with vetoes is that the League of Nations did not have such a mechanism and failed. The basic problem is that without the veto, the international organization can pass things over the protests of the major powers. But then the major powers simply ignore those things passed over their protest.

The veto puts the major power ability to ignore disagreeable proposals into the mechanism. This gives the major powers more reason to support the international organization. After all, when the mechanism works it is guaranteed to work in their favor. They can block anything that doesn't.

Historically, the League of Nations failed because neither the major powers nor anyone else paid attention to it when they did not want to do so. The veto helps avoid that fate by getting at least the major powers to support it. It weakens the UN in theory, but it makes it more enforceable in practice.

  • Very good answer. Many can talk about WW2 victorers - it is widely known. But significantly less people remember about League of Nations and its flaws. Jul 24, 2019 at 6:10
  • Doing nothing is seen as the better alternative to being ignored. It might be that the current UN only looks better than the League of Nations but isn't really. Maybe the League of Nations was just unlucky. Jun 20, 2023 at 5:58

The better question here is not 'what is the point', but why us the UN Security Council designed in this way.

The answer to that comes from the close of the second World War (actually you can go further back to the League of Nations and WWI, but lets keep it simple). Who were the major powers of the victors of WWII? Why it turns out to be the same list: the US, UK, Russia (Soviet Union then), France and China.

As the victors they had the power to create the United Nations in their image. The veto power was part of this. Since they were the victors they got the greatest power.

Now of course, as you mentioned, this has severe flaws. It is inherently unequal. It leads to situations like Russia and Crimea, or Russia and Syria. It is also locked in time; if one of the nations loses its great power status the security council may not reflect that (and some argue that some of the nations on the list are not as powerful as they once were).

For all of these reasons there are of course cries for reform. There are many different proposals for this. Some say that new permanent members should be added, like India and Japan. Others say that the entire system of permanent membership is inherently flawed and it should be switched to a majority vote system like you mentioned.

As for a standing UN army... well, there sort of is one: the UN Peacekeepers. It's not exactly a standing army for the UN, as the UN is nationless and the participants in the army are from a nation, but it is a force that has weight. It has 124 participating countries with over 105,000 personnel, making it the 45th or so largest military in the world. That might not sound like much, but it is equipped well with lots of tanks, aircraft, and ships. And more importantly if a need would arise they would receive massive support from UN members (such as US support in Somalia).

  • 7
    You meant the US and Syria, sure?
    – Anixx
    Apr 11, 2017 at 9:21
  • 1
    *Iraq smiling meekly in the corner*
    – Malekai
    Jul 24, 2019 at 10:14

Yes, but at least it can take some action on which all the members agree. For instance, to ban ISIS or an allien invasion.

  • I wouldn't worry so much about an alien invasion. Because we already know there are almost an infinitive number of uninhabited planets out there that most certainly contain a lot more minerals and natural resources than we have here on Earth. If they have discovered how to travel here. Then surely the last thing on their mind would be to conquer us. If anything, they would feel the need to educate us not to be the complete morons that we are. Apr 11, 2017 at 19:12

Why does the UN seem so useless?

Diplomats have fought long and hard to make it as meaningful as it is.

International law has traditionally been anarchy. Big players pushed little players around and there wasn't anything to do about it. Now there is a forum where the little voices can at least command the attention of the great powers. And really the thing about being powerful is that it's hard to make them do anything, so commanding attention is about as good as can be expected.

But why not make it better? It's unfair.

Yes. Well. You can try to bell the cat if you like and there are plenty of people who will cheer you on, but at least three of the currently favored nations are historically paranoid about loosing any autonomy or granting other powers any concessions.

OK but we could force them if we had a nice military.

The term for using military to make a state do what you want is "war" and you really really don't want to make any of the veto countries fight a war since the five veto countries are also the five nuclear states under non proliferation.

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