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I have always thought that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council can veto any UN resolution.

Reading the UN Charter more carefully, the veto power seems to be restricted only to UN Security Council resolutions, not all resolutions.

Article 27.3: Decisions of the Security Council on all other matters shall be made by an affirmative vote of nine members including the concurring votes of the permanent members; provided that, in decisions under Chapter VI, and under paragraph 3 of Article 52, a party to a dispute shall abstain from voting.

Does that mean that the UN General Assembly can pass resolutions that cannot be vetoed? Are there any other mechanisms in place that would prevent the UN GA from just taking critical decisions themselves?

  • The permanent members also can't veto decisions that directly concern a Security Council member. – Sean Aug 15 at 21:17
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No. The General Assembly can only "make recommendations to States on international issues within its competence". (my emphasis)

So what is it competent to do:

  • It sets the budget.
  • It elects the non-permanent members of the Security Council
  • It can make general or specific recommendations, relating to international peace
  • It can discuss the constitution of the UN
  • It can initiate studies and commission research.
  • It can consider reports from the Security council

However it cannot make recommendations on any international or internal matter that is currently a point of discussion in the Security Council.

(Source)

The General Assembly is, by design, not a decision-making body. It is not "competent" to take action or make critical decisions. The permanent members of the Security Council can't veto the General Assembly, but they can ignore it.

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  • And then there was UNGA 377A - "states that in any cases where the Security Council, because of a lack of unanimity among its five permanent members (P5), fails to act as required to maintain international peace and security, the General Assembly shall consider the matter immediately and may issue appropriate recommendations to UN members for collective measures, including the use of armed force when necessary, in order to maintain or restore international peace and security." – Martin Schröder Aug 15 at 14:18
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    @MartinSchröder: Those are still "recommendations" - i.e. they give any resulting military action a veneer of diplomatic legitimacy, but that military action would still need to be taken by a member state (or, in principle, a non-member state), and countries which voted against the UN resolution will react as they see fit. – Kevin Aug 15 at 19:47

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