Bi-Partisan Group of American Foreign Policy Luminaries Call for the Qualified Abolition of the Security Council Veto

The night before last I was privy to a sneak preview of an ambitious foreign policy manifesto that is being rolled out on Capitol Hill today. The plan, Forging a World of Liberty Under Law: U.S. National Security in the 21st Century, is the product of a two-year long series of meetings of a bi-partisan brain trust of foreign policy and national security experts convened at the Woodrow Wilson school. Under the steering of Anne-Marie Slaughter and G. John Ickenberry, the Princeton Project on National Security has attempted to comprehensively outline a sustainable 21st Century American foreign policy. As Dr. Slaughter put it last night, the group’s inspiration was to create the intellectual equivalent to George Kennan’s famous X Article in Foreign Affairs, but updated for our time.

They may have come close.

The report is wide-ranging. And in terms of United States engagement with the world, the group recognizes the centrality of multilateral institutions to promoting American security interests. To that end, it calls for a widespread reform of the security and peace apparatus of the United Nations. Some of these reforms draw directly from the 2004 U.N. High Level Panel report that recommended expanding the Security Council to make it more geographically diverse. It also suggests developing mechanisms for the United Nations to authorize the use of force retroactively in cases demanding immediate action or when political stalemate has effectively blocked all action.

But perhaps the most eye-catching recommendation is that an expansion of the Council should correspond with an abolition of the veto on resolutions authorizing direct action in response to a crisis. The current veto process, the report argues, does not serve the interest of the United States. “America does not need it to block action of which we do not approve; we are almost always pushing the Security Council to take action, rather than not, and in those cases where we are unpersuaded of the wisdom of a particular course, we prefer to use diplomacy rather than the veto. Instead, the veto is a license for prevarication, obstructionism, and disillusionment. The veto should instead be replaced by a supermajority vote – of perhaps three quarters of voting members – in an enlarged Security Council.” The document then stresses that the veto can be used to block politically motivated condemnatory resolutions.

The entire document is well worth a read. If nothing else, it will inspire lively debate over the role of multilateral institutions in American national security.