The proposal, which will be discussed by Fabius and at least 20 other foreign ministers on Thursday evening, is based on a moral appeal to circumvent geopolitical stalemate in moments of dire human need. On four occasions since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, China and Russia have vetoed resolutions backed by the West aimed at putting pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Many have argued that had the U.N. engaged more effectively early in the conflict, when violence was still relatively limited, that might well have averted its escalation into a civil war, now in its fourth year, that has killed more than 191,000 people. But Moscow and Beijing used their veto power to stall any serious efforts to bring Assad to heel — or even an arms embargo against the regime.
Unlike Security Council reform that would require formal changes to the U.N. charter, veto restraint could be informally agreed overnight if the P5 wished it. France emphasizes that this would be a “voluntary commitment” rather than a legally binding one.
Some supporters of the proposal argue that France and the U.K. should
unilaterally promise not to use the veto in the face of mass atrocities.
But in Moscow, Beijing and other non-Western capitals, this could be a
seen as a signal of weakness by the European powers. Paris and London
are already hardly as significant in world affairs as they arguably were
when the U.N. was founded. Publicly promising not to use the veto,
however laudable their reasons, could make them look like second-class
members of the P5.