UNITED NATIONS - France last cast a lone veto in 1976, over a resolution to recognize the tiny island of Mayotte as part of the newly independent state of Comoros.
For the United States, it was three months ago, over a resolution condemning violence in the Middle East, specifically the killing of U.N. employees by Israeli soldiers and the destruction of a U.N. warehouse filled with food for needy Palestinians.
The power to veto, held by an exclusive five-member club of the Security Council, allows the world's most powerful nations to shape international peace and security.
But in the crisis over Iraq, France says it will veto current war plans, even if the European nation must go it alone, and even with U.S. leaders breathing down the necks of tired and bickering council members.
On the 15-member council, France, the United States, China, Russia and Britain constitute the privileged and permanent members possessing veto power.
That power, diplomats say, can also provide a bully pulpit for rewarding friends and punishing enemies. In the United Nations' 58-year history, the Soviet Union and its successor state, the Russian Federation, have used the veto 117 times - most coming during Cold War decades.
The United States is second with 73. Since 1990, America has cast more Security Council vetoes than any country, many of them favoring Israel, a longtime ally.
The word "veto," however, never appears in the U.N. Charter. Instead, the issue is worded this way: "Decisions of the Security Council . . . shall be made by an affirmative vote of nine members including the concurring votes of the permanent members."
Meaning, to get its resolution authorizing force against Iraq, the United States - and co-sponsors Britain and Spain - must get a minimum of nine "yes" votes from the Security Council and avoid a veto.
In the ever-changing nuances of daily diplomacy, it was not clear Monday whether the Bush administration had nine votes.
And in the often arcane rules governing the United Nations - there is a way to get around a veto.
The "uniting for peace" resolution, passed in 1950 to stop North Korean Communist troops from invading South Korea, allows the General Assembly to meet in emergency session and vote on a course of action if the Security Council is unable to establish peace and security.
Rarely used, the resolution was suggested Monday by former diplomats who spoke to journalists at the United Nations.
"During the Korean invasion, we were smart enough to note that a veto would probably come from the Soviet Union," said former American envoy William J. vanden Heuvel, explaining the genesis of the 1950 resolution.
Vanden Heuvel opposes war against Iraq and pronounced President Bush's recent statements about the "irrelevance" of the United Nations "demagoguery."
For those in the United Nations who refuse to support force, vanden Heuvel said, "We still have the option of going immediately to the General Assembly and putting it to a vote of the world."
France's 1976 veto concerned Mayotte, one of four islands in the Comoros archipelago off southeast Africa.
France colonized Mayotte in 1843 and by 1904 had annexed the remainder of the archipelago. In a 1974 referendum, 95 percent of the Comoros population voted for independence. The exception was Mayotte, which, with its Christian majority, voted against joining the other mainly Islamic islands in independence.
Copyright 2003, The Associated Press