With its brutal, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Russia, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, threatens the heart of the UN mission to safeguard international peace and security. So said President Joe Biden in his recent address to the General Assembly.
“Russia has shamelessly violated the core tenets of the United Nations Charter,” declared President Biden, “none more important than the clear prohibition against countries taking the territory of their neighbor by force.”
In February 2022, shortly after the start of the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion, the Security Council voted on a resolution condemning Russia’s aggression and calling for the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine. Given the facts on the ground and the principles of the UN Charter, the resolution should have been easily adopted.
However, despite the support of 11 Council members, the resolution was defeated following a single “no” vote from Russia. Such is the veto power of any one of the five permanent members – and it can be a source of grievous distortion of international norms when one of the members blatantly ignores those norms to pursue its own reckless interests.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield recently noted that since 2009 Russia has cast 26 vetoes, 12 of which were joined by China, while the U.S. used the veto only four times. “Any permanent member that exercises the veto to defend its own acts of aggression loses moral authority and should be held accountable,” she said.
During his address to the General Assembly, President Biden called for measures to enhance the credibility and effectiveness of the Security Council. “Members of the UN Security Council, including the United States,” he declared, “should consistently uphold and defend the UN charter and refrain from the use of the veto, except in rare and extraordinary situations.”
President Biden also announced that the United States supports an expansion of the Council, in both its permanent and non-permanent members. During his address, President Biden called for permanent seats “for countries in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean” as well.
“The time has come,” said President Biden, “for this institution to become more inclusive so it can better respond to the needs of today’s world. . . .The United States is committed to this vital work.”