Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky virtually addresses the UN Security Council on August 24, 2022

While Russia is under gunpoint, the US suddenly started talking about UN reform

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the UN Security Council virtually August 24, 2022 – Copyright POOL/AFP Aaron Chown

Sean TANDON

Few issues have been as persistent in the United Nations as dissatisfaction with the structure of the world organization itself, with both friends and enemies of the United States calling for reform of the mighty Security Council.

As world leaders convene for the annual General Assembly, calls for change come from an unexpected source – the United States, which is irritated by Russia’s veto power seeking to hold Moscow accountable for its invasion of Ukraine.

The Western powers have scrutinized the rules of procedure to ensure that Russia does not block meetings of the Security Council and have turned to the General Assembly, where each of the 193 UN member states has a vote, to get Russia condemned.

The Security Council demonstrated its impotence to the world in February when diplomats continued to read pre-written statements while Russia began bombing its smaller neighbor.

In a recent speech, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield expressed support for “reasonable and credible proposals” to expand membership on the 15-nation Security Council.

“We must not defend an unsustainable and outdated status quo. Instead, we must demonstrate flexibility and willingness to compromise in the name of greater credibility and legitimacy,” she said, without going into details.

She said the veto-wielding permanent five – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States – have a special responsibility to uphold the standards, and vowed that the United States would only use its veto power in “rare, emergency situations.”

“Any permanent member that uses the power of veto to defend its own acts of aggression loses moral authority and must be held accountable,” she said.

Russia and China scoff at such talk by the United States, which under George W. Bush brushed aside the Security Council to invade Iraq.

South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor, who has long sought African representation on the Security Council, said criticizing the veto system just because of Russia is hypocritical.

“Some of us who have called for the General Assembly to have a greater voice have never had support, but what if today?” she said at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

“This is where international law starts to mean nothing. Because for some we see it as a hoax.”

– Put opponents in their place –

Thomas-Greenfield acknowledged that the United States has not always lived up to its standards, but noted that Washington has used its veto only four times since 2009 – all but once to support Israel – compared to 26 times Russia has exercised.

Richard Gowen, a United Nations expert at the International Crisis Group, said the US was genuinely concerned about the “dysfunction” of the Security Council.

“But it’s also a smart way to put China and Russia in a difficult position. Because we all know that the countries most allergic to the idea of ​​council reform are Russia and China,” he said.

The permanent five reflects the dynamics of power at the end of World War II, at a historical moment decisive for Russian identity. Ukraine recently put forward a new argument that the seat on the Security Council belongs to the former Soviet Union, not Russia.

The biggest push for Security Council reform came on the 60th anniversary of the end of the war, when Brazil, Germany, India and Japan filed a joint bid for permanent seats.

China has vehemently opposed giving a seat to the East Asian power of Japan, which is one of the largest contributors to the United Nations after the United States.

US leaders have previously verbally supported reforms but not implemented them. Washington has long supported Japan’s place as an ally usually aligned with the US, and former President Barack Obama has expressed general support for India’s bid during his visit.

Gowen said Biden’s clear call would instantly revitalize reform efforts, but added: “I feel like Americans don’t really have a clear end goal in this.”

“They are posting this to test the waters, to challenge the Chinese and the Russians. He can run out of breath.”

Diplomacy watchers doubt that any reform of the Security Council can take place as long as Russia and China see their interests under threat.

“Some people in the community that supports Ukraine against the Kremlin’s aggression talk about it all the time,” said John Herbst, a former U.S. diplomat now serving on the Atlantic Council.

“But I think the real prospects are very, very slim.”

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