Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
April 24, 2023
Let me start by thanking Secretary-General Guterres for your remarks, and to thank you and the entire UN system for all of your efforts to promote peace and security and to support the UN Charter.
And thank you, colleagues, for coming together to talk about how we can defend the UN Charter and make multilateralism more effective. This is a serious topic – even if it was convened by a Council member whose actions demonstrate a blatant disregard for the UN Charter.
At the United Nations, if you ask a difficult policy question, you get 193 different answers. That makes our work challenging. But it is also right because after all, that is what the UN is all about: Member States can work through disagreements, find common ground, and see where we can make progress together.
And there are some things we are not meant to disagree about. There are some values and principles that are so fundamental, so critical to our purpose, that signing on to them is the price of admission to the UN. These are the values laid out in the United Nations Charter, a charter we have all sworn to uphold and to protect. And it is quite clear what those values are.
This little blue book is written in plain language. And it spells out our purposes and principles in its very first chapter, and I want to read it to you:
“Article 1: The purposes of the United Nations are: To maintain international peace and security…to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples…to achieve international cooperation in solving international problems…[and] promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms.”
And here, in Article 2, it states clearly: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”
Territorial integrity. Respect for human rights. International cooperation.
These are our values. These are the shared, stated principles we all agreed to uphold. All of us. And it is our belief in them that binds us together.
Those principles have been the basis for the UN’s greatest triumphs over the past eight decades. Despite the international system’s imperfections, our shared principles have helped us curtail nuclear proliferation, prevent mass atrocities, and forge peace through negotiation and mediation. They have undergirded an international order that has helped us provide humanitarian aid to those in desperate need, to lift over a billion people out of poverty, and to prevent another world war.
And right now, as much as ever, the world needs an effective UN and effective multilateralism. Challenges like the climate crisis, the global food security crisis, and the COVID-19 pandemic are exactly the kinds of borderless challenges we need the UN to tackle.
And yet, right when the world needed the UN most, we were plunged into a crisis of confidence. Our hypocritical convenor today, Russia, invaded its neighbor, Ukraine, and struck at the heart of the UN Charter and all the values we hold dear. This illegal, unprovoked, and unnecessary war runs directly counter to our most shared principles: that a war of aggression and territorial conquest is never, ever acceptable.
And as we sit here, that aggression continues. As we sit here, Russian forces continue to kill and injure civilians. As we sit here, Russian forces are destroying Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. As we sit here, we brace ourselves for the next Bucha, the next Mariupol, the next Kherson. The next war crime. The next unconscionable atrocity.
One-hundred forty-one UN Member States have made it abundantly clear: Russia’s full-scale invasion was not about “self-defense.” Russia simply wants to redraw international borders by force, in violation of this very UN Charter. And that goes against everything this institution stands for.
This does not just concern Ukraine or Europe. It concerns all of us. Because today it’s Ukraine. But tomorrow it could be another country. Another small nation that is invaded by its larger neighbor. And what would we want this Council to do in response? Sit on our hands? No. It is the very reason the UN Charter was written in the first place.
And, unfortunately, Russia has shown us, consistently, over the past 14 months, that this invasion is not an isolated incident. In the past 14 months, Russia has weaponized global food supplies and obstructed the Black Sea Grain Initiative from achieving its full potential. Russia has breached its obligations under the New START Treaty and issued dangerous and provocative nuclear threats. Russia has violated universal human rights and fundamental freedoms – both outside and inside its own borders.
It has violated international law. That includes the wrongful detention of American citizens: Paul Whelan, Trevor Reed, Brittney Griner, and now, Evan Gershkovich.
Trevor and Brittney are now, thankfully, home safe and sound. But Russia has imprisoned Paul Whelan, and now detaining Evan Gershkovich, to use as political bargaining chips. Human pawns.
Paul was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Evan is a journalist. He was just doing his job.
Using people as pawns is a strategy of weakness. These are not the actions of a responsible country. And while Russia plays political games, real people suffer.
And I want to direct your attention to the gallery, where today, we are joined by Paul’s sister, Elizabeth. And I want Minister Lavrov to look into her eyes and see her suffering. I want you to see what it’s like to miss your brother for four years. To know he is locked up, in a Russian penal colony, simply because you want to use him for your own means.
I am calling on you, right now, to release Paul Whelan, Evan Gershkovich immediately. To let Paul and Evan come home. And to cease this barbaric practice once and for all.
Colleagues, while Russia may be undermining the UN Charter and this institution, the rest of us can and must do better. The UN needs reform – you’ve heard that. To support and maintain its fundamental principles, this body must evolve to meet the 21st century. As part of that evolution, the Security Council needs to better reflect today’s global realities.
We must find credible, sensible, and politically viable paths to this end. And while we work to forge those paths, those of us on the Security Council have a duty to do more. To do better.
As you all know, in San Francisco last year I announced six principles for responsible behavior for Security Council permanent members. These were standards we set for ourselves; that we welcome all to hold us to; that we encourage for other permanent members.
Colleagues, the United States believes in the United Nations, and we believe in this Charter. And that belief gives us faith that it can be made better still. Our response to Russia’s flagrant violations cannot be to abandon this institution’s founding principles. Instead, we must recommit to the principles of sovereignty, of territorial integrity, of peace and security. And use those principles as guideposts, as we strengthen the United Nations and make it fit for the purposes of the 21st century.
We must reform this institution and support efforts, such as the Secretary-General’s ambitious “Our Common Agenda” initiative, to modernize the multilateral system.
We must not shirk our responsibilities to address threats by the DPRK to international peace and security.
We must forcefully address the situation in Sudan as we heard the call from the Secretary-General for peace and a cessation of hostilities.
We must use our platform to call out aggression and human rights violations wherever and whenever we see them.
We must renew our commitment to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, to heal the climate, to end poverty and hunger.
That is the brighter future we hope to build.
So, we must rally behind the UN Charter. Take our shared global challenges seriously. Do everything in our power to be better neighbors. And, together, create a more peaceful, more prosperous world for us all.