Emergency at the United Nations

Ukraine points out that the current wording of the U.N. Charter lists, among the permanent members of the Security Council, ‘the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics’ — not Russia.

The United Nations secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, at the Munich Security Conference February 18, 2022. AP/Michael Probst

The emergency meeting of the UN General Assembly, in progress this morning, is only the 11th in the existence of the world body. It comes after President Biden’s baffling decision to break with Ukraine over Russia’s very standing at the UN.  The administration’s blunder emerged yesterday, when our ambassador,  Linda Thomas Greenfield, told CNN flatly, “Russia is a member of the Security Council” and asserted, “That’s in the UN Charter.”

Ambassador Greenfield is wrong on some points and the others are a matter of dispute. Since the outbreak of the war, Ukraine has been frantically calling attention to this head. It points out that the current wording of the UN Charter lists the permanent members of the Security Council as “the Republic of China, France, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States.”

Our own view is that it would be squarely in America’s interest to sort this out — right now. It should have done so long ago. It stems from the events of December 1991, when the Soviet Union was collapsing and due, on Christmas day, to go out of existence. At the 11th hour, it suddenly occurred to the Soviet leaders that the USSR’s standing as a member of the UN and as a permanent member of the Security Council could evaporate.

So, according to an later account by Israel’s envoy at the UN, the chairman of the Supreme Soviet at the time, Boris Yeltsin, fired off a letter to the UN Secretary General saying that the members of the Commonwealth of Independent States, which was emerging among what were called “Soviet socialist republics,” had agreed that Russia would get the USSR’s seat at the UN. On December 27, the UN says, Belarus also sent a letter.

And Russia did take the seat. The decision, however, was acted on by neither the Security Council nor the General Assembly — nor, importantly in our view, by the members of the United Nations Treaty, known as the UN Charter. That is, Russia’s accession to the UN and to permanent membership in the Security Council was never voted on by the United States Senate. 

Today we are witnessing the consequences. Ukraine, a member of the United Nations, is illegally attacked by another member of the United Nations. Yet the United Nations is powerless to stop it, because Russia is exercising in the Security Council a veto it mightn’t have and because the General Assembly, of which Russia might not be a member, is a toothless body. So what does anyone get for UN dues?

We don’t mind saying that we have long since lost confidence in the United Nations. In our view, the United States ought to withdraw, although there are those who argue that it can’t legally withdraw at all. That claim would undercut further the catastrophic failure that the United Nations has become. We oppose world government. It’s no act of friendship to the idea, though, for the Biden administration to deny the facts of history.

The New York Sun

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