Can Russia be kicked off the UN Security Council?

Can Russia be kicked off the UN Security Council?
AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka

Volodymyr Zelensky wasn’t the first person to say that Russia should be booted from the United Nations (or at least from the Security Council and the Human Rights Council), but he made a pretty strong case for it yesterday. Ed Morrissey provided a compelling (if depressing) argument that such a change is unlikely to happen without dissolving the UN in its entirety and starting over with a more exclusive club of democracies. You really can’t get rid of Russia without ditching China as well, and that leaves us in a permanent stalemate that sets the stage for an eventual new world war.

But let’s stick to the more modest goal of keeping both of them in the UN but removing Russia from the Security Council and the Human Rights Council. That’s what the Biden administration was pushing for yesterday. Is even that much possible? At National Review, Jimmy Quinn looks at the American Ambassador to the UN and her even more subdued suggestion of simply “suspending” Russia from the HRC rather than permanently removing them. But that plan would almost certainly run into a similar roadblock immediately.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., told reporters in Romania today that she would press for Russia’s suspension from the global human-rights body over the massacre.

“I am immediately returning back to New York to do two things,” she said, during a press conference following a meeting with Romanian prime minister Nicolae Ciuca. “One: I will take this to the Security Council tomorrow morning and address Russia’s actions firmly and directly. Two: In close coordination with Ukraine, European countries, and other partners at the UN, we’re going to seek Russia’s suspension from the U.N. Human Rights Council.”

The Human Rights Council has faced persistent criticism for giving an international platform to human-rights-abusing regimes, including Russia, China, and Cuba. The dictatorships that hold membership in the body often use their status for propaganda purposes and to advance criticism of Western countries intended to deflect from their own human-rights records.

Quinn notes that neither Russia nor China would have the opportunity to veto such a move if it was handled by the General Assembly. That would require a two-thirds-majority vote which is normally almost impossible to achieve on all but the most toothless resolutions. But given the current global sentiment against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the war crimes that are being exposed, it could actually pass.

I can see two issues with a plan such as this and they might give everyone a reason to slow down a bit. The first is the fact that we have largely turned a blind eye to the preposterous membership structure of the HRC for so long that we’ve basically surrendered the high ground in terms of passing judgment. A look at the current list of members shows that there are plenty of nations on that list whose names should never be spoken in the same sentence as the phrase “human rights.” Afghanistan has a seat, even while the Taliban is shutting down schools for women and slaying its opponents with abandon. China also has a seat in the middle of its genocide of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Uganda and Venezuela are there as well.

Even if we can get past the issue of rank hypocrisy, we need to consider whether Russia’s removal from any councils or the entirety of the United Nations would be temporary or permanent. If it was done temporarily as a further incentive for Putin to abandon the war in Ukraine and withdraw, we might be able to make that case. (Though Putin would likely ignore the decision just as he’s done with all of the sanctions thus far.) While I don’t personally have much use for the UN, it is still supposedly the only global body where all countries can meet on neutral ground. Russia remains among the three largest economies with one of the biggest militaries on the planet. Can the world really move forward in perpetuity simply pretending that they don’t exist?

The entire situation brings us back to the question I’ve been trying to raise here for weeks. One way or another, the war in Ukraine will eventually end. The world needs to be ready to grapple with what comes next. If Putin succeeds in carving out even more territory from Ukraine, are we to simply accept that the map has changed yet again as it did when he took Crimea? And even if Russia fails in its invasion entirely, will we be ready to turn a blind eye to all of the atrocities currently taking place as long as the Russians stop firing and go home?

No matter which path we take, it just feels as if we’re going to be pushing the members of the new Axis of Evil more firmly into each other’s arms and drawing even more stark lines between the world powers. And that sounds like a situation that pushes us even closer to an eventual world war than we are in today.

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