US pledges to uphold UN system, calls for broad measures to strengthen international order

The United States will work with any country on global issues and do so through UN institutions, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said during remarks at a UN Security Council Meeting on multilateralism on Friday. It will also “push back” when other countries undermine the international order.

U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. on May 7, 2021. State Department Photo by Freddie Everett/ 
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield participates in the UN Security Council Open Debate on Multilateralism, from the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. on May 7, 2021. State Department Photo by Freddie Everett/

Under Chinese leadership in May, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi convened an open debate on “upholding multilateralism and the UN-centered international system.”

The meeting follows two other high-level debates on upholding the UN Charter in January 2020 and on post-Covid-19 global governance in September, as the willingness of countries to cooperate on major issues at the UN was in question before the pandemic and worsened during it.

“Nationalism is resurgent, repression is rising, rivalries among countries are deepening – and attacks on the rules- based order are intensifying,” Blinken on Friday said.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meets with United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson in London, United Kingdom on May 4, 2021. State Department Photo by Ron Przysucha 
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meets with United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson in London, United Kingdom on May 4, 2021. State Department Photo by Ron Przysucha

While Blinken acknowledged that U.S. actions in recent years had undermined the rules-based system, he pointed to U.S. reengagement with UN institutions, the JCPOA, and its contribution to COVAX, as evidence of its commitment to the UN system.

He added that the U.S. was donating “tens of millions” of Covid-19 vaccine doses “without political considerations” – Pundits in the U.S. and Europe have accused China and Russia of donating vaccines to gain political influence.

Blinken quoted President Harry Truman (1945-1953) twice in his speech, emphasizing U.S. commitment to the founding principles of the UN. However, he said that in order for the international system “to deliver, all countries must abide by it and put in work for its success.”

Blinken called for all members to adhere to the laws, rules, and standards – “particularly the legally binding ones” – across the UN from the Security Council to the WTO.  

He clarified that the “foundational unit of the United Nations…is not just the nation-state. It’s also the human being,” saying that countries undermined the UN Charter when they did not respect human rights within their borders.

While the U.S. has called China’s treatment of its Uighur population “genocide,” China has asserted that any foreign action relating to human rights in China interferes with its internal affairs.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken participates in the UN Security Council Open Debate on Multilateralism, from the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. on May 7, 2021. State Department Photo by Freddie Everett 
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken participates in the UN Security Council Open Debate on Multilateralism, from the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. on May 7, 2021. State Department Photo by Freddie Everett

Blinken also said countries undermined the principle of “sovereign equality” when they threatened to solve a territorial dispute through force, claimed they were entitled to a sphere of influence, or “targets another [country] with disinformation or weaponized corruption”.

The Security Council meeting occurred a day after Blinken held a series of meetings with government officials and members of civil society in Kyiv, Ukraine to affirm U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty against Russian military aggression and for its institutional reforms that Blinken earlier said Russia has sought to undermine.

Blinken on Friday affirmed that the goal of the rules-based order is not “to keep other nations down.” On the contrary, “the international order [the U.S.] helped build and defend has enabled the rise of some of our fiercest competitors,” Blinken said.

He also said that beyond defending the order, countries together “should improve and build on it.”

For the U.S., this means addressing unfair trading practices and reorienting the system to address new challenges such as those arising from new technologies.

The U.S. is also seeking to partner with non-state and sub-national actors – Kenya and Niger stressed the importance of greater coordination between the UN and regional and sub-regional organizations, in particular the African Union (AU).

But as other countries called for concrete reforms at the Security Council, such as setting a minimum of permanent seats for African countries or restricting permanent members’ use of their veto “in cases of mass atrocity crimes,” the U.S. did not propose any changes.

Nor did Blinken announce any new initiatives at the UN or multilateral level as others did.

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