Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed world leaders and foreign ministers at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York on Wednesday, making a compelling case for the expansion of the UN Security Council and reforming the right of veto held by its permanent members.
Speaking passionately during his first in-person appearance at the iconic horseshoe table within the Security Council chamber, President Zelenskyy drew attention to the significant issue of veto power misuse, particularly by Russia.
In a room filled to capacity with global dignitaries attending the annual UN General Assembly debate, Zelenskyy highlighted the pressing matter of upholding the UN Charter through effective multilateralism in the context of Ukraine’s ongoing conflict, which has now entered its 20th month.
The UN Charter, considered the bedrock of international relations, enshrines fundamental principles such as the sovereign equality of nations and the prohibition of the use of force in international affairs.
Zelenskyy asserted, “The UN currently finds itself paralyzed when it comes to addressing acts of aggression. Humankind no longer pins its hopes on the UN when it comes to the defense of the sovereign borders of nations.”
Despite his concerns, President Zelenskyy expressed confidence that the UN Charter could still be a potent instrument for global peace and security. However, he emphasized that the long-standing debates and projects on UN reform needed to materialize into a concrete process. Zelenskyy stressed that the focus should not only be on representation within the Security Council but, more crucially, on the reform of the right of veto.
“The veto power should not serve those driven by hatred and a thirst for war. The General Assembly, comprising all UN Member States, should be empowered to override the veto,” President Zelenskyy passionately urged.
He welcomed proposals to expand the Security Council to better reflect contemporary global realities. Currently, the Council comprises fifteen countries, with five permanent members—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—holding the privilege of vetoing any resolution or decision, while ten non-permanent members are elected for two-year terms.
Zelenskyy lamented the lack of permanent representation for billions of people, considering it unjust. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres echoed his sentiments, reaffirming the organization’s unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a blatant violation of the UN Charter and international law, exacerbates global tensions and divisions. It threatens regional stability, escalates the nuclear threat, and deepens fault lines in our multipolar world,” Guterres warned.
Guterres underscored the importance of cooperation, compromise, and multilateral solutions, emphasizing their critical role in addressing challenges such as the climate crisis, inequality, and disruptive technologies.
The UN Secretary-General also cited the General Assembly’s overwhelming approval of resolutions demanding Russia’s withdrawal from Ukraine and rejecting its attempts to annex Ukrainian territory. He painted a grim picture of the conflict’s toll, including relentless attacks on civilians and infrastructure, tens of thousands of casualties, human rights violations, and millions in need of aid and protection.
“This war inflicts boundless suffering and risks dangerous escalation. Dialogue, diplomacy, and a just peace are the only viable alternatives,” Guterres concluded.
The meeting, presided over by Albanian Foreign Minister Edi Rama, holder of the rotating Council presidency for the month, was not without controversy. Russia’s Ambassador to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, questioned the sequence of speakers and the inclusion of North Macedonian Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani, chair of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
President Zelenskyy’s address, however, succeeded in placing the urgent need for UN Security Council reform on the global stage, rekindling the debate over the balance of power within the world’s preeminent international organization.