Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at the National Defense University President’s Lecture Series

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
April 6, 2022


It’s an honor to be speaking with you all today. You represent some of the best and brightest of foreign policy leadership. And you are a diverse group – hailing from 88 countries. And I love that. Certainly, there’s so much to learn in the classroom – but there’s also so much to learn from each other in more informal settings. That’s one of the favorite parts of my job here at the United Nations, the ability to form relationships and learn from my colleagues from all over the world. It’s really invaluable. And I encourage you to take advantage of this unique opportunity.

I also know we have several Ukrainian officers joining us today. So let me just say – I have a deep admiration for the courage and the grit that all Ukrainians have shown. In the face of President Putin’s unjustified, unprovoked invasion – in the face of his attack on your democracy and sovereignty – your country has banded together and fought back. The United States stands 100% behind you. And as we continue to speak out against this brutal invasion, we are backing up our words with concrete actions.

In the year before the invasion, America sent 650 million dollars in weapons to Ukraine – and since the beginning of this conflict, we have committed to another 1.35 billion dollars. The United States also recently announced that we are prepared to provide more than one billion dollars in new funding toward humanitarian assistance for those affected by Russia’s war in Ukraine and its severe impacts around the world. We are also welcoming up to 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing Russia’s aggression. And in partnership with our allies, we have imposed crushing sanctions on the Russian economy.

This past weekend, I traveled to Moldova and Romania, two countries that – together – have graciously welcomed nearly one million refugees fleeing violence in Ukraine. I was there to listen and learn. At a refugee center in Chisinau, I met a young woman whose six-year-old brother has autism and struggles with cancer. Their single mother fled to save their lives, but Russia’s war has interrupted the care he desperately needs. And what so affected me by that young woman’s statement? She described her mother as a hero for saving her young brother and saving her.

Another woman I met used to love to travel – but never expected her next trip would be to flee for her life. When I asked her where she was from, she started to say – and then with tears she stopped and said, “I’m sorry. I don’t know how to say it. Whether I live in Kyiv, or whether I used to live in Kyiv.” She was realizing, in that moment, just how dramatically her life had changed because of this senseless war.

Everywhere I went, I heard heartbreaking stories like these. But I also heard from people determined to carry on and return home to a peaceful Ukraine when it was safe. They have not allowed Russia’s dark invasion to extinguish their hope and turn out their light.

We all have an obligation to stand with the Ukrainian people in their time of need. And during my trip, I announced a new U.S. commitment – an additional 50 million dollars to help continue this humanitarian work in the region. There are so many humanitarian organizations doing lifesaving work – from World Central Kitchen to Caritas. And as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, it meant a great deal to me to meet with folks from UN missions like the World Food Program and the UN Refugee Agency.

While overseas, I also saw the horrific images coming out of Bucha, Ukraine. Images of lifeless bodies lying in the streets, summarily executed, their hands tied behind their backs. As Secretary Blinken said, what we saw were not the random acts of a rogue unit. It’s a deliberate campaign to kill, to torture, to rape, to commit atrocities. And the Russians would have us believe that this was all staged. And it fits into the broader context of what we’ve seen from Russia in this war. Based on the currently available information, the United States has assessed that members of Russian forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine.

Given the mountain of growing evidence, Russia clearly has no respect for human rights. And that’s why, on Monday, I announced that the U.S., in coordination with Ukraine and other UN Member States, will seek Russia’s suspension from the UN Human Rights Council. We cannot let a Member State that is subverting every principle we hold dear continue to participate in the Human Rights Council. The UN must be central to our efforts in holding Russia accountable and helping those fleeing this senseless violence.

All of this brings me to what I’d like to focus my remarks on today: the role of the UN in 21st century foreign policy.

I’d like to share what I’ve learned in my tenure at an institution that – as stated in its Charter – was created to maintain international peace and security. To save, in the Charter’s words, succeeding generations from the scourge of war. Let me be frank: Many right now are openly questioning whether the UN can live up to its Charter. President Zelesnkyy himself brought these questions up yesterday in our Security Council meeting. And there are ongoing debates on whether multilateralism still has a role to play in this age of great power competition.

And these are fair questions. After all, the United Nations was unable to prevent Russia’s devastating invasion of Ukraine. We still see North Korea threatening global peace by pushing weapons of mass destruction and missiles programs. And, tragically, two billion people around the world currently live under active conflicts.

Yesterday, at the UN Security Council, I made clear that this moment requires all responsible world powers to show backbone. To stand-up on the right side of history. Because, as President Zelenskyy and the UN Secretary General have said, this war is threatening the Security Council’s very charge. And they are right. It’s why I’ve called for every UN Member State to stand united with Ukraine, both in their words and their actions.

But it won’t surprise you that despite all of these grave challenges – and the genuine need for UN reforms – I still believe that the work of the UN is absolutely vital, that multilateralism is essential to international peace and security. This moment calls for more multilateral engagement, not less. Because in the leadup to Russia’s invasion, the UN was an indispensable forum to share information with the world.

The U.S. worked to declassify the intelligence we were seeing and warn others about Russia’s war plans. And we called them out in the Security Council, time and time again. And shared detailed assessments with our colleagues, the press, the public – about Russia’s massive military buildup along Ukraine’s border. As I said at the Security Council back in January, “If Russia further invades Ukraine, none of us will be able to say we didn’t see it coming.” I firmly believe that this work is a big part of why we’ve seen such a robust, unified response from nearly every single UN Member since the war started.

Over the past month, the U.S. and our allies and partners have used the Security Council and General Assembly to shine a spotlight on the horrors Putin’s war of choice has created. We’ve called out Russia for inflicting hunger, displacement, and trauma on the people of Ukraine. We’ve called them out for displacing roughly ten million people, four million of whom had to leave Ukraine entirely. And most of them women, children, and elderly. And we’ve called them out for shellings that have hit residential buildings, schools, and even a large theater marked in Russian with the word “children” in letters large enough to be visible from the air.

We’re also seeing countries big and small, from every region of the world, join us in condemning Russia’s atrocious actions. I was particularly struck by the remarks of the Permanent Representative from Kenya, who spoke at the Security Council to denounce Russia’s attempts to claim areas of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. He highlighted the parallels between Putin’s flagrant trampling of sovereignty and Kenya’s colonial legacy, arguing that “our recovery from the embers of dead empires” must not “plunge us back into new forms of domination and oppression.” The UN gave him a powerful platform, and his views were shared around the world.

Beyond being a place to shine a light on Russia’s hostiles, the UN has also been a central place for coordination. We have 193 Member States in one city, in one building. And these close corridors breed close cooperation. It helps that I can meet with the Ukrainian Representative on the sidelines of a Security Council meeting – or speak with a group of African leaders, from Africa, at a moment’s notice. And that cooperation has had real impact. Last month, we were able to rally 141 Member States to vote to condemn Russia’s invasion. Only four countries – four – joined Russia to vote against this resolution – North Korea, Belarus, Syria and Eritrea. Not great company.

Through the UN, we also are pursuing accountability. We’re working to investigate all the horrible actions taken by Russian forces. These will be brought to justice, and there will be justice. The bottom line is this: Russia finds itself isolated at the UN and on the world stage. And that is only possible because of the power of multilateralism.

The work of the UN extends into so many other crucial realms, too. And while we have profound disagreements with some countries – we also engage with them on areas of mutual agreement. Because that’s what diplomacy is all about. Just last week, the Security Council passed a resolution on a shared framework for how UN Peacekeeping Forces can continue to counter al-Shabaab – and transition the responsibility for security to the Somali security forces. Also last week, every single member of the Security Council stood together to condemn the Taliban’s decision to roll back educational rights for women and girls. We are also deeply engaged in work to address pandemics like COVID-19, tackle the climate crisis, and spearhead other efforts that can only be solved through multilateral engagement. These are global issues that, like so many others, demand global cooperation.

My team – and other Missions – are also constantly engaged in diplomacy to advance human rights, address humanitarian crises, and end prolonged conflict through the United Nations. That’s the message that I want to leave you with today. As foreign policy leaders – whether you’re involved in diplomacy or foreign development or national security or something else – the UN is no doubt going to touch the issues you work on every single day. And so, I encourage you to stay engaged with the UN. To push us to do more. And to believe, believe strongly, in the power of multilateralism to further peace and security around the globe. Nothing could be more important than saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war. And so we have to use every tool – even if they are not perfect – every tool that we have at our disposal.

It’s really been an honor to play a role in this critical work on behalf of the United States. But I would also say on behalf of the world. And I look forward to continuing this conversation with Ambassador Heidt and all of you.

Thank you very much.