At a press conference in Kiev with the Ukrainian Prime Minister, Vice President Biden stated that the world’s rejection of Russia’s actions in Crimea was evident in last month’s “overwhelming vote” by the UN General Assembly. That’s the terminology the White House has obviously settled on. For example, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said back in March: “I would point you to the overwhelming vote in the United Nations General Assembly.” In accord, “overwhelming” is the word that major media outlets have used to describe the vote ever since (for example, LA Times, New York Times, TIME).
But was it?
How does the vote on Ukraine compare to past votes by the UN General Assembly in response to foreign military interventions? And how strong was the wording of the Ukraine resolution compared to these other cases? Specifically, we need to know two things: (1) the vote count; and (2) the strength of the resolution’s text. Just imagine, for example, if the past GA resolutions were far tougher in their stance and yet garnered even greater international support than a watered down Ukraine resolution.
Before diving into such comparisons, I should note that I strongly favor using international institutions to increase the costs of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. I have proposed using the International Criminal Court for such purposes in earlier posts at Just Security (here and here). And I should add that the UN Security Council vote on Crimea was clearly overwhelming.
But the General Assembly vote deserves closer scrutiny.
Indeed, rather than a tendentious reading of it to serve political objectives, we need sober reflection on how much political support the resolution truly garnered. That kind of inquiry can help us assess how much political room Moscow really thinks it has to maneuver on the international stage, and how much support the US can count on in its efforts to pressure Russia.… continue »