September 21

By Susan Milligan

President Joe Biden opened his address to the United Nations General Assembly Wednesday by taking a blunt and brutal shot at one of the institution’s most high-profile members: Russia, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council the American president accused of “shamelessly” violating the central principles of the U.N.’s own charter.

The war in Ukraine is “a war chosen by one man,” Biden said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin. “This war is about extinguishing Ukraine’s right to exist as a state, plain and simple, and the Ukrainian people’s right to exist as a people. … That should make your blood run cold.”

Biden had encouraging words for the role of the U.N. as a whole, noting that the international organization had been created in the painful aftermath of World War II and was better equipped today to address global matters such as climate change and hunger.

But repeatedly, the president singled out Russia as a bad actor, saying “the world should see these outrageous acts for what they are” – unwarranted aggression on a sovereign, neighboring nation.

“Let us speak plainly: A permanent member of the United Nations Security Council invaded its neighbor. … Russia has shamelessly violated the core tenets of the United Nations charter,” Biden said.

“If nations can pursue their imperial ambitions without consequences, then we put at risk everything this very institution stands for – everything,” he added.

Biden’s speech came as Putin escalated both his rhetoric and his war effort in the face of successful campaigns by Ukraine to take back some of the territory Russia had occupied.

Putin on Wednesday said he would mobilize as many as 300,000 reservists to bolster his foundering war campaign. He also ominously suggested he might use more dangerous tactics, such as chemical or tactical nuclear weapons, to get his way.

“In the face of a threat to the territorial integrity of our country, to protect Russia and our people, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal,” Putin warned in a national address. “This is not a bluff. I will emphasize this again – with all the means at our disposal,” he added, in what appeared to be a reference to Russia’s nuclear arms.

In his second address as president to the annual meeting in New York City, Biden ticked off several other issues he said the U.N. members needed to work on, including food security, climate change and nuclear nonproliferation. He gave only a passing reference to the global COVID-19 pandemic, mentioning the work his administration had done to get vaccines to people around the world.

He announced a new commitment of $2.9 billion in U.S. funds to address global hunger. The amount builds on the $6.9 billion in U.S. government assistance to address global food insecurity already committed this year, the White House said in a statement.

But even as he discussed matters such as feeding the world, Biden kept coming back to Russia and its seven-month war against its western neighbor.

Biden rejected the idea that food or grain shortages were the result of U.S. economic sanctions against Russia, noting that the sanctions explicitly allow Russia to export food and fertilizer.

“It’s Russia’s war that is worsening food insecurity, and only Russia can end it,” Biden said.

On China, Biden said the United States will “conduct itself as a reasonable leader.”

“We do not seek conflict. We do not seek a cold war,” the president said of the competition between the two countries.

Biden added that the United States “remains committed to our ‘One China’ position” and “continues to oppose unilateral changes in the status quo by either side,” meaning China and Taiwan.

That appeared to be a clarification or amplification of remarks Biden made to CBS’s “60 Minutes” on Sunday, when he said the United States would send forces to defend Taiwan if China launched a military invasion of the self-governing country.

Biden’s remarks Sunday angered China, where the communist government claims the island of Taiwan as its own. The “One China” policy means the United States acknowledges Taiwan as part of China but does not officially recognize China’s assertion of control of the island.

Biden concluded on an idealistic note, calling on the U.N. to join together to solve global problems.

“This institution is at its core an act of dauntless hope,” the president said. “We still believe that by working together we can bend the arc of history.

“We are not passive witnesses to history. We are the authors of history,” Biden said. “We can do this. We have to do this.”