United Nations Security Council

‘America’s Back’ at the Table: Cataloguing the Biden Administration’s First Security Council Presidency

By Alexandra Koch, Tia Sewell
Tuesday, April 27, 2021, 3:20 PM

In the first four months of his presidency, President Biden has promised to reengage with the world. He has vowed that America will repair its alliances, renew its leadership in international institutions, and restore its partnerships—all with the intention of unraveling the Trump-era foreign policy doctrine of “America First” and replacing it with a new mantra: “America’s back.” The slogan has made its rounds in the State Department and has served as the foundation for many statements made by Biden’s most senior foreign policy officials, not to mention the president himself

Last month, Biden’s team had a unique opportunity to showcase the administration’s commitment to a U.S. return to global leadership: The U.S. assumed the presidency of the U.N. Security Council for the month of March. The presidency rotates among the 15 members of the council on a monthly basis. The role itself offers a range of benefits—some procedural, others more ceremonial. The position comes with various authorities, including the opportunity to shape the council’s program of work for the month. 

U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield was confirmed by the Senate on Feb. 26 and had only three days to prepare for the Security Council presidency. Thomas-Greenfield’s agenda covered ground from broader humanitarian issues to specific emerging crises such as the coup in Myanmar, to long-standing conflicts in places such as Yemen and South Sudan. Syria also featured heavily in the U.S. program, as March marked the 10th anniversary of Syria’s ongoing civil war. 

The U.S.’s tenure as Security Council president thus offers an early opportunity to see what kind of flesh the Biden administration means to put on the “America’s Back” rhetorical bones. In this post, we assemble the U.S. statements in the course of its Security Council presidency and take a close look at the statements for change and continuity in both policy and rhetoric.

Responsibilities and Powers of the U.N. Security Council Presidency

The U.N. Security Council presidency provides states with a range of procedural and representative authorities, which include the responsibility to coordinate the body’s agenda, to resolve disputes and to serve as the spokesperson for the council. 

The president is broadly responsible for facilitating members’ conduct within meetings. Specifically, the U.N. Security Council’s Provisional Rules of Procedure explain that the president conducts and presides over the body’s meetings—he or she approves the provisional agenda for each meeting, calls on representatives and rapporteurs to speak, and considers any corrections to the public record that states submit. The rules also dictate that the president can determine the order in which amendments to a motion or draft resolution are considered. And if a council member raises a “point of order” during a meeting (alleging a violation of the rules by another country), the president is to immediately rule on it; if the decision is challenged, the Security Council will vote on the matter. Nine members must vote against the president to overrule his or her decisions in the event of a challenge, while only seven votes are required to sustain them. 

The Provisional Rules of Procedure also stipulate that the president “shall represent [the Security Council] in its capacity as an organ of the United Nations.” This means the president serves as the face of the council, voicing the council’s positions to other U.N. organs and the public. Historically, this authority has enabled the president to express Security Council positions during times of tension or conflict between member states. (This happened recently in August 2020, when the council’s then-president, the Indonesian ambassador, rejected America’s bid to snap back international sanctions on Iran that had been lifted under the 2015 nuclear agreement.) The Security Council president is additionally responsible for drafting letters, decisions and press statements indicating the council’s consensus position on a given issue. And because the president remains a delegate for his or her country on the council, the representative powers give the president a dual role: He or she delivers remarks in the capacity as the Security Council president, representing the unified voice of the council, and, separately, in the capacity as the ambassador of his or her respective member state.

Perhaps most significantly for present purposes, the presidency also in practice enables states to shape the council’s program of work for the month. The U.N. Secretariat outlines the council’s base program of work—a calendar of events derived from information on mandate renewals and reporting cycles—but the president can add events that it considers particularly important to the council’s agenda. The Security Council will usually adopt the draft program on the first working day of the presidency, though members have struggled to agree on a program in the past. (During the U.S. presidency in September 2018, for example, an “unofficial calendar of events” was circulated on Sept. 4 after members failed to agree on the program due to contention over whether to include Nicaragua.)

The Security Council presidency offers each member state the chance to reflect its respective national priorities for a month. The U.S. last assumed the post in December 2019, and U.N. Ambassador Kelly Craft focused the month’s efforts on “the theme of a credible Council—one that sets and meets clear goals and measureable [sic] goals, and that welcomes the assessment of [its] own performance.” Craft, in other words, used the month to focus thematically on logistical, intra-council issues. In contrast, Thomas-Greenfield kicked off her presidency with a specific emphasis on America’s recommitment to “defending democracy and human rights across the board.”

Under Thomas-Greenfield’s presidency, the council produced four resolutions and adopted three presidential statements relating to the issues raised in the U.S. program of work. These two tools are the main ways the Security Council expresses itself. A resolution is a formal expression of the council’s will or opinion, requiring at least nine members to vote affirmatively with no vetos from any of the five permanent members of the council. A presidential statement is published as an official document of the council and expresses explicit consensus among the members but is not put up for a vote within the council. Presidential statements are read aloud by the council president in formal meetings after members agree to the text during informal consultations. Such statements can also be used to take action in instances in which the council can’t reach a passing vote on a resolution and opts to avoid taking an issue to a formal vote. The statements often serve to establish the council’s general position on an issue and warn that further action may follow. Members of the council can disassociate themselves from a presidential statement once it has been read out, though such actions don’t invalidate the statement. 

In this post, we summarize statements made by Thomas-Greenfield in her capacity as Security Council president and in her capacity as U.S. representative. This exercise offers a look at the issues the U.S. chose to highlight from the council’s docket and how it contributed to conversations on those issues.

Overarching Human Rights Themes

Conflict-Induced Starvation

In 2019, 77 million people across 22 countries experienced hunger due to armed conflict—a number that is expected to rise in 2021. As noted in a March 10 fact sheet provided by the U.S. Mission, conflict-driven hunger is expected to surge to record levels in 2021, with the World Food Program projecting an unprecedented need for food aid this year. 

The document states that there are “alarming levels of acute malnutrition, food insecurity, and possible famine taking place in many corners of the globe,” specifically detailing crises in Yemen, Ethiopia’s Tigray region, Syria, Afghanistan, northern Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The fact sheet calls for multilateral collaboration on securing sustained humanitarian funding and accountability for violations of international humanitarian law to ensure that humanitarian workers can safely access populations in need.

The issue of food insecurity exacerbated by ongoing global conflict was central to the U.S.’s presidential agenda at the Security Council—the U.S. distinguished a high-level open debate on conflict-driven hunger as its “signature event” of the month. Signature events have been a common feature across council presidencies for the past two decades and can serve as a mechanism to advance particular priority issues and showcase a country’s specific foreign policy interests and goals.

The U.S. had also drafted a presidential statement on conflict-induced food insecurity and famine ahead of the signature event but ultimately decided not to move forward with the draft after Russia, India and China objected to it.

On March 11, Thomas-Greenfield delivered remarks in her national capacity at the U.S.’s signature event. Secretary-General António Guterres, World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley, and Oxfam International Executive Director Gabriela Bucher also delivered briefings, with specific focus on conflict-induced starvation in Yemen—where more than 70 percent of the population needs food aid and more than 2 million children under the age of five are at risk of starvation—and Ethiopia, where at least 4 million people are likely to require emergency food assistance in 2021 due to fighting in the Tigray region over the past four months.

Thomas-Greenfield began her speech at the event with a personal anecdote: In 1993, during a trip to a refugee camp in northern Uganda, the ambassador saw a two-year-old Sudanese girl die by malnourishment. She described the moment as “the first time [she] truly understood what the words famine and acute malnutrition mean” and stated that she’s never stopped thinking about the child’s suffering, which she asserted “was, and still is, entirely preventable.” 

“After all, in 2021, there are no reasons we can’t get resources to people in acute need. In today’s world, famine is man-made,” she stated. “And I use that gender deliberately.”

Thomas-Greenfield further noted that due to the protracted and increasingly complex nature of conflict, combined with the compounding impacts of COVID-19 and climate change, the outlook for conflict-driven hunger looks even worse now than it did at the last briefing on the issue, which was held six months earlier. 

Gender Inequity and Female Empowerment

March marked Women’s History Month, and the issue of gender equality and women’s empowerment was also core to the U.S.’s Security Council agenda. There have been just 24 female presidents in the Security Council’s 75-year history, making Thomas-Greenfield’s presidency symbolic in and of itself. The U.S. has had more female permanent representatives on the Security Council than any other country, and Thomas-Greenfield is the seventh American woman to lead the council.

Thomas-Greenfield’s remarks on March 8 at the council’s Arria-Formula Meeting on Women, Peace and Security reiterated the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to gender equality, noting that the “United States is back at the UN” and “resolute in [its] support for the Women, Peace and Security agenda.” She pushed for such U.N. commitments to move beyond rhetoric and into genuine action, calling for the institution to “lead by example” through the implementation of reformed staffing models with women as meaningful participants and leaders. 

Thomas-Greenfield also announced the U.S. would be joining the U.N. Group of Friends for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls. The group, whose aim is to support the elimination of gender-based violence through coordinated action and information sharing, held its first meeting on Dec. 7, 2020, and has a series of events planned for 2021. 

Consistent with the priorities outlined by Thomas-Greenfield, Vice President Kamala Harris delivered the U.S. national statement on March 16 at the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women. Harris reiterated the importance of the participation of women in decision-making and the necessary role of women in strengthening democracy.

Emerging Crises

Ethiopia

In November 2020, a conflict broke out in Ethiopia’s Tigray region between the government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front that has since cost thousands of lives, raised allegations about mass atrocities and displaced at least 2 million people.

On March 4, Thomas-Greenfield provided a statement in her ambassadorial capacity that detailed America’s alarm at the deteriorating circumstances in Ethiopia. Along with reiterating the responsibility of the Ethiopian government to prevent further atrocities and human suffering in the region, she urged the government to deescalate the military conflict through a withdrawal of Eritrean forces and Amhara regional forces from the Tigray region. Thomas-Greenfield reaffirmed the U.S.’s commitment to working bilaterally and multilaterally in an effort to end the violence and to hold all perpetrators of abuses and violations accountable and urged others to join in such efforts. As part of this commitment, the U.S. deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team to Ethiopia—a pledge that the U.S. government later followed with an additional $52 million in humanitarian assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Haiti

Political turmoil erupted in Haiti in February as President Jovenel Moise’s claim to another year in office sparked protests from Haitians who accuse Moise of illegally extending his term. Haitian police have since used force to quell the protests, reportedly firing tear gas on demonstrators and journalists.

On March 24, in her capacity as president of the Security Council, Thomas-Greenfield delivered a presidential statement on the ongoing crisis and humanitarian situation in Haiti. This was the first presidential statement on Haiti adopted by the Security Council since October 2017. In assessing the severity of the ongoing instability, Thomas-Greenfield reiterated that the Haitian government is responsible for addressing the underlying drivers of the crisis and the deteriorating security circumstances in the country. The Security Council statement also affirmed the importance of free, fair, transparent and credible legislative elections—both those overdue since October 2019 and in preparation for those upcoming in 2021—and stressed the need to include all members of Haitain society in these political processes. 

The council also emphasized the need for an independent judiciary, strengthening of the rule of law and anti-corruption efforts, adequate support to the national security forces, and immediate action by the Haitian government to end impunity and provide increased accountability for perpetrators of human rights violations and abuse. In order to “underlin[e] the importance of harmonized, coordinated and strengthened efforts” in Haiti, the presidential statement concluded with a call for coordinated international action to ameliorate the humanitarian situation in Haiti. It specifically promoted the continued engagement of neighboring countries and regional organizations, such as the Caribbean Community and the Organization of American States.

Myanmar

On Feb. 1, Myanmar’s military seized power and ousted the country’s democratically elected leadership, sparking a wave of unrest. The Myanmar junta has since engaged in a violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters that continues today; as of this writing, Myanmar’s security forces have killed at least 755 civilians and arrested more than 3,400 protesters throughout the country.

On March 5, the Security Council held a closed briefing on developments in Myanmar—the first council meeting regarding the situation in Myanmar since Feb. 2, the day after the country’s military seized power. On March 10, the Security Council adopted a presidential statement on Myanmar that reflected the council’s condemnation of violence against peaceful protesters, expressed its “continued support for the democratic transition in Myanmar,” and called for the “immediate release of all those detained arbitrarily.” The statement affirms that the council “remains seized of the matter.” The U.S., which drafted the presidential statement, noted in a separate March 10 U.S. press statement that “[i]mportantly, the council also addressed shared concerns about how the violence might worsen the plight of internally displaced persons in Burma and Rohingya refugees.”

Africa

South Sudan

After six years of civil war and catastrophic humanitarian crises in South Sudan, President Salva Kiir and former rebel leader Riek Machar struck a deal to form a coalition government on Feb. 22, 2020. More than 10 agreements and cease-fires had been reached in South Sudan since the conflict broke out in 2013, though the two leaders had never previously managed to sustain any deal.

On March 3, Special Representative of the Secretary-General David Shearer briefed the council on the situation in South Sudan and presented a report from Feb. 23, the latest 90-day update on work done by the U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). In U.S. remarks at the briefing, Thomas-Greenfield focused on three aspects of the situation: concerns about increased violence and hunger, next steps in the peace process, and the role of UNMISS in advancing peace in the country. She noted that while fighting between parties to the peace agreement has subsided, subnational violence has not stopped. She stated that the U.S. is “extremely concerned by indications that political actors are directly involved” in the fighting. Moreover, she highlighted that an estimated 7 million people in South Sudan face severe food insecurity, a crisis that disproportionately impacts women and girls in the country. And she asserted that, worse still, “government officials and other parties continue to impede humanitarian access” to the country’s population—a behavior that “cannot be tolerated by the international community.”

Focusing on the 2018 power-sharing agreement, Thomas-Greenfield called on South Sudan’s leaders to establish a legislative body as outlined in the country’s interim constitution, noting that its absence prevents the country from passing legislation to support lasting peace. She also expressed concern about the treatment of women, condemning gender-based violence and calling on the government to appoint more women to positions of power—the peace agreement stipulates that the transitional government must ensure at least 35 percent representation by women, a condition that has not yet been met. She closed by making the Biden administration’s position “unmistakably clear”: The U.S. sees the situation in South Sudan as “precarious” and believes that UNMISS has a critical role in accelerating the peace process and protecting civilians in the country.

On March 12, the Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2567 (drafted by the U.S.), which renewed the mandate of UNMISS until March 15, 2022. In national remarks on the resolution, the U.S. Mission highlighted its three-year strategic vision outlining the council’s expectations for UNMISS. The U.S. statement also expressed concern that “climate change is a multi-dimensional threat multiplier” that could undermine the council’s peacekeeping efforts in the country.

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

In January 2019, opposition leader Félix Tshisekedi was sworn in as DRC president after a controversial election succeeding the presidency of Joseph Kabila, who had been in power since 2001 amid decades of brutal civil war. The DRC continues to struggle with high levels of militia group violence in the country’s eastern region.

On March 30, the Security Council held a briefing on the situation in the DRC, during which Bintou Keita, who heads the U.N. Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), said that she sensed “a momentum for change” and a chance to help resolve conflict in the country’s eastern provinces during her meetings with DRC leaders President Tshisekedi and the designated prime minister, Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde Kyenge

In U.S. remarks at the briefing, Thomas-Greenfield condemned attacks on Congolese civilians that have been attributed to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an insurgent group that has been linked to the Islamic State and allegedly killed more than 840 Congolese civilians in 2020. The U.S. designated the ADF as a foreign terrorist organization in mid-March. In her statement, Thomas-Greenfield referenced the designation and urged states in the region to develop “strategies to stop the ADF’s external funding and recruitment.” She further acknowledged the death of Italian Ambassador Luca Attanasio, who was killed in an ambush in the DRC with his bodyguard and driver on Feb. 22.

Thomas-Greenfield issued a press statement in her presidential capacity on behalf of the council on March 31, which expressed concern about increasing armed group activity in the eastern provinces of the DRC, specifically by the ADF. Press statements—unlike presidential statements and resolutions—are not considered decisions of the council, though the text still requires agreement from all members. They are often used to send political messages when a quick response is needed or following a briefing on the council’s agenda. In the press statement, council members reiterated support for MONUSCO’s mandate and encouraged the Congolese government to develop “a detailed transition plan for the progressive and phased drawdown of the Mission.”

Syria

Last month marked the 10th anniversary of the Syrian conflict. As of December 2020, more than 500,000 Syrians have been killed or are missing, including more than 100,000 civilians. The Syrian government, which is supported by Russia and Iran, has now regained control of the country’s largest cities—though large swaths of the country are under the control of rebels, jihadist groups and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is allied with a U.S.-led coalition. 

On March 4, Thomas-Greenfield delivered remarks in her national capacity at a briefing on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, during which she condemned “the magnitude of the atrocities committed by the Assad regime” and criticized Russia for defending the regime and undermining international efforts to hold Assad accountable for using chemical weapons. She also announced that the U.S. and 45 state co-sponsors submitted a draft decision to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) that calls on the conference “to take appropriate action when it reconvenes in April to send an unequivocal message to Assad’s regime that the use of chemical weapons has real and serious consequences.”

The Security Council was briefed on Syria a few weeks later, on March 15. Thomas-Greenfield gave remarks in her ambassadorial capacity at the briefing, reflecting on the 10-year anniversary of the conflict and the many horrors that Syrians continue to face. She again directly called on Russia to take action, stating that Moscow must press the Assad regime to take good-faith steps toward peace and to work toward a political settlement. She stated that the international community should “not be fooled by upcoming Syrian presidential elections,” which “will neither be free nor fair.” And she asked the U.N. special envoy for Syria to provide an update on efforts to locate and release detainees, including missing U.S. citizens such as Austin Tice and Majd Kamalmaz.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken also delivered remarks on March 29 during the Security Council’s monthly briefing on the humanitarian situation in Syria. He highlighted the Assad regime’s March 21 attack on the Al-Atareb Surgical Hospital in western Aleppo, which reportedly killed seven people, including two children. He further criticized the Security Council for allowing the closings of two border crossings that had been used in the past to deliver aid to more than 5 million Syrians. Blinken stated that the border closings are “directly resulting in the increased suffering of the Syrian people” and urged the council to reauthorize both border crossings that have been closed and to reauthorize the one crossing that remains open in order to give the international community more pathways to deliver food and medicine to Syrian civilians.

Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region

Yemen

In 2015, civil war broke out between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels, a conflict that has since spiraled into what is widely considered to be the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Over the past six years, more than 4 million civilians have been displaced from their homes, and the country is on the brink of economic collapse. The U.N. estimates that more than 16 million Yemenis will face hunger this year, with nearly 50,000 already starving to death.

On March 16, Thomas-Greenfield delivered national remarks at a Security Council briefing on Yemen, during which she noted that “the United States is stepping up our diplomacy to end the war” and has sent a special envoy to meet with leaders in Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Jordan. She further called on “all parties” to stop fighting and work toward a cease-fire—though the speech specifically called out Houthi offensives with no explicit reference to actions by Saudi Arabia. She stated that “there can be no ceasefire and no peace in Yemen if the Houthis continue their daily attacks against the Yemeni people, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region.” Thomas-Greenfield closed with a plea for increased humanitarian funding and assistance from “regional donors in particular.”

Two days later, the Security Council president issued a press statement in which the council “condemned the escalation in Marib” as well as “the cross-border attacks against Saudi Arabia,” and raised concerns about other military developments in Yemen. The statement calls for a global cease-fire and inclusive political settlement—specifically citing the meaningful inclusion of women and youth. And it calls for “an immediate end to the Houthi escalation in Marib”—marking the first instance in which the council has released a press statement on this issue.

Afghanistan

The U.S. signed a peace agreement with the Taliban in 2020, committing Washington to a full withdrawal of coalition troops by May 1, 2021, but Biden announced on April 13 that the U.S. will withdraw all U.S. forces by Sept. 11. The Afghan government began its own negotiations with the Taliban on Sept. 12 of last year, though the Taliban have since reportedly escalated their attacks on pro-government forces and civilians, casting doubt on the prospects for a successful intra-Afghan peace resolution.

In her capacity as Security Council president, Thomas-Greenfield released a press statement of alarm on March 12 concerning the targeted attacks against civilians in Afghanistan and the threat of terrorism in the region. The council directly condemned the attacks and called for the immediate cessation of all violence, noting such deliberate attacks may constitute war crimes under international humanitarian law. In this statement, Thomas-Greenfield asserted on behalf of the council that all parties to a conflict are bound by international humanitarian law. The council further reaffirmed the need for an inclusive political settlement as well as “a comprehensive and inclusive Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process that aims at a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire” to achieve a sustainable peace in Afghanistan.

The U.S. delivered its own national statements on the need to accelerate the peace process in Afghanistan on March 23 during a Security Council open debate on Afghanistan. Thomas-Greenfield outlined America’s three necessary components to achieving peace in Afghanistan: “stopping attacks against innocent civilians, supporting women and girls, and addressing Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis.” Her remarks reiterated the U.S.’s condemnation of the ongoing violence and the unwavering commitment of American efforts to advocate for the meaningful participation of Afghan women in the peace process. She asserted that “[a]ny agreement must preserve their gains if Afghanistan wants to ensure the international community’s continued political and financial support. We will not give an inch on this point.” Lastly, Thomas-Greenfield noted the dire need to address Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis, to which the U.S. has contributed $276 million in humanitarian assistance over the past year. 

Just one day before on March 22, the United States released a joint statement with 34 other state members of the Group of Friends of Afghanistan (and/or the Group of Friends of Women in Afghanistan) to condemn the violence and targeted killings committed by the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, as well as other armed groups and transnational terrorist groups and urgently call for a comprehensive cease-fire consistent with UN Security Council Resolutions 2532 and 2565

Israel/Palestine

The Biden administration’s approach within the Security Council to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict reflects a sharp departure from the prior administration’s general approach, which was marked by serious contention between the White House and Palestinian leadership: Among other disputes, the Trump administration blocked nearly all aid to Palestine after severing ties with the Palestinian Authority in 2018. 

In the single U.S. statement by Thomas-Greenfield regarding the Israeli-Palestinian situation in the Middle East during the month of March, she articulated the administration's stance toward the Middle East peace process and confirmed the U.S.’s ongoing commitment to achieving a “long-sought peace in the Middle East.” Namely, the ambassador’s remarks reaffirmed America’s ongoing support for Israel and the U.S.’s recommitment to a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, and detailed renewed U.S. efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people—particularly in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. She also warned that “while not all criticism of Israel is illegitimate ... too often, that criticism veers into anti-Semitism,” and noted the “disturbing resurgence of all kinds of prejudice and hate around the worldincluding anti-Semitism.” Thomas-Greenfield called for efforts by both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority to take steps toward a two-state solution, including the cessation of all acts of violence, and reasserted America’s commitment to active consultations with both sides to achieve a sustainable peace. She also noted that beyond the conflict at hand, “there are other issues in the region that are threats to international peace and security that deserve more of this Council’s attention.”

The March 25 statement further announced the restoration of U.S. assistance programs under Biden to support economic development and humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people, including a $15 million American commitment to providing humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable populations in the West Bank and Gaza to address the coronavirus pandemic and food insecurity.

Since the $15 million commitment to the Palestinian people in March, the State Department has announced plans to restart U.S. aid programs for the region, including $75 million in economic and development assistance in the West Bank and Gaza, $10 million for peacebuilding programs and $150 million in humanitarian assistance.

Libya

Following the toppling of the Gaddafi dictatorship in 2011, the past decade in Libya has been defined by an ongoing struggle for political control, rampant militia presence, and the development of a proxy war with a wide range of foreign involvement battling for competing interests in the region. In 2016, the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord was installed in Tripoli, and last month, Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh took over as Libya’s prime minister.

In her capacity as Security Council president, Thomas-Greenfield delivered a statement on Libya on March 12 outlining the obligations of current Libyan authorities and actors, the new interim government, the various parties to the 2020 cease-fire agreement, and all member states. She spoke in favor of a smooth transition to the new interim government and called on the interim government to prepare for free and fair elections in December 2021 with the necessary inclusion of women. She also stated that the government must “improve the delivery of services to the Libyan people, launch a comprehensive national reconciliation process, adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians, and prioritize full implementation of the 23 October 2020 Ceasefire Agreement.” 

The council additionally called on all member states to fully comply with the 2011 U.N. arms embargo and stated that all parties must provide support for the full implementation of the cease-fire agreement. The council further reaffirmed its “strong commitment to the UN-facilitated Libyan-led and Libyan-owned political process and to the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national unity of Libya.” 

Two weeks later, Thomas-Greenfield delivered a statement on Libya in her capacity as U.S. envoy. Beyond commending the ongoing political progress and the supporting efforts of the U.N. Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), Thomas-Greenfield focused her March 24 remarks in her capacity as U.S. representative to the United Nations on unity, transparency, and free and fair elections as “the three main steps for permanent peace in Libya.” She called on the interim government to implement a unified budget to support the needs of the Libyan people; to pursue anti-corruption efforts including removing corrupted militias, making institutions apolitical, and creating anti-corruption mechanisms; and, most importantly, to ensure the success of free and fair elections in December, in which international support will be crucial. 

These three steps were underpinned by Thomas-Greenfield’s call for complete adherence to the October 2020 Libyan cease-fire agreement, including the immediate cessation of all military intervention from external actors and any military support in violation of the U.N. arms embargo. She further noted the need to hold perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses accountable and to ensure the provision of humanitarian aid to those in need. Thomas-Greenfield’s remarks emphasized the importance of centering the Libyan voice in these efforts, closing with the sentiment that “the people of Libya are ready to take responsibility and move their country forward. Libyan decisions have driven this process.” 

Sudan

Sudan has reached a pivotal post-conflict moment with the momentous signing of the Juba Peace Agreement in October 2020 between the civilian-led transitional government and rebel groups in the country. On June 3, the U.N. Integrated Transition Assistance in Sudan (UNITAMS) was established to replace the existing U.N. Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) in order to support the Sudanese democratic transition.

In Thomas-Greenfield’s March 9 remarks on behalf of the U.S. on the situation in Sudan, she focused on the success of the UNITAMS transition, reiterated the importance of centering civil society voices, and stressed the need for the Sudanese to comply with the Juba Peace Agreement in a timely fashion. According to Thomas-Greenfield, such efforts must include support for the rule of law and specific transitional justice mechanisms such as the formation of an inclusive Transitional Legislative Council, the establishment of a Special Court for Darfur Crimes, and the development of necessary security arrangements. 

Thomas-Greenfield also expressed U.S. concern for the safety of Sudanese civilians in light of violence in West Darfur and the looting of the former UNAMID team site. And she noted that further Ethiopia-Sudan tensions surrounding their shared border remain a concern for Sudan’s national stability. 

Thomas-Greenfield ended the statement on a note of American solidarity, emphasizing the U.S.’s desire to work with and support partners in the region and reiterating America’s intent “to help create the peaceful, prosperous future they deserve” in Sudan. 

Other Remarks

While the ambassador’s statements centered around the pressing crises and conflicts noted above, several other statements and actions warrant mention in this run-down. In Somalia, the council unanimously passed Resolution 2568, reauthorizing the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) until Dec. 31 while maintaining the nearly 20,000 uniformed personnel level. This resolution comes before the planned handover of responsibilities to Somali security forces later in the year. Notably, the U.S. did not make any national remarks on the situation in Somalia, though the U.S. released a brief press element in its capacity as Security Council  president. 

In addition, a number of smaller statements were made over the course of the month. These include a press statement issued by the Security Council president on the March 28 terrorist attack in Makassar, Indonesia; U.S. remarks at a briefing on improvised explosive devices and peacekeeping; and U.S. remarks at a Security Council meeting on religion, belief and conflict. Thomas-Greenfield also delivered a notable statement as ambassador to the U.S. at a briefing on the council’s partnership with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, where she reaffirmed Biden’s commitment to trans-Atlantic cooperation and specifically criticized Russia’s occupation of Crimea and aggression in Eastern Ukraine. The U.S. made two other remarks on Crimea—one on March 12 by Thomas-Greenfield in her national capacity and the other on March 17 by Deputy Counselor for Political Affairs Trina Saha—in which the U.S. condemned Russia’s purported annexation “in the strongest possible terms” and maintained that Russia’s February 2014 invasion of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula violated international law.

Wrapping Up the Presidency

Though not outlined explicitly in the U.S.’s program of work as detailed by Thomas-Greenfield’s remarks, it is worth noting that the U.S. drafted two of the four resolutions that the council adopted during the March presidency: The U.S. submitted the draft for Resolution 2569 on non-proliferation and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, in addition to Resolution 2567 on the situation in South Sudan. (France wrote Resolution 2566 on the situation in the Central African Republic, and the U.K./Northern Ireland drafted Resolution 2568 on Somalia.) In total, the council approved four resolutions, adopted three presidential statements and released four separate statements to the press during the U.S. presidency. As noted earlier, the U.S. had drafted an additional presidential statement on conflict-induced hunger, though it abandoned the effort after Russia, China and India objected.

On March 31, Thomas-Greenfield addressed reporters in a final briefing to conclude the month, during which she summarized the U.S.’s program of work and took questions. One journalist, noting that Biden “has had some pretty harsh words about both Russia and China,” asked Thomas-Greenfield specifically about her “relations with both the Russian and the Chinese ambassadors this month,” and whether she thought there was room for cooperation on critical issues before the council with these adversaries. The ambassador stated that there are “red lines”—such as the “genocide that is happening against the Uyghurs” in China and Russia’s involvement in Syria—where the U.S. has been upfront about its concerns. But there are also, she noted, areas of “common ground,” including Myanmar and cooperation with Beijing on climate change.

“As the top U.S. diplomat in New York,” she stated, “it is my responsibility to find common ground so that we can achieve common goals, but not to give either country a pass when they are breaking human rights values or pushing in directions that we find unacceptable.”

It’s a message that echoed the ambassador’s prepared remarks:

This March, we confronted our fair share of challenges. In many areas, we have a great deal more to do, from stopping brutal regimes from violently suppressing innocent people to feeding and providing aid to those who suffer from man-made hunger.

But we also saw how, when we come together, we have the potential to do great good. It’s that goal, and it is that promise, that keeps us coming back to the table. Because I believe, with all my heart, that when we come together, we can create more peace, more security, and more prosperity for us all. We look forward to doing that the next month and in the days and months and years to come.