Not for the first time Nikki Haley as the US’s UN ambassador has acted in a way which furthers her own political interests within the US as opposed to those of the Trump administration of which she is a part.
I say this because of her extremely ill-advised conduct both in the UN Security Council session on Monday and during the extraordinary UN General Assembly session today.
Any well-informed diplomat should have known prior to the UN Security Council and General Assembly sessions that the great majority of UN Member States would oppose US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Any well-informed diplomat would have so advised the President and would also have advised the President that any vote against the US in the UN General Assembly would be both overwhelming and symbolic.
To be clear, the resolution the UN General Assembly has just voted on about Jerusalem is in theory legally binding on all UN Member States including the US, and is part of international law just as UN Security Council resolution would be.
This is because the UN General Assembly convened today under the extraordinary procedure created by UN General Assembly Resolution 377 (V) (A) on 3rd November 1950.
This procedure – known as “Uniting for Peace” – can be invoked by the UN General Assembly whenever the UN Security Council is unable to reach a consensus on any issue which affects peace.
Here is what Professor Christian Tomuschal of Humboldt University Berlin has to say about it
The most important part of resolution 377 A (V) is section A which states that where the Security Council, because of lack of unanimity of the permanent members, fails to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, the General Assembly shall seize itself of the matter. Procedural and substantive steps are suggested. First of all, if the Assembly is not in session, it may meet in emergency special session at the request of the Security Council or of a majority of its own members. Second, such a session shall be convened with a view to making appropriate recommendations for “collective measures…including the use of armed force when necessary”.
However though a resolution of the UN General Assembly made in accordance with the “Uniting for Peace” procedure is legally binding on UN Member States, there is no mechanism to enforce it, as there is when the UN Security Council votes for a resolution made under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.
Here is what Professor Tomuschal has to say about that
Although the General Assembly did not attempt to arrogate to itself powers akin to those rooted in Chapter VII of the Charter, it stands to reason that originally resolution 377 A (V) was hardly reconcilable with the Charter. Articles 11 and 12 establish unequivocally the primacy of the Security Council with regard to all matters relating to international peace and security. As far as procedure is concerned, Article 12, paragraph 1, stipulates that while the Council is exercising its function in respect of any dispute or situation, “the General Assembly shall not make any recommendation with regard to that dispute or situation”. On the other hand, where “action” seems to be necessary, the General Assembly is enjoined to refer the matter to the Council (Article 11, paragraph 2). This configuration, however, was hard to uphold. Politically, it is definitely quite unwise to keep the General Assembly on the sidelines when a major conflict erupts. Almost as a logical consequence, Article 11, paragraph 2, and Article 12, paragraph 1, have suffered an erosion process of which resolution 377 A (V) constitutes only one element among many others. In its Advisory Opinion on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the ICJ has formally confirmed that the prohibition of simultaneous action has been superseded by practice (I.C.J. Reports 2004, p. 136, at paras. 27-28).
In plain English, a resolution of the General Assembly under the “”Uniting for Peace” procedure is unenforceable except through the UN Security Council and is recognised by international law as such and is therefore ultimately essentially symbolic.
Given that this is so Nikki Haley’s correct response was to advise the President (1) that the General Assembly was certain to vote for the resolution; (2) that the vote would be purely symbolic; and (3) that the US should therefore be relaxed about it.
Given that situation the correct thing to do was to do everything possible to lower the temperature in advance of the General Assembly session today so as to play down the significance of the vote and limit the diplomatic damage.
Instead Nikki Haley did the diametric opposite.
Instead of playing down the significance of what was happening she ramped it up by hurling abuse and threats at the other UN Member States first at the UN Security Council on Monday and then before and during the UN General Assembly session today.
Here is how the UN’s media centre reports her comments at the UN Security Council session on Monday
NIKKI R. HALEY (United States), speaking after the vote, explained that she had cast the veto in defence of her country’s role in the peace process. The President of the United States had taken care not to prejudge final status negotiations, including boundaries in Jerusalem, a position that was in line with previous Council resolutions, she said. He also supported the status quo on holy sites and the two‑State solution. Emphasizing that the United States had not harmed the peace process, she said it had the courage to recognize a fundamental reality, and the sovereign right to decide where to put its embassy. Describing the accusation that her country was setting the peace process back as scandalous, she said that a peace process that could be damaged simply by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was not a peace process. Today, the Council had witnessed an insult that would not be forgotten, she said, adding that the United Nations was doing more harm than good for the cause of peace. For those reasons, and in the best interests of both peoples firmly in mind, the United States had voted “no”, she said.
(bold italics added)
Talking wildly of member states of the UN Security Council – including allies of the US such as Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Egypt and Ukraine – “insulting” the US, and threatening them that their “insult” would “not be forgotten” merely because they voted in favour of a resolution that is in accord with all previous resolutions of the UN General Assembly and of the UN Security Council on the subject of Jerusalem was preposterous and needlessly rude and threatening.
Haley then capped this disastrous statement by warning UN Member States that she was making a list of all those Members States who dared to vote for the resolution in the General Assembly today, and that she would report about it to the President.
At one point during the session today she even appeared to hint that the US might actually consider withdrawing from the UN entirely.
The latter threat is of course an empty bluff, but it will have annoyed many UN Member States who voted for the resolution but who otherwise consider themselves loyal allies of the US, but who also do not care to be publicly threatened in this way or to see the United Nations – the key body at the heart of the whole system of international relations and of international law – treated in this disrespectful way.
The contrast with the calm way Russia invariably responds to the multiple votes the Western powers engineer against it in the UN Security Council is instructive.
Despite the fact that Russia is normally in a minority in the UN Security Council on contentious issues, its care in explaining its now frequent use of its veto explains why even at the height of the crises in Ukraine and Aleppo it managed to avoid finding itself at the wrong end of a General Assembly vote under the “Uniting for Peace” procedure of the sort the US lost today.
Unfortunately Haley’s petulant behaviour appears to have rubbed off on the President himself, who also threatened to cut off financial aid to those UN Member States who voted for the resolution today.
The problem with Nikki Haley as I have discussed previously is that she is not really a diplomat at all. Instead she is a politician with her eye very much on the White House.
The result is that she conducts herself both in the Security Council and in the General Assembly not as a diplomat should do but as a politician who is permanently on campaign, striking rhetorical poses which might impress some voters in the US but which do nothing good for the US’s international position.
Unfortunately with Rex Tillerson the US’s highly competent Secretary of State coming under growing pressure, there does not seem to be anyone in Washington who has either the wish or the ability to rein her in.
The result is that we are likely to see more performances of this sort in future.