How can we best understand the ambiguous relationship between the United States and Russia in the United Nations today? On the one hand, their debates and disagreements are heated, and the two sides' definitions of their own national interests are often incompatible. Yet meetings of the UN Security Council (UNSC) are held almost daily, the meetings often focus on very sensitive issues, and the use of the veto by either country remains rare. This contrasts markedly with how the UNSC operated during the Cold War, when it often met less than once a month because no one could think of a reason to convene a meeting, and when vetoes by both the US and USSR were common.
It is important to understand the complexity of this relationship in order to make predictions about how US-Russian relations are likely to evolve in the future. I argue that the reason why both Russia and the US continue to turn to the UNSC is not that they necessarily seek multilateral resolutions to difficult international security issues. Such a quest would be quixotic, given the complexity of the world situation today and the differences in the two countries' national interests. Instead their major goal is to keep the lines of communication between them open, and to avoid driving either side into unilateralist diplomatic isolation. […]