Mad Libs: The United Nations

As the U.N. General Assembly prepares to meet next month, FP asked experts and insiders what role the body -- lately taking heat for its response to crises in Syria and Iran -- should play on the world stage today.



The transmission of cholera by peacekeepers in Haiti and the failure to prevent and seriously punish sex crimes of peacekeepers. –Ted Piccone • Ignoring early signs of the Rwandan genocide. Martha Finnemore • Not doing more to address the conflicts in the DRC and Sudan and the sexual violence committed by U.N. peacekeepers. –Margaret Karns • Appeasing the North Korean regime through the UNDP and its on-the-ground country team. –Mark Lagon • The failure to put more energy toward Afghanistan and balance the U.S.’s attention on Iraq. –Michael Barnett • Becoming a party to the U.S. global war on terror, and thus embroiled in the divisive wars in Afghanistan and especially in Iraq. –Rama Mani • Not responding to the Oil for Food scandal until outside investigators had been needed to reveal the whole sorry mess. –M.J. Peterson • The 2003 election of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi’s Libyan regime to head the U.N. Human Rights Commission. –Hillel Neuer • The Libyan operation as the first “test” of R2P. The fruit of that miscalculation is being reaped in Syria now. –Katie Laatikainen • To continue to treat Russia like a first-rate power and let it repeatedly block action in the Security Council on cases like Syria. –Richard Gowan • A lack of an agreement binding all states within the framework convention on climate change. –Abdullah Alsaidi Not to aggressively pursue and implement the 21st-century reform agenda proposed by former Secretary General Kofi Annan. –Karl Inderfurth


The narrow nationalism of member states. –David Forsythe • A breakdown in relations among the permanent members of the Security Council. –Jennifer Welsh • A failure to evolve. The U.N. ultimately needs to expand the number of permanent members on the Security Council, but it is a tricky task. –John Norris • Its own risk-averse culture. –Adam Smith • Notorious human rights abusers sitting on the Security Council or the Human Rights Council. –Philippe Bolopion • Veto-wielding Russia and China undermining its efficacy. –Mark Lagon • The failure of the U.S. and Russia to agree about action on many crises. –Stanley Meisler • It is an increasingly ineffective uber-bureaucracy that stymies the best and brightest international civil servants. –Melissa Labonte • That its budget continues to decline in real terms due to short-sightedness and lack of commitment from the P5, just as the need for its actions in various peace and security issues expands as never before. –George Lopez The U.S. refusal in a budget crisis to pay its fair share. –Thomas Pickering • Isolationists in the United States who want to walk away from the U.N. –Ted Piccone • Becoming increasingly irrelevant and being bypassed by unilateral or at least extra-U.N. measures. –Nico Schrijver • The rise of the G-20 as an alternate forum for international politics. –Lise Morjé Howard • A conflict in Asia, possibly between China and India, that the U.N. would be powerless to prevent or halt, revealing its irrelevance in the Asian Century. –Richard Gowan • Gaping philosophical differences among states as to how its noble but vague objectives should be achieved. –Michael J. Glennon • The culture of moral indifference. People go along to get along. –Hillel Neuer


It is as able as member states allow it to be. –Kantathi Suphamongkhon • It is a prisoner of its member states. It is worth quoting the late Richard Holbrooke, who argued that blaming the United Nations for lousy performances was like blaming the hapless New York Knicks on Madison Square Garden. –Thomas G. Weiss • That there is no such thing as “the U.N.” The U.N. is, among other things, a Secretariat, a General Assembly, a Security Council, and a bunch of technical agencies. –Scott SmithThe U.N. is an American creature. It looks the way it does because we designed it that way, as a tool to serve U.S. interests. –Martha Finnemore • It enhances U.S. security rather than detracting from or being irrelevant to it. –Stephen Schlesinger • How underfunded it is. –Turan Kayaoglu • Compared to the costs of dealing unilaterally with poverty, climate change, violent conflict, mass atrocities, nuclear proliferation, and transnational crime, the U.N. is still the best deal around — including for the U.S. –Melissa Labonte • It does things. In New York, the U.N. talks; sometimes it decides. But elsewhere in the world, it prevents countries from collapsing through peacekeeping, vaccinates children, coordinates the response to disasters. –James Traub • In spite of its limitations, it is an essential forum for negotiating many global issues and for giving voice especially to the weaker and poorer states of the world. –P. Terrence Hopmann • It’s a representation of the world as it is, not as it should be. –Philippe Bolopion 


Oversee the peaceful process of decolonization and the subsequent independence of most countries of Africa and Asia. –Sam Daws • To create the system of peacekeeping and improve it over the years. –Stanley Meisler • Engage in serious peacekeeping efforts — 67 of them since 1948. –John Mearsheimer • Save the world from fascism. –Thomas G. Weiss • Assisting refugees through the UNHCR. –Phillip Lipscy • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. – Hugh RobertsLaunch the Millennium Development Goals, which are lifesaving and life-changing. –Gillian Sorensen • Work in preventive diplomacy, development, health, humanitarian, and poverty alleviation. Regrettably, these go unnoticed. –Abdullah Alsaidi • To have created an international consensus on the need for real action to address global climate change. –Alan Henrikson • Help get major powers in the habit of regular communication, consultation, and negotiation. –David Bosco • Institutionalizing the norm that people who are better off, anywhere in the world, have responsibilities to help those who are less well off, anywhere in the world. –Craig Murphy • Develop certain ideas like R2P and sustainable human development. The world is much shaped by ideas, and not just material factors. –David Forsythe • To stay extant for 67 years — unlike the League of Nations. –Stephen Schlesinger


A woman. –Alan Henrikson, Turan Kayaoglu, Ted Piccone, Gillian Sorensen • A strong woman from the Southern Hemisphere with a focus on sustainable development and a just world economic order. –Sven Gareis • A woman, for the first time — preferably a beacon of democratic governance, like Aung San Suu Kyi. –Mark Lagon • A woman! For example, Gro Harlem Bruntland, Mary Robinson, or Hillary Clinton. –Katie Laatikainen • Ellen Johnson Sirleaf comes to mind, along with Hillary Clinton and Christine Lagarde. –David Birenbaum • Louise Frechette of Canada would be a good choice. –David Forsythe • A Latin American woman. –Alistair Edgar • A woman from Eastern Europe. –John Norris • A woman, the best available, selected from the world at large. No more rotation by region and exclusion of good candidates by member states with an axe to grind. –Thomas Pickering • Obama! I.e., an American with a global appeal and irreproachable integrity. –Rama Mani • Bill Clinton. –Michael Barnett • Lloyd Axworthy, the former Canadian foreign minister and leader of the Ottawa Mine Ban process. –Karl Inderfurth • Helen Clark, or a person of similar stature, experience, courage, and candor who will focus public and governmental attention on the major threats to human survival. –Frederick Tipson • A person with the audacity to freely express her/his views even when they are not to the liking of some member states. –Abdullah Alsaidi • Chosen in a more open and systematic process. –Margaret Karns • Someone we haven’t heard of. Dag Hammarskjöld was unknown but had rare talent and vision. –Hugh RobertsSomeone who occasionally stands up to the U.S. and criticize its policies when they seem misguided. The U.N. is ill served by secretaries-general like Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon, who have acted as if they were on the U.S. payroll. –John Mearsheimer • Better. –Hurst Hannum

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