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 Hilary 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


Mr. Happy

Wang Yang is the great hope of China's urban intelligentsia. Is he about to make the big time?

When Guangdong Communist Party boss Wang Yang wanted to suggest some political readings for his underlings last year, he shunned Mao, Confucius, and other Chinese sages in favor of bestselling Israeli author Tal Ben-Shahar. The title he recommended was Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment. And Wang did not stop with a few musings on the benefits of positive psychology. Instead, he has made happiness a central part of the next five-year plan for Guangdong, the freewheeling province in southern China whose official slogan is now "Happy Guangdong."

"It is the people's right to pursue happiness," Wang told a party congress this year, mixing Ben-Shahar's pop philosophy with a liberal dose of the Declaration of Independence. "We should eradicate the wrong concept that happiness is a benevolent gift from the party and the government."

The happiness craze is not an isolated incident. Since he took over as party secretary in 2007, Wang has encouraged a series of experiments that have tested the relationship between the state and citizen in China. In the process, he has also transformed the role in national life played by Guangdong, which is both China's most populous province, with some 110 million inhabitants, and the one with the biggest economy. Guangzhou, the capital, and tech workhorse Shenzhen are internationally known urban centers, but the province also includes less well-known industrial powerhouses such as Foshan and Dongguan.

For three decades, Guangdong has reveled in its position at the forefront of China's economic reforms. Yet with its economy faltering and the province going through something of an identity crisis, Guangdong is now carving out a different role as a laboratory for urban political reform. Some of Wang's supporters even talk about a "Guangdong model." That may or may not come to pass, but there's no doubt Wang, in raising such pointed questions about the role of the Communist Party in modern Chinese life, has become a rare standard-bearer for political reform among China's deeply cautious elite.

To be sure, this is political reform within the context of a control-freak Chinese Communist Party that maintains an iron grip on political power. But Wang's Guangdong experiments are gaining publicity at a crucial time. In the autumn, China will officially begin a once-in-a-decade political transition that will see a new generation of leaders start to take power. Wang, 57, is one of the top candidates to win a seat on the all-powerful, nine-person Politburo Standing Committee. If he gets the promotion, he could gain a platform to push some of these ideas at a national level.

In some respects, Wang is the product of the unique region he runs. Guangdong, 1,300 miles from the seat of power, has long cultivated a self-image that mixes a hint of the disreputable with a flair for resisting the rules set in Beijing. Residents like to say that if a traffic light is green, Guangdong people drive ahead; if it is yellow, they proceed even more quickly; and if the light is red, they find a way around. The Cantonese, as they are known, view northern Chinese as earnest and safe; northerners think the Cantonese too clever by half.

In the years following Mao Zedong's death, Guangdong was the testing ground for some of the economic ideas that have transformed China. The first special economic zone was famously created in 1980 in Shenzhen, the former fishing village near Hong Kong that is now a 14-million-person metropolis. And it was to Guangdong that Deng Xiaoping traveled for his 1992 "Southern Tour" when he realized that the conservative backlash after the Tiananmen Square massacre was stifling his pro-market agenda. Under the guise of a family vacation, he quietly urged officials across the region to embrace reforms. Even though his visit was officially a secret, he was greeted by hundreds of well-wishers at Shenzhen's World Trade Center, the 53-story tower with a revolving restaurant that dominated what was then one of China's few dramatic skylines.

Under Wang, Guangdong's urge to test the boundaries has taken on a more overtly political nature. His biggest test came at the end of last year when thousands of villagers in Wukan physically ejected local party bosses who had illegally sold off communal land to developers, turning the small town into a symbol of rural activism. A tense, 10-day standoff riveted the world's media and seemed certain to end in violence. Instead of cracking down, Wang put his career on the line by sending in a delegation of senior officials to broker a truce. His team then accused the two party officials in the village of corruption and organized new elections to replace them.

"People's democratic awareness is increasing significantly in this changing society," Wang said after the standoff was resolved. "When their appeals for rights aren't getting enough attention, that's when mass incidents" -- China's euphemism for protests -- "happen." Liberal intellectuals hailed his efforts as a possible model for a more democratic China. Wang Zhanyang, director of the political science department at the Central Institute of Socialism in Beijing, called the Wukan case a "model and forerunner of national significance." The provincial government's attitude, he said, could be "a new light for the establishment of grassroots democracy."

Less dramatic but just as significant was party boss Wang's response to a wave of industrial unrest in 2010. Starting at a Foshan plant that makes parts for Honda, some 200 disputes broke out across the region, led by a younger generation of migrant workers who wanted higher wages and were far less deferential about confronting their bosses. Disputes often end in China with the protesters bought off and the ringleaders rounded up once tempers have calmed. In this case, however, Wang urged the state-controlled trade union to do a better job defending the rights of its members. He also pushed for greater use of collective bargaining, which most officials shun as an excuse for labor activism. "The '80s and '90s generation workers need more care and respect and need to be motivated to work with enthusiasm," Wang said at the time, a striking recognition of the changing political demands among younger Chinese.

He has also given nongovernmental groups more freedom to operate in Guangdong than they have anywhere else in China, and some have scored successes not just with social causes but even in pushing local governments to be more open and accountable, long a taboo to the heavy-handed Communist Party.

Consider the experience of Wu Junliang, who decided he wanted to know more about how his tax money was being spent after returning home to Guangdong from two decades in the United States. In his spare time he set up a website about public finances called Wu lobbied dozens of local governments across China to publish their annual budgets, with no success. Then in 2008, Shenzhen allowed him to look at its books, even if the city would not publish them. Eighteen months later, the provincial capital, Guangzhou, went one better: It put the budget plans for all its 114 departments online. Unremarkable in most parts of the world, this could be one of those small time bombs that eventually transform the way China is run. "It was very exciting, like getting your sight back," Wu told me.

WANG'S EARLY CAREER might not seem like the obvious preparation to be one of the Communist Party's main proponents of political reform. Born in 1955 in a small town in Anhui, one of China's poorest provinces, he took his first job in a food-processing factory and spent much of the 1980s as a regional sports administrator. He soon, however, started to move swiftly up the ranks of the Anhui party apparatus, winning the nickname "Little Marshal" along the way. According to a highly flattering profile on the People's Daily website, Deng stopped off in Anhui on his way back from his 1992 Southern Tour. One of the promising young officials he asked to meet was Wang.

Wang is too careful to promote himself so brazenly, but his supporters in academia have over the last couple of years started to push the idea of a "Guangdong model," in deliberate contrast with the "Chongqing model" of Bo Xilai, another regional party boss who was on the shortlist for the Politburo's Standing Committee until he was detained this year. Where Bo's ideological manifesto emphasized state-owned companies, sweeping anti-corruption campaigns, and social equality, wrapped up in Maoist nostalgia, Wang's approach suggests a more liberal way of running society. Xiao Bin, a professor of government at Guangzhou's Sun Yat-sen University, says that the Guangdong model is about strengthening the rule of law, making government more transparent, and encouraging stronger civil society. None of this makes Wang a supporter of Western multiparty democracy, but it does suggest the softer form of authoritarianism that you might find somewhere like Singapore.

Of course, such descriptions can be caricatures, leaving out as much as they include. Under Bo, Chongqing texted out Maoist slogans and encouraged public singing of old communist songs, but the city also pioneered auctions of rural land -- part of a process of breaking up Mao-era planning controls that stop farmers from moving legally to cities -- which many liberal academics in Guangdong would like to copy. And before he moved to Guangdong, Wang was in fact Bo's predecessor in Chongqing, where he seemed happy enough with the city's more statist development model. But his tenure in Guangdong is striking for the way his ideas have been framed, prompting an unusually public debate in China, pitting one vision of an all-powerful party that can still solve the country's problems against another that seeks to create more space for the individual.

Wang may have made headlines for his political ideas, but his period in Guangdong has also coincided with a difficult time for the provincial economy. It grew 7.4 percent in the first half of this year, a snail's pace compared with the supercharged (and overstated) growth rates that many Chinese provinces record. Having ridden China's export boom for so long, Guangdong has struggled since the start of the global crisis.

Wang has tried to make a virtue of the downturn, using it to reform the structure of the economy. Policymakers know that the province's manufacturers need to become more sophisticated, relying less on making things as cheaply as possible and more on developing their own products. Costs were already rising because of a stronger currency. Now, Wang has increased the pressure on local manufacturers by introducing tougher environmental rules and supporting faster wage increases.

The goal is not just to force industry to modernize, but also to make the province's cities more attractive and prosperous places to live. Coastal Chinese regions now measure themselves on an ability to attract major research and development activities, and so far Guangdong has been losing out to Shanghai and Beijing, which boast China's best universities. Guangdong hopes to attract urban professionals by offering cleaner air and more modern cities. If the strategy works, there will be long-run benefits, but it has also meant short-term pain. Many companies face the choice of moving inland to cheaper parts of China or transferring production abroad to places like Vietnam. Foxconn, the company that makes so many products for Apple, used to have 470,000 workers at its two Shenzhen factories. In the next couple of years, that figure is expected to drop to around 300,000.

The travails of Guangdong's economy will be one of several factors that will decide whether Wang gets promoted to the Standing Committee in the autumn. As many as seven seats could be up for grabs this year, and the favorites include Wang Qishan, a vice premier who is in charge of the financial sector; Zhang Dejiang, another vice premier who was sent to Chongqing when Bo was sacked; and Li Yuanchao, who runs the Communist Party's powerful Organization Department. Some of Wang's liberal supporters grumble that as the decision nears, he has been trying to demonstrate a more ruthless streak, including tighter controls on Guangdong's media and a less tolerant attitude toward protests. This is not a good time for a Chinese politician to look weak. At the moment, hardheaded political calculation is pushing out reformist zeal.

Given the political rivalry between Guangdong and Chongqing, Bo's spectacular political fall has focused a lot of attention on Wang, but the scandal could work both ways for him. Bo's disgrace has certainly boosted the credibility of the Guangdong model. At the same time, a promotion for Wang might be seen as too big a victory for the anti-Bo faction. Chinese leaders generally don't preview their appointments for nosy Western reporters, who are rarely granted insights into their political calculations. But Wang's fate will be an important barometer for which way China is headed. Bo's way may already have been rejected. Will it now be Wang's?