HK: Do you think the UN is a functional organization?
SP: This is a distracting point. Not fully functional, no. But the UN’s dysfunctions are less the problem of the organization as such. They are the problem of governments and what they choose to pursue and neglect. Citizens have the power to make governments act differently; the UN as an organization does not. Sergio’s success would have been more robust, or more frequent, if governments had lined up behind him. Secretary-General Kofi Annan lining up behind him was not the same thing. There are plenty of changes that the UN as an organization can make to decrease its many inefficiencies, but the UN will continue to look dysfunctional until member states decide to prioritize global problems, which will require political pressure from below.
I don't bow to anyone in detesting the UN. But it's problems are essentially a result of the international priorities of member states; specifically, that they're not interested in human rights or democratization in the international sphere. That's as true of the US as anyone else. Certainly, I'm mighty pissed off that countries like China or Zimbabwe or Iran don't pursue a liberal agenda in the United Nations, but that's hardly the UN's fault. And frankly, the US doesn't particularly pursue an agenda of democratization or liberalization in our foreign policy, making our feigned shock that other countries, too, act based on narrow and usually illiberal conceptions of their "national interests" all the more pathetic.
Via Matthew Yglesias