T H R E E M E N
Intertel Examines The Men and the Office of Secretary-General of The United Nations
When the 19th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations opened on December 1st, 1964, one of the first items on the agenda was the admittance of three new nations – Malawi, Malta, and Zambia – bringing the total membership to 115. The growth of the United Nations and the changes that have shaped it since its founding in 1945 are reflected not only in the size of the General Assembly but in the active role of its chief administrator – the Secretary-General. Originally, the job was conceived as a kind of housekeeper-bookkeeper, as outlined in Articles 97 and 98 of the Charter: “He shall be the chief administrative officer of the Organization.” (Article 97). Article 98 amplifies this.
The peace-keeping role with which the Secretary-General is now most often associated grew out of Article 99, which states: “The Secretary-General may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”
The position of Secretary-General and the functions of the office have been changed since the Charter was framed, both by a series of grave crises and by the men who have imposed their personalities on the office.
As the United Nations approaches its 20th anniversary, CBC television has prepared for Intertel a special report on the highest office of the UN organization and the three men who have occupied it – Trygve Lie, Dag Hammarskjold, and the present incumbent, U Thant. This one-hour program is entitled Three Men.
Each of the men appointed Secretary-General of the United Nations has displayed unique qualities, and each has been totally dissimilar from his predecessor in personality – Lie the affable, optimistic Norwegian; Hammarskjold the remote, mystical Swede; Thant the bland, serene Burman. All have had in common a singular devotion to the high principles of the UN charter.
After the San Francisco Conference ended on June 26th, 1945, the 51 nations which signed and ratified the Charter cast about for their chief administrator in the first General Assembly that was to meet in London on January 10th, 1946. There were many able men among the candidates – Lester Pearson, then Canadian Ambassador to the U. S., was a strong contender along with Britain’s Sir Gladwyn Jebb, who organized the first Assembly, and Czechoslovakia’s Foreign Minister, Jan Masaryk. On grounds of nationality neither Pearson nor Jebb was acceptable to the Russians, and, while Masaryk was a national of a country that was later to come under communist rule, he was too pro-Western for Russia’s liking.
Norway’s Trygve Halvdan Lie, a Socialist politically, had sympathized with the Bolshevik cause in his youth sufficiently to impress the Russians. Agreement was reached, and on the first of February, 1946, in the Central Hall at Westminster in London, he took the oath of office. To those who knew Lie before his appointment as Secretary-General, the change in him brought about by the heavy responsibilities of the office was startling.
This was most evident in 1950, when he acted in the Korean crisis. Lie, as have his successors, had formidable obstacles in his path, including mistrust on both sides of the Iron Curtain.
Shortly before the Korean War he was denounced by some Americans as “a tool, if not an actual ally” of the Communists, and later by the Russians, when Vishinsky said: “He is unobjective and double faced, and we will have no truck with him.” The Russians vetoed Lie’s re-election, but the General Assembly overcame Soviet opposition by extending Lie’s term of office for a further three years.
Lie ended his career as an international arbiter before the extension expired, in order to bring about peace in Korea. He is now Minister of Industries in the Labor Government of Norway.
Dag Hammarskjold took the chair in the Secretariat in 1953, a cool, almost icy, professional civil-servant chiefly noted for his adherence to protocol and an aura of remoteness that precluded intimacy. Hammarskjold had the best grooming to date for the job of Secretary-General of the UN. Brilliant and scholarly, he was descended, on his father’s side, from a family that has been in the service of its country since 1610. His career in government service progressed with seeming ease and inevitability from one position of responsibility after another, from peak to peak, higher and higher. Under-secretary of the Ministry of Finance at only 31, he went on to chairmanship of the National Bank of Sweden, to Deputy Foreign Minister, to head of the Swedish UN delegation.
Like his father, Hjalmar Hammarskjold, Sweden’s premier in the First World War, Dag was also elected to the Swedish Academy.
At the time of his appointment as Secretary-General he was thought by both East and West to be the near-perfect choice – faceless, unemotional, neutral, with a faculty for achieving a balance in judgment that eventually drew as much criticism as admiration. He was re-elected in 1958 to a second five-year term and it became apparent shortly after this that Russia wanted no more of him. On the 18th of September, 1961, he was killed in an air crash in Northern Rhodesia.
A hard-fought struggle between Russia and the West ensued after Hammarskjold’s death, with Russia attempting to replace the position of Secretary-General with a troika leadership – one man from the Soviet bloc, one from the Afro-Asian, and one from the Western powers. Forced to abandon their position on the troika administration, the Soviets agreed to the appointment of Burma’s permanent UN delegate U Thant, as Acting Secretary-General.
Neutral Burma was a politically acceptable country and U Thant was appropriately anonymous, a plus mark being his anti-colonial activities in the struggle for Burma’s independence from Britain. Thant is the author of several books, including a 1933 treatise on the League of Nations, but unlike Lie and Hammarskjold does not have the benefit of a higher education and holds no degrees. His father’s death necessitated him leaving Rangoon University in his second year to support his family. He is the lifelong friend and confidant of Burma’s former Premier U Nu and was his chief speech-writer for many years. U Thant was elected Secretary-General on November 30th, 1962.
Three Men was written by James Eayrs, associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto and co-editor of the International Journal. The program was researched by Jack Rutherford and is produced by Vincent Tovell, who was for several years a writer and broadcaster at United Nations’ headquarters in New York. Music for Three Men was composed by William McCauley.
Appearing on the program will be Andrew Cordier, now Dean of Columbia Graduate School of International Affairs and formerly (from 1946 to 1962) Chief Assistant to the Secretary-General, in which capacity he served all three Secretaries-General.