The Guest Column

4th August 1996

They did it their way

by Dr. Stanly Kalpage

The UN Charter, in Article 97, describes the Secretary General as "the chief administrative officer of the Organization." Article 99 says "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." It is really up to the Secretary General to define the scope of his powers. Each of the first five UN secretarys-general served for two five-year terms. The sixth, Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt, is now seeking a second term. How did each perform in this highly prestigious and most demanding position?

Trygvie Lie - early years

Trygvie Lie (1946 - 53) of Norway had really wanted to become President of the first UN General Assembly but Paul-Henri Spaak, the Belgian foreign minister, was chosen instead. The Soviet Union staunchly supported Trygvie Lie, a burly former labour lawyer, instead of the US preference, Lester Pearson, who later became Prime Minister of Canada and a Nobel Laureate. The Soviets considered that Pearson was too close to the United States. Trygvie Lie's election emphasized the de facto position that, to be elected Secretary-General, acceptance is necessary by each of the five veto-carrying permanent members of the Security Council.

Three major events marked Trygvie Lie's term of office: the Iran crisis of the 1940s; the creation of Israel in May 1947 and the ensuing Arab-Israeli war; and the Korean War which began in June 1950. After Soviet troops moved out of Iran and the crisis had petered out, the Soviet Union wanted Iran to be taken out of the Security Council's agenda. When Trygvie Lie supported that contention, he was denounced by the western countries as "Moscow's man".

Trygvie Lie handled the partition of Palestine through Ralph Bunche, special assistant to the Special Committee on Palestine, which proposed the partition of Palestine and the creation of a Jewish state. When hostilities broke out betwen the Israelis and the Arabs, Count Bernadotte functioned as mediator until his assassination, when Bunche took over.

Trygvie Lie was a casualty of the Korean War. The Soviet Union denounced him as "the abettor of American aggression, who allowed the US to push through a resolution for UN intervention in Korea". The Soviet vetoed the re-election of Trygvie Lie and the matter was turned over to the General Assembly which approved the extension of Lie's term of office.

Dag Hammarskjold - diplomate par excellence and visionary.

The Security Council recommended Dag Hammarskjold (1953 - 61), a Swedish civil servant, as a compromise candidate, acceptable to the five permanent members, to succeed Trygvie Lie. Hammarskjold won instant admiration and acclamation when he negotiated successfully with communist China's leaders, the release of eleven US airmen and two civilians held for espionage, to the satisfaction of the United States.

During the Suez crisis of 1956, Hammarskjold managed the proceedings of the Security Council with skill and aplomb with the support of the US, so that aggression by the UK, France and Israel was roundly condemned. He then organized the United Expeditionary Force (UNEF), described as "one of the most spectacular single achievements of the United Nations in its first fifty years".

Hammarskjold is mostly remembered for his courage and resolution in preventing the secession of the province of Katanaga from the Congo after independence from Belgium rule. The world grieved when he lost his life in a plane crash while on his way to Ndola to meet with Tshombe, president of Katanga, on 13 September 1961. Hammarskjold is the only Secretary General to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. During his period in office he not only led the United Nations but personified it.

U Thant and the quest for peace in Vietnam

Ambassador U Thant of Burma (1961 - 71) was appointed on November 3, 1961 to complete Hammarskjold's term of office. He was a decent, brave and responsible diplomat who lived simply and attracted little attention. He had a restrictive legalistic concept of the role of the Secretary General. The Johnson administration in the US treated him with contempt for his search for peace in Vietnam and with ridicule for his failure to prevent the Six-Day War between Israel and her Arab neighbours. It is said that by withdrawing the UNEF at Nasser's request he allowed Nasser to attack Israel, thus precipitating the Six-Day War of May 1967.

The Cuban Missile Crisis loomed large in the Security Council in 1961 and Adlai Stevenson the American Ambassador outshone the quiet U Thant in the animated discussions that took place. This most terrifying confrontation of the Cold War was eventually settled by the two main protagonists - President Kennedy and Nikita Krushchev. U Thant organized the peace-keeping operation in Cyprus to separate warring Cypriots of Greek and Turkish descent - an operation that continues to this day.

Kurt Waldheim - the Nazi who concealed the truth

Kurt Waldheim (1972 - 81) was Secretary General when the Cold War was raging during the 1970s. He had concealed the fact that, as a second lieutenant in World War II, he had been assigned to a German army unit in the Balkans, which was responsible for rounding up and deporting thousands of Jews in Greece to the concentration camps in Aushwitz and for killing innocent villagers in Greece and Yugoslavia. If his past had been known at the time of his election Waldheim may not have been appointed.

It is thought that the cover up of his past and consequent guilt made Waldheim a cautions administrator unwilling to provoke controversy. Those who knew of his past would have blackmailed him into being a mediocre and insensitive secretary general. He did not speak openly against North Vietnam's treatment of refugees nor of the Soviet Union's treatment of political dissidents.

During Waldheim's stewardship, the UN mounted three peace-keeping operations, all in the Middle East. Two of them arose from the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the third was the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). These peace-keeping operations were due to Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy rather than to any exertion on Waldheim's part.

Perez de Cuellar and the end of the Cold War

When Perez de Cuellar (1982 - 91), a former Peruvian diplomat and UN undersecretary general, made his first report as Secretary General to the General Assembly in the Fall of 1982, there was no end in sight to the Cold War. When he left office after two terms, Perez de Cuellar could hail "the renaissance of the UN - the end of a long period of stagnation." The cold war was over.

Perez de Cuellar was a well-meaning, self-effacing person, though not a forceful personality. He was a tenacious, patient and skillful negotiator. His first crisis was the confrontation between Argentina and Great Britain in the Falkland Islands, which ended in the landing of British troops and the humilitation of Argentina. In the Iran-Iraq war which began in September 1980, de Cuellar brought the Big Five powers together and worked assiduously to bring about a cease-fire in August 1988.

Perez de Cuellar was also successful in persuading the leaders of Central America to end the civil wars in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. His intervention brought results in Namibia, Angola and Mozambique. A new kind of peace-keeping operation had come into being, peace keepers not only manned cease fire lines, as in the past, but also participated in peace building activities such as overseeing elections, monitoring human rights violations, disarming military units and strengthening institutions. None of this would have been possible without the end of the cold war confrontation between the superpowers. The Persian Gulf War of 1991 was a watershed - it changed the way the UN operated.

Boutros-Ghali's "An Agenda for Peace"

Boutros Boutros-Ghali (1992 -) presented his report - An Agenda for Peace - in June 1992 in response to a request by the first summit meeting of the Security Council for proposals "to deal with the capacity of the United Nations for prventive diplomacy, for peace-making and for peace- keeping." The Agenda for Peace is widely regarded as Boutros-Ghali's personal testament and blueprint.

In its first forty years, the Security Council authorized only thirteen peace keeping operations. In the fifth decade, another twenty were launched, half of them under Boutros Gahali. Three of these - Cambodia, Somalia and Bosnia - were largely conducted during Boutros Ghali's term of office. Cambodia was a relative success although the Khmer Rouge is still a problem. In the Somalia debacle, Boutros Ghali allowed the Americans to use the UN as a scapegoat for mistakes they had made. The Bosnians blamed Boutros Ghali for the international paralysis that permitted Serbian aggression and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia-Herzgovina.

Boutros Ghali has been described as being "inward and moody, and sometimes disdainful, ......the most stubbornly independent secretary general in the half-century history of the United Nations." He is a workaholic who has expanded UN peace keeping missions worldwide. He does not delegate authority and has made little impact on the management efficiency of the UN secretariat.

History will rate each secretary general differently. However, each of them has made a contribution in his own way to United Nations' efforts in maintaining international peace and security over the past fifty years.

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