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Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law [MPEPIL]

United Nations, Secretary-General

Katja Göcke, Hubertus von Mohr

From: Oxford Public International Law (http://opil.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2015. All Rights Reserved.date: 21 May 2019

Universal international organizations

Published under the auspices of the Max Planck Foundation for International Peace and the Rule of Law under the direction of Rüdiger Wolfrum.

A.  Introduction

Pursuant to Art. 7 (1) UN Charter, only the United Nations Secretariat and not the United Nations Secretary-General constitutes a principal organ of the United Nations (International Organizations or Institutions, Secretariats). Accordingly, Chapter XV UN Charter dealing with the functions of the UN Secretariat and the UN Secretary-General is entitled ‘The Secretariat’. The fact that the status of principal organ is awarded to the UN Secretariat and not the UN Secretary-General is remarkable since the role assigned to the UN Secretary-General goes beyond the task of merely being the administrative head of the UN Secretariat. In addition to his administrative function within the UN Secretariat, the UN Secretary-General is also chief administrator of the entire UN Organization (Art. 97 cl 3 UN Charter) and is explicitly granted the right to take political initiative. Hence, his position within the UN system is more influential than that of the Secretariat itself. However, despite this incongruity, the unequivocal wording in Art. 97 cl 1 UN Charter, stating that the UN Secretary-General forms part of the Secretariat, prevents any attempts to interpret the UN Charter as awarding the status of a principal organ to the Secretary-General instead of the Secretariat (Fiedler 1193).

Since the role and function of the UN Secretary-General are only vaguely defined in the UN Charter, his actual tasks and political influence within the UN system strongly depend on the personality and individual agenda of each incumbent. Therefore, despite the fact that the provisions of the UN Charter have basically remained the same, the function of the Secretary-General has fundamentally changed over the past decades.

To date, the office of the UN Secretary-General has been filled by eight incumbents: Trygve Lie (Norway; 1946–52), Dag Hammarskjöld (Sweden; 1953–61), Sithu U Thant (Burma [Myanmar]; 1961–71), Kurt Waldheim (Austria; 1972–81), Javier Pérez de Cuéllar (Peru; 1982–91), Boutros Boutros-Ghali (Egypt; 1992–96), Kofi A Annan (Ghana; 1997–2006), and Ban Ki-moon (South Korea; 2007–incumbent).

B.  Historical Background

The UN Secretary-General is the successor organization of the office of the Secretary-General of the League of Nations. It was within the League of Nations system that an international secretariat, devoted primarily to the organization’s interest rather than the bureaucracy and government of the Member States, was first set up within an international organization (Civil Service, International). The concept of international civil service can be traced back to an initiative by Sir Erik Drummond, the first League of Nations Secretary-General (United Kingdom; 1919–33). He was succeeded in office by Joseph Avenol (France; 1933–40) and Seán Lester (Ireland; 1940–46).

Like the UN Secretary-General, the League of Nations Secretary-General was the chief administrative officer of the entire organization (Art. 6 (4) Covenant of the League of Nations). Yet unlike the UN Secretary-General, who has explicitly been given the authority to carry out political functions, the League of Nations Secretary-General had not been bestowed with any relevant political authority by the terms of the Covenant of the League of Nations or any subsequent resolution. However, although publicly the Secretary-Generals of the League of Nations did not exert any political influence, they also engaged in political activities behind the scenes by acting as mediators in international disputes, by communicating information to decision-makers, and by securing support for the organization within the international community.

In the course of discussing the creation of the United Nations Organization at the Dumbarton Oaks Conference (1944), the allied powers agreed that the UN should be more powerful than its predecessor and more influential in world politics. Since the League of Nations experience has shown that the head of the international civil service, even without explicit authorization to carry out political functions, was capable and equipped to influence international decision-making, the United States proposed to the United Kingdom, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and China to legitimatize and strengthen the Secretary-General’s political influence on the international plain by recognizing his combined administrative and political function within the new UN Charter. The US recommendation to create a chief permanent officer vested with administrative and political powers led to a draft which largely contained what later came to be Chapter XV UN Charter. In fact, at the United Nations Conference on International Organization in San Francisco in 1945, the fundamentals of Art. 99 UN Charter, the principal source of the Secretary-General’s political authority, were hardly debated at all. In the end, the legitimization and strengthening of the Secretary-General’s political influence on the international plain by recognizing his combined administrative and political function within the new UN Charter was voted through with heavy majority backing.

C.  Appointment of the Secretary-General

The UN Secretary-General is appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council (Art. 97 UN Charter). In the Security Council, a qualified majority is required. An explicit veto against a candidate by one of the permanent members of the Security Council will, however, prevent his election, respectively his re-election (Art. 27 (3) UN Charter). This happened in 1997, when the US vetoed the re-election of Boutros-Ghali for a second term in office.

In the course of time, a practice has emerged to choose candidates from among the neutral European States or from developing countries (Ziring, Riggs and Plano 88–89). So far, the Secretary-General has come from the following geographical regions: Western Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Africa. The UN Charter is silent as to any obligation to ensure equitable geographical representation with regard to the position of the Secretary-General, but previous UN practice indicates that Art. 101 (3) UN Charter is not regarded as governing the appointment of the Secretary-General.

In accordance with Rule 141 Rules of Procedure of the General Assembly, the Secretary-General is elected by secret ballot in private meeting. Pursuant to United Nations General Assembly Resolution 11 (I) of 24 January 1946 on the Terms of Appointment of the Secretary-General, the term of office is five years, with the possibility of re-appointment for another full term. In practice, the denial of a second term is rather unusual. When the US vetoed a second term of the African incumbent Boutros-Ghali, this veto resulted in the search for and installation of another African candidate—Kofi Annan.

D.  Authorities of the Secretary-General

10  The UN Charter gives only a framework description of the functions entrusted to the Secretary-General. Over time, these functions have received further refinement in the practice of the UN. The tasks imposed upon the Secretary-General can be divided into administrative and political activities.

1.  Administrative Authorities

11  A principal administrative task of the Secretary-General is the appointment and supervision of the UN staff. The already challenging task of recruiting personnel ‘securing the highest standards of efficiency, competence, and integrity’ (Art. 101 (3) cl 1 UN Charter) is further complicated by the following three factors: first, the requirement to recruit staff on ‘as wide a geographical basis as possible’ (Art. 101 (3) cl 2 UN Charter); second, the rule that the staff shall be appointed by the Secretary-General under regulations established by the General Assembly (Art. 101 (1) UN Charter), which allows the latter to have an enormous influence on personnel decisions, especially with regard to the appointment of leading positions where the involvement of the Secretary-General is nowadays often limited to the formal appointment ceremony; and third, some governments’ insistence to nominate their nationals to the UN rather than to have them recruited directly by the Secretariat.

12  Another important administrative function of the Secretary-General is to serve as depositary of multilateral conventions. A depositary is the designated authority to which all instruments of ratification or accession as well as reservations, objections, and declaration[s] as regards multilateral agreements are to be sent (see Arts 16 and 77 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties [1969] [VCLT; 1155 UNTS 331]; see also Treaties, Conclusion and Entry into Force; Treaties, Multilateral, Reservations to). Whereas initially only States were depositaries, international organizations and their chief administrative officers have been increasingly entrusted with this function since the establishment of the League of Nations (see also Art. 76 (1) VCLT).

13  According to Art. 102 UN Charter all international agreements entered into by a UN Member State have to be registered with the Secretariat and published by it. The registration of an international agreement with the Secretariat is, however, not to be confused with the Secretary-General’s depositary functions. Whereas UN Member States are—in addition to their duty to register all treaties with the Secretariat—encouraged to entrust the Secretary-General also with depositary functions as regards all conventions adopted within the UN or under its auspices, other treaties can only be deposited with the UN Secretary-General under certain conditions. Since acting as depositary for all multilateral treaties concluded worldwide would be extremely burdensome and since the UN are not meant to replace other international organizations as depositaries in their specialized fields, the Secretary-General generally only agrees to act as depository for other treaties if they are of a universal application. Furthermore, the respective treaties must not be contrary to UN policies (see United Nations (ed) Summary of Practice of the Secretary-General as Depositary of Multilateral Treaties paras 28–30). Currently, the Secretary-General is depositary to over 500 major multilateral instruments and the number continues to increase (see United Nations (ed), Multilateral Treaties Deposited with the Secretary-General). In practice, the Secretary-General’s depositary duties are performed by the Treaty Office of the Office of Legal Affairs within the UN Secretariat.

14  Other administrative activities of the Secretary-General include, amongst others, making annual reports to the General Assembly on the work of the UN (Art. 98 cl 3 UN Charter); preparing and taking part in all meetings of the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, and the Trusteeship Council (Art. 98 cl 1 UN Charter); convening special sessions of the UN General Assembly (Rule 16 Rules of Procedure of the General Assembly); preparing the United Nations budget; accrediting the diplomatic representatives of Member States to the UN; and—as chief administrative officer of the UN and chairman of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Co-ordination—coordinating the activities of the entire UN system, including the specialized agencies and programmes, with the exception of the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

15  However, although some of the above-mentioned duties, especially the duty to prepare an annual report and the duty to prepare and take part in meetings of UN principal organs, were originally conceived as being merely of an administrative nature, they have in practice provided the Secretary-General with an opportunity to politically influence the deliberations and actions of the UN organs significantly (see paras 21–23 below).

2.  Political Authorities

16  The political functions of the Secretary-General can be divided into immediate political powers given to the Secretary-General by terms of the UN Charter or being inherent in his position, and those delegated to the Secretary-General by UN principal organs.

(a)  Immediate Political Authorities

17  The Secretary-General can base his immediate political powers on three sources: Arts 98 and 99 UN Charter as the two constitutional sources, and the inherent political authority of the Secretary-General to act on the basis of quiet or preventive diplomacy as unwritten power of authority.

(i)  Initiatives under Art. 99 UN Charter

18  The most important source of the Secretary-General’s political authority is Art. 99 UN Charter. Pursuant to this article, the Secretary-General may direct the attention of the Security Council to ‘any matter’ which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security (Peace, Threat to). Art. 99 UN Charter explicitly refers to the opinion of the Secretary-General, thus vesting him with the power to assess the situation under his own authority. This inherent right to investigate has been invoked by several Secretary-Generals, an example of this being the letter by Secretary-General Waldheim to the President of the Security Council declaring the prolonged detention of American diplomatic and consular staff as hostages to be a grave threat to international peace and security ([25 November 1979] UN Doc S/13646), which was regarded at least by some members of the Security Council as an initiative based on Art. 99 UN Charter (see also United States Diplomatic and Consular Staff in Tehran Case [United States of America v Iran] [1980] ICJ Rep 3).

19  Since every Member State has the right to bring any dispute which may endanger international peace and security to the attention of the General Assembly or the Security Council (Art. 35 (1) UN Charter), an action taken by the Secretary-General under Art. 99 UN Charter may be superfluous in many cases. This was, for example, the case when Secretary-General Lie invoked Art. 99 UN Charter during the Korean crisis only to find that the US had already called upon the Security Council (see also Korean War [1950–53]). However, since States may for various reasons be reluctant to bring certain matters before the Security Council, Art. 99 UN Charter has proven its value.

20  Since it is necessary for the Secretary-General to have comprehensive knowledge of the situation in the conflict area before taking action, his authority under Art. 99 UN Charter must encompass the right to conduct investigations and to implement preparatory fact-finding missions. In the field of peace and security, it was Dag Hammarskjöld who instituted for the first time without a mandate from the principal UN organs a special representative, who was responsible to the Secretary-General and acted as a mediator between the two conflict parties. Thus in 1958, the Swedish Ambassador to the UN, Johan Beck-Friis, was instructed to mediate in the territorial dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over the Temple of Preah Vihear (Temple of Preah Vihear Case).

(ii)  Duties under Art. 98 UN Charter

21  Although the duties to prepare an annual report (Art. 98 cl 2 UN Charter) and to prepare and participate in meetings of the Security Council, the General Assembly, the ECOSOC and the Trusteeship Council (Art. 98 cl 1 UN Charter) were originally conceived of as mere administrative duties, they have in practice gained considerable political significance (Fiedler 1196).

22  With regard to the annual reports the Secretary-General is obliged to make to the General Assembly on the work of the UN pursuant to Art. 98 cl 2 UN Charter, it needs to be noted that their form has changed considerably over the years. Whereas in the beginning, when the preparation of annual reports was still regarded as a mere administrative duty, these reports principally consisted of a summary of neutral facts regarding significant developments of the UN during the reporting period, they have in recent years been increasingly used by Secretary-Generals to bring criticism and suggestions for improving the general efficiency of the UN to the attention of the General Assembly. From the 32nd session onwards, the annual reports have been limited to a mere political appraisal. This development clearly shows the strengthening of the political functions of the Secretary-General. Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali even went a step further. By submitting his Agenda for Peace, he initiated a far-reaching process of restructuring the UN and refining its objectives in order to strengthen its capacity and effectiveness. Secretary-General Annan also used reports to this end. He presented far-reaching reform projects, such as the 1997 report ‘Renewing the United Nations: A Programme for Reform’ and the 2000 Millennium Report which referred mainly to the fields of management, household and personnel policy. Groundbreaking was Annan’s comprehensive report ‘In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All’ for the World Summit in September 2005, where he submitted proposals to increase the efficiency of the UN relating to the principle of connexion as well as to the areas human resources and accountability.

23  Regarding the Secretary-General’s duty to participate in and prepare the meetings of UN principal organs, laid down in Art. 98 cl 1 UN Charter, the Rules of Procedure of the UN principal organs stipulate that the Secretary-General is not only authorized to prepare the provisional agendas of the Security Council, the General Assembly, the ECOSOC, and the Trusteeship Council but he is also entitled to included items that he regards as important in the provisional agenda, although the final decision is up to the organs themselves. Together with the Secretary-General’s authorization to participate in the meetings and to be heard upon request, these regulations have in practice provided the Secretary-General with an opportunity to significantly influence the course of events.

(iii)  Quiet or Preventive Diplomacy as Inherent Political Authority

24  In a great number of cases, the Secretary-General takes political initiative without any mandate as envisaged in Art. 98 cl 1 UN Charter and outside the scope of Art. 99 UN Charter. This may be the case in the context of quiet or preventive diplomacy. There is no legal basis for this in the UN Charter. In fact, it is more of a law sui generis (Krys 354–55).

25  Since calling upon the Security Council is in some cases prevented by the political situation, since it would only lead to an increase of tension in the conflict, the Secretary-General is frequently the only possible mediator. He alone can act behind the scenes without publicity or public discussions, and is known by all parties to stand separate from the political organs. Acting as a mediator, the Secretary-General is equipped with the authority of his office as well as of his person. He can request the General Assembly and the Security Council to either support his activities ex post by means of resolutions, to officially stop them, or—as is often the case in practice—to tolerate them tacitly.

26  Besides these acts of quiet diplomacy, the Secretary-General may also act in the context of preventive diplomacy. In his annual report of the 46th session, Secretary-General Pérez de Cuéllar emphasized that ‘[t]he Charter does not contemplate that the United Nations should wait for fighting to erupt, for aggressions to take place, for violations of human rights to attain massive proportions before it moves to rectify the situation’ (UNGA ‘Report of the Secretary-General on the Work of the Organization’ [13 September 1991] GAOR 46th Session Supp 1 at 3). He further stated that there was a complementarity between the Secretary-General being fully equipped with the means presupposed in Art. 99 UN Charter and the Security Council maintaining a peace agenda not confined to items formally inserted at the request of the State or States concerned, and that this complementarity could translate preventive diplomacy from a phrase into a working reality (ibid).

27  The request for clear cut competences in the field of preventive diplomacy, first expressed by Secretary-General Hammarskjöld, and taken up by his successors, has been met with the Declaration on the Prevention and Removal of Disputes and Situations Which May Threaten International Peace and Security and on the Role of the United Nations in this Field, United Nations General Assembly Resolution 43/51 of 5 December 1988 (GAOR 43rd Session Supp 49 vol 1, 276). Accordingly, the Secretary-General is now explicitly requested to approach the conflict parties and to make full use of the possibility to establish the facts at the request of the parties or on his own initiative without needing a mandate from one of the principal organs.

28  It was Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali who put the preventive idea into practice. The early-warning system brought up in his Agenda for Peace served to enhance the effectiveness and rapidity of preventive and peace-securing measures; however, it has also increased the Secretary-General’s competences in these areas. The replacement of the term ‘preventive diplomacy’ by the term ‘preventive action’ in his annual report of 1996 clearly reflects this development (UNGA ‘Report of the Secretary-General on the Work of the Organization’ [20 August 1996] GAOR 51st Session Supp 1). The increasing importance of conflict prevention as means of action by the UN is also clearly shown in the ever-increasing number of special envoy[s] or special representatives.

(b)  Delegated Political Authorities

29  Besides these immediate political tasks, the Secretary-General also performs functions which are entrusted to him by principal organs of the UN in accordance with Art. 98 cl 1 UN Charter.

(i)  Peaceful Settlement of Disputes

30  Political authority is frequently delegated to the Secretary-General in the field of peaceful settlement of disputes. Yet, the Secretary-General’s diplomatic activities have not always been able to prevent the outbreak of armed conflicts. Delegated by the Security Council, the Secretary-General mediated, for example, in the Cyprus question, the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas dispute, as well as in the Iraq-Kuwait conflict (Iraq-Kuwait War [1990–91]), and the Yugoslavia crisis (Yugoslavia, Dissolution of) through his good offices. Good offices have repeatedly brought the parties together to discuss and negotiate (negotiation), both within and outside the UN framework. Furthermore, the Secretary-General or his special representative have guided the consultation process and have worked to find compromise solutions.

(ii)  Peacekeeping Operations

31  On a case-by-case basis, the Secretary-General also takes over the task to install and/or command UN peacekeeping forces assigned to him by the Security Council, or—in exceptional cases—the General Assembly. The political dimension of such assignments varies with the circumstances.

32  Of all Secretary-Generals, Dag Hammarskjöld had the greatest political leeway in the Suez conflict (Suez Canal; UNGA Res 998 [ES-I] [November 1956] GAOR 1st Emergency Special Session, Annex, Agenda Item 5, 14) and the Congo crises (UNSC Res 143 [1960] [14 July 1960] SCOR 5th Year 5), resulting to a large extent from disagreements within the UN principal organs on the intended actions. Therefore, the concrete decisions—for example, on the exact commissioning of troops, their organization and assembly, as well as on the power of command—had to be worked out by the Secretary-General. The exercise of these functions was justified as having been quietly delegated to the Secretary-General. However, the USSR refused to contribute to the costs of maintaining the troops established under this system, which led the UN into a financial crisis, thus clearly drawing the political limits of this quiet delegation.

33  In subsequent peacekeeping operations, the discretionary powers of the Secretary-General regarding troop size and the mandate of action were reduced, and the Secretary-General was given more elaborate mandates regarding the planning and implementation of such operations. However, with the decline of the USSR and the advent of perestroika, the strategic context for UN peacekeeping changed dramatically, which led to a revaluation of the Secretary-General’s political mandate. The new readiness of the US and the USSR (or Russia, respectively) to work together, allowed the UN to engage in more complex peace operations, and to shift and expand its field operations from missions involving predominantly military tasks to complex multi-dimensional missions to support the consolidation of peace.

34  Within this new peacekeeping mechanism, the Secretary-General has increasingly been entrusted with political mandates. For example, when in 1988 the United Nations Iran-Iraq Military Observer Group (UNIIMOG; Observers), created by United Nations Security Council Resolution 598 of 20 July 1987 (SCOR 42nd Year 5) was set up to monitor the cease-fire which was about to come into operation, it was the Secretary-General who set the actual date for the cease-fire to enter into force (Iran-Iraq War [1980–88]). In the case of the statute of Western Sahara (Western Sahara [Advisory Opinion]) from which Spain had withdrawn in 1976 after having agreed that two-thirds should go to Morocco and one-third to Mauritania, the joint mission of good offices by both the Organization of African Unity (African Union [AU]) and the Secretary-General led to an agreement in principle between the two parties in 1988. The Secretary General’s plan to implement the agreement by setting-up the United Nations Mission for the Organization of a Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) mandated to monitor the cease-fire and supervise the referendum for self-determination was agreed upon by the unanimous United Nations Security Council Resolution 690 (1991) of 29 April 1991 (SCOR 46th Year 35). In the Yugoslavia crisis, the Security Council—following a request by the European Community and its Member States—invited the Secretary-General to offer his assistance to the parties regarding the aspect of Croatia. In mid-1992, the Secretary-General was able to recommend the establishment of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) upon the detailed reports of his personal envoy (see UNSC Res 743 [1992] [21 February 1992] SCOR 47th Year 8).

35  When the disastrous failure of UNPROFOR in Srebrenica (1995) as well as the failure of the UN missions in Somalia (1993) and Rwanda (1994) led to a strong reluctance on behalf of the Security Council to mandate further peacekeeping operations—despite Boutros-Ghali’s major accomplishments in Cambodia, El Salvador, and Mozambique—the then newly appointed Secretary-General Annan called for a responsibility to protect the population, if necessary by military intervention of the UN (see also Humanitarian Intervention).

36  The 2000 Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations, which drew conclusions from the experiences in the 1990s, proposed and finally led to the implementation of a number of improvements, eg a better equipment of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations created in 1992 by Boutros-Ghali, and the possibility of endowing peacekeeping operations with so-called ‘robust mandates’, ie the deployment of heavily armed military forces. The legal basis for such ‘robust peacekeeping’ or ‘peace-enforcement’ operations can be found in Chapter VII UN Charter. Peace operations under a Chapter VII mandate give the Secretary-General a greater scope of action to react to altering circumstance without the need of a further mandate by the Security Council. Yet, the UN Members States have proven to be reluctant to place their national troops under the operational control of the UN in order to carry out peace-enforcement operations. Instead, the establishment and implementation of such operations have in recent years often been assigned by the Security Council to various regional organizations or coalitions of the willing, usually led by a single nation. This was the case, for example, for the peace-enforcement missions in Haiti (Haiti, Conflict), East Timor, and Afghanistan (Afghanistan, Conflict). However, peace-enforcement operations are often followed up by UN peacekeeping missions, so-called Blue Helmet missions, administered by the UN Secretariat.

37  In 2005, the Security Council and the General Assembly established the Peacebuilding Commission (Peacebuilding), proposed by Secretary-General Annan earlier that year, to centrally prepare and coordinate Blue Helmet missions (UNSC Res 1645 [2005] [20 December 2005] SCOR [1 August 2005–31 July 2006] 235; UNGA Res 60/180 [20 December 2005] GAOR 60th Session Supp 49 vol 1, 96). In response to the steady increase in the number of UN peacekeeping operations in the last years, with currently around 100,000 Blue Helmets in action, Ban Ki-moon suggested dividing the Peacebuilding Commission up into a mainly political and a more technical support unit. However, these attempts failed due to the opposition of the These attempts were met with fierce resistance by the Group of 77 (G77) and the non-aligned States, culminating in a compromise with many concessions.

E.  Challenges to the Position and Effectiveness of the Secretary-General

1.  Political Pressure by Member States

38  With regard to the performance of their duties, neither the Secretary-General nor the staff of the Secretariat is permitted to seek or receive instructions from any government or any other authority external to the UN (Art. 100 (1) UN Charter). The UN Member States, in return, are duty bound to respect the exclusively international character of the responsibilities of the Secretary-General and the staff and not to seek to influence them in the performance of their duties (Art. 100 (2) UN Charter). In practice, however, States have repeatedly tried to influence the Secretary-General’s decisions, thereby threatening his neutrality and impartiality. In particular, during the Cold War (1947–91), political pressure was exerted on the Secretary-General by the two opposing blocs.

39  This became especially evident during the Korean War (1950–53). Whereas the USSR expected Secretary-General Lie to remain neutral and restrict his activities to mediation attempts, the US expected the Secretary-General to defend the principles of the UN Charter by supporting a collective military defence of South Korea. It is most likely that no matter what Lie’s response in this case, his future as Secretary-General would have been destroyed (Rovine 249). When Lie, convinced that UN Charter principles had been seriously undermined by the North Korean invasion across the 38th parallel and that a failure to act would lead to a demise of the UN (see Rovine 237), ultimately gathered support for the military defence of South Korea and backed United Nations Security Council Resolution 84 (1950) of 7 July 1950 (SCOR 5th Year 5), which had been adopted in the absence of the USSR and established a unified command under the US, he lost the support of the USSR he had enjoyed until then, which marked the end of his active role as Secretary-General.

40  Powerful political pressure against Secretary-General Lie was also exerted during the McCarthy era in 1952 and 1953 by the US, who wanted to have US nationals working for the UN Secretariat dismissed on the grounds of their alleged communist connections. Although according to regulations established by the General Assembly it is the Secretary-General alone who is responsible for the appointment and dismissal of staff (see Art. 101 (1) UN Charter), Lie succumbed to US pressure by dismissing several UN civil servants who had refused to testify before US authorities concerning past activities and by allowing FBI agents to enter UN headquarters for investigative purposes.

41  Yet the heaviest blow against the office and decisions of the Secretary-General struck at the end of Dag Hammarskjöld’s term of office when the USSR, in response to Hammarskjöld’s demeanour during the Congo crisis, proposed the abolishment of the office of the Secretary-General and its replacement by a collective executive organ consisting of three persons, each of whom would represent a certain group of States—the Western Powers, the socialist States, and the neutralist States (‘troika’; UNGA Plenary Meeting [23 September 1960] GAOR 15th Session Part I 869th Plenary Meeting, 43 at 82–83). The implementation of this proposal would not only have affected the office of the Secretary-General but would have shaken the structure of the UN to its foundation. The troika system would have replaced the concept of the head of the Secretariat as a dynamic instrument for conciliation and dispute settlement by an international secretariat with mere implementation functions. This would certainly have meant the end of the mediation functions of the UN in conflict situations. Independent initiatives, like those which have been conducted with varying levels of success since the founding of the UN, would have been subject to the will of the great powers and, due to their veto right, hardly practicable.

42  Although the initiative to curtail the functions of the Secretary-General ultimately failed, the attack on the office was not without consequences for the future. The dwindling influence of the UN in world politics during the 1960s corresponds to the restraints which the third Secretary-General U Thant imposed on himself regarding his peacekeeping activities. Successes like the conclusion of the Congo crises in 1964 or the calming of the civil strife which broke out in Cyprus in 1964 stand in contrast with his unsuccessful peacekeeping and peacemaking attempts during the Vietnam War, and the Six-Day War. In fact, the political weight and influence of the office of the Secretary-General were so reduced that the fourth Secretary-General, Kurt Waldheim, declared that the re-establishment of trust in the United Nations was to be incorporated in his policy as a priority goal. The fifth Secretary-General to take office, Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, likewise publicly spoke in favour of more self-criticism in respect of the UN. Aware of the widespread scepticism towards international organizations in the mid-1980s and the considerable financial problems of the UN, he conscientiously and decisively undertook his tasks with the intention not to nurture false expectations and to concentrate on sound negotiating work. Pérez de Cuéllar’s efforts in ending the Iran-Iraq War restored the importance of the office of Secretary-General, especially with regard to peacekeeping and peacemaking operations.

43  With the end of the Cold War, a new consensus evolved within the Security Council strengthening the capacity to act through the UN, particularly as regards peacekeeping missions, which has also led to less ideologically fuelled influence being exerted on the Secretary-General by UN Member States. However, States have continued to criticize the Secretary-General’s work on a regular basis, thereby trying to influence his work and setting the UN’s course of action to their own advantage.

2.  Relationship to the Security Council

44  The delicate relationship between the Secretary-General and the Security Council constitutes another challenge to the position and effectiveness of the Secretary-General. Both UN organs have responsibilities in the field of maintenance of peace and security. Whereas the primary responsibility and final decision-making power lies with the Security Council, Art. 99 UN Charter expressly bestows the Secretary-General with complementary competences in that field. Hence, in order for the UN to succeed in the maintenance of peace and security, both UN organs have to work together.

45  What exactly this working relationship is meant to look like is, however, unclear. On the one hand, the Secretary-General’s ability to perform his tasks effectively depends to a large part on the support he enjoys within the Security Council. To win and retain this support, he needs to avoid open confrontation. Yet, the fact that the five permanent Security Council members hold a veto over the election and re-election of the Secretary-General might prevent the Secretary-General from challenging the Security Council’s decisions even if he thinks that the action or inaction by the Security Council might result in a danger to peace and security. In order not to displease the Security Council, the Secretary-General might be prevented from stating his true opinion publicly and instead only make recommendations the permanent members are willing to accept, and offer his best advice only in private meetings with selected State representatives or not at all.

46  Such a conduct might not only endanger peace and security but also negatively redound upon the UN organization as a whole in case bad things happen as a result of the UN’s actions or inactions. In addition, such a conduct also invokes transparency issues, as the reports sent by the Secretary-General to the Security Council will often not reflect the Secretary-General’s true position. If the Secretary-General only states his true opinion in private meetings, neither the majority of States nor the media will be able to know the Secretary-General’s actual position on pressing issues. Furthermore, such a conduct endangers the balance of spheres of influence within the UN. Since the end of the Cold War, the Western powers have had almost full control over the Security Council, whereas developing countries as well as countries from a different cultural background—with the exception of China—have not been able to exert a great influence and thus be adequately represented within the Security Council. In contrast, the position of Secretary-General is generally given to candidates from regions and from social, cultural, and economic backgrounds that are underrepresented in the Security Council. Since the position of the Secretary-General is a chance for those States underrepresented in the Security Council to have their opinions and concerns represented within the UN system, it is of utmost importance for these States that the Secretary-General voices his opinions and concerns. Hence, even though the permanent members of the Security Council can prevent the re-election of a Secretary-General—as happened in case of the US’s veto against Boutros-Ghali—it might at the end be better for everyone, including the UN system, if the Secretary-General expressed his opinion freely and publicly and risked confrontation with the Security Council on certain issues.

3.  Increase in Workload

47  Another aspect threatening the function and effectiveness of the Secretary-General is the challenge to cope with the steady increase in workload. Since the formation of the UN, its number of Member States and scope of duties have steadily increased. With an ever-increasing number of activities and programmes that need to be administered and coordinated, the administrative burden on the Secretary-General has considerably risen, preventing him from effectively performing his political tasks.

48  In order to strengthen the performance and management capacities of the Secretariat, Secretary-General Annan announced in 1997 the need to create the post of Deputy Secretary-General who would handle many of the administrative responsibilities, whereas the political tasks would remain with the Secretary-General. The post of Deputy Secretary-General as an integral part of the office of the Secretary-General was formally established by UN General Assembly Resolution 52/12 B of 9 January 1998. So far, the post of Deputy Secretary-General has been filled by four incumbents: Louise Fréchette (Canada; 1998–2006); Mark Malloch Brown (United Kingdom, 2006); Asha-Rose Migiro (Tanzania; 2007–2012); and Jan Eliasson (Sweden; 2012–incumbent).

49  The relief of the Secretary-General from many of his administrative duties has led to a revaluation of his political and diplomatic mandate and, in consequence, to a strengthening of his position in these areas. In 2006, Annan asserted his claim that in the future the delegated responsibility for management policies and overall operational matters be transferred to the Deputy Secretary-General by declaring: ‘In short, I am expected to be the world’s chief diplomat and at the same time to run a large and complex Organization, as it were, in my spare time’ (UNGA ‘Investing in the United Nations: For a Stronger Organization Worldwide’ para. 32).

F.  Conclusion and Prospects

50  Over time the position, as well as the functions of the Secretary-General have changed profoundly, although the provisions of the UN Charter have basically remained the same. The main changes are, on the one hand, the altered relationship between the Secretary-General and the Security Council and General Assembly, and, on the other hand, the increase of the Secretary-General’s political functions. These changes regarding position and function of the Secretary-General were mainly brought about by the end of the Cold War, which has led to a new world order to which the UN had to adapt. Interethnic conflicts following the break-up of a number of multiethnic States were the legacy of the breakdown of bipolarity. Globalization with all its effects on the environment and developing countries and the worldwide threat from terrorism have also created new circumstances the UN had to react to.

51  The steadily increasing influence of the UN in all parts of the world has and still does cause problems for the Secretary-General. Whereas Lie had to work with 51, mainly Western-oriented States, Ban Ki-moon has to deal with almost four times that number. Crises within the UN, such as scandals involving UN Blue Helmets or financial problems, have demanded reforms and contributed to changes.

52  The many reforms initiated by the Secretary-Generals over the years have concerned the effectiveness and efficiency of the line of action of the UN, structural-institutional reforms, but also fundamental changes to the basic principles and the character of the organization. In view of the constantly changing world affairs, the main function of the Secretary-General will continue to be adaption of the UN in order to meet the challenges of the 21st century. It is now up to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to continue the ambitious attempts by his predecessors to flexibly adjust the UN to changing situations, with the biggest challenges currently being the pending reform of the Security Council, the fight against climate change, the threat by international terrorism, numerous trouble spots, and the worst global financial crisis in more than 70 years.

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