1 - The evolution of the Secretary-General  pp. 15-32

The evolution of the Secretary-General

By Brian E. Urquhart

Image View Previous Chapter Next Chapter

The Secretary-General of the United Nations holds potentially the most important public service job in the world; so important in fact that the founders of the organization were unwilling, or unable, to describe it in any detail – or even to set a term for the holding of the office. Nonetheless, of all the organs of the United Nations, the position of Secretary-General has grown and developed with the changing world more radically than any other.

Chapter XV of the Charter contains what the founders were prepared to say about the office. The Secretary-General would be “appointed by the General Assembly on the recommendation of the Security Council.” The Secretary-General would be the chief administrative officer of the organization. As to political functions, the mandate is much more vague. The Secretary-General shall perform the functions assigned to him by the main organs of the United Nations, and, in Article 99, there is a hint of independent judgement and action: “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.” Article 99 is the somewhat uncertain legal basis for the progressive expansion of the Secretary-General's political role.

The founders gave even less guidance about the desirable qualities and qualifications of the Secretary-General. The Charter is, however, unambiguous on the essential subject of independence. He (or she, although not mentioned in the Charter) should not seek or receive instructions from any government or outside authority, and governments must undertake “to respect the exclusively international character” of his responsibilities.