The United Nations: 'At the Center of It All.' (Interview with Under-Secretary-General for Political and General Assembly Affairs and Secretariat Services, Ronald Spiers)

UN Chronicle, December 1989 | Go to article overview

The United Nations: 'At the Center of It All.' (Interview with Under-Secretary-General for Political and General Assembly Affairs and Secretariat Services, Ronald Spiers)


Donald Spiers, new Under-Secretary-General for Political and General Assembly Affairs and Secretariat Services for the United Nations, has a special vantage point from his seat at the imposing green marble dais overlooking the General Assembly Hall.

"What interests me most about this job is the evolution of the UN" he said recently. "We're in an era in which the UN will play increasingly important roles in international affairs, not just in political but also in economic and social areas. This is an interesting, exciting time. I think the UN is going to be at the centre of it all".

A 35-year-veteran of the United States Foreign Service, Mr. Spiers by the age of 12 had decided on a career in diplomacy. The son of an international banker, he grew up in Peru, London, Paris and Brussels. On I August 1989, he was appointed to the high-level UN job-its special responsibility: to ensure the often-cumbersome work of the General Assembly runs as smoothly as possible.

Among his past jobs: head of embassies in London, Turkey, Pakistan and the Bahamas; special assistant to then United States Secretary of State john Foster Dulles on arms control and disarmament (1957-1958); chief of the State Department's Bureau of Political and Military Affairs; Assistant Secretary of State for intelligence and research; and his most recent Post-Under Secretary of State for Management.

An articulate, down-to-earth conversationalist with a prodigious memory for historical detail, Mr. Spiers recently shared some of his views on the world body, its purpose, its future, with the UN Chronicle.

Town hall of the global village

The General Assembly is the town hall of the global village. It embodies those two metaphors. Everybody comes here.

In a way, it really is a kind of a town meeting. And town meetings offer an opportunity for people to get together in the corridors, understand each other's opinions, express their views. This isn't a parliament, it doesn't legislate. It may never have that authority... but, again, who can tell the way the world community is going to evolve?

Presumably, the Governments are expressing here representative views and opinions. One of the big trends of our times is the process of democratization taking place all over the world, in Latin America, in Eastern Europe ... So, increasingly, the people that stand out on this platform are going to express views that represent the majority of their populations.

This is the place where people have an opportunity to influence each other, to listen and persuade each other, to get a sense of what the majority opinion in the world is about specific issues, to see whether your own drum beat is substantially different from the drum beat of the majority.

A microcosm of the world

The United Nations offers a kind of a microcosm of the world. You have here a group of people who mostly are very well informed about their government's priorities, policies and objectives. You have an opportunity here of being in direct contact with 160-plus countries. That's a unique thing. I don't know any place else in the world where you can do this.

As a Secretariat official, as opposed to a representative of a Government, you have an objective or neutral position that probably makes it easier for people to talk with you candidly and certainly makes it easier for you to talk candidly with them.

In a way, it's liberating. I'm in a position where I no longer have to be a defender, an advocate, of purely governmental policies. I'm no longer bound by the disciplines and restrictions of being a diplomat of a particular country. …

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