Academic journal article Global Governance

"A Force for Peace": Expanding the Role of the UN Secretary-General under Trygve Lie, 1946-1953

Academic journal article Global Governance

"A Force for Peace": Expanding the Role of the UN Secretary-General under Trygve Lie, 1946-1953

Article excerpt

The UN Charter describes him or her merely as the "chief administrative officer of the organization," yet today the Secretary-General is widely recognized as the UN's chief political representative. How did this transformation and expansion of the office from administrative to political take place? Existing scholarship tends to emphasize the contribution made by Dag Hammarskjold. This article challenges that story on two accounts: first, by pointing out the importance of institutional factors and not just the officeholder's personality; and second, by examining the contribution made by Trygve Lie, the UN's first Secretary-General. The article establishes a conceptual framework based on institutional theory to understand the role of the Secretary-General and analyzes Lie's contribution in the period 1946-1953. Keywords: UN Secretary-General, international organization, executive heads, Trygve Lie, institutionalism.

ON 1 JANUARY 2017, ANTONIO GUTERRES TOOK OFFICE AS THE UNITED Nation's ninth Secretary-General (SG) at the conclusion of Ban Ki-moon's term. The SG plays a highly visible role in international politics, and the year-long process of selecting the new SG aroused considerable interest in the media and among governments and civil society groups. The UN Charter describes the SG merely as the "chief administrative officer of the Organization," but over the years since 1945 the role has expanded significantly, and "for better or worse, the role of the Secretary-General has come to be seen as primarily political." (1) How did such an expansion and transformation of the UN Secretary-General's role become possible?

This development is surprising when we consider that it entails the SG, an individual, in an autonomous role in questions of peace and security--an area of international politics closely related to state sovereignty. In fact, this reality runs contrary to the predictions of both realism and rational choice institutionalism, two prominent research traditions in international relations. Within realism, international organizations (IOs) generally play no autonomous role, merely reflecting the interests of states. Principal-agent literature, a version of rational choice institutionalism, offers a more nuanced and sophisticated view of IOs, yet even here the primary focus remains on how states (principals) establish IOs (agents) for specific purposes and then seek to control them as they perform their tasks. Although the rational choice literature acknowledges that the performance of these tasks may expand an IO's autonomy, apart from a few studies of international courts, (2) not many have examined how this process works.

To explain the expansion of the SG's role, the dominant narrative focuses on Dag Hammarskjold (1953-1961); in his biographer Brian Urquhart's words, he was "undeniably the most remarkable of the Secretaries-General so far appointed." (3) In this article, I contend that there are two problems with this narrative. First, it places inordinate emphasis on the personality of one officeholder and fails to consider the importance of institutional factors. Second, the narrative overlooks the significance of precedents established in the first years of the UN's operation under Trygve Lie (1946-1953). Lie has largely been seen as the wrong man, in the wrong job, at the wrong time, (4) and therefore his tenure presents a hard case in analyzing the expansion of the SG's role. If even Lie succeeded in expanding the role, we would have to reconsider our present explanation of the process.

I also provide an answer to how the executive head of an organization may expand his or her autonomy. I establish a conceptual framework based on normative or sociological institutionalism, which explains how the SG occupies a special symbolic role within the UN as a "guardian" of the UN Charter and how this means the SG has been "pulled" in to fill a vacuum left by the inaction of other UN organs. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.