The men who ruled the world

TRYGVE LIE, Norwegian, 1946-53

The Norwegian Foreign Minister became the UN's first Secretary General after the rejection of names including Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower. The Great Powers expected a tame bureaucrat; instead Lie quickly defined an activist role by intervening in the Security Council in an early dispute between Moscow and the West over Iran.

No fewer than 50 Soviet vetoes were cast in the Security Council during his tenure. He was boycotted by Moscow in his second term; resigned in frustration in 1953. A former wrestler, Lie was not considered to have soaring intellect or deep vision.

DAG HAMMARSKJOLD, Swedish, 1953-1961

Hammarskjold, from aristocratic Swedish stock, is now revered as the wisest and most skilled leader the UN has ever had. He fought back the tentacles of the McCarthy-era witch-hunts and travelling to Peking to demand the release of US airmen shot down by China. In his interventions in the Suez crisis, Hammarskjold laid down the notion of the Secretary General as neutral mediator in armed conflict and dispatched the first UN peacekeeping force.

The legend of Hammarskjold was set in stone after his death in a plane crash over Africa - ruled an accident - while he was attempting to negotiate peace for the Congo.

U THANT, Burmese. 1961-1971

The ambassador to the UN from Burma, U Thant oversaw a decade marked by the Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam War, the invasion of Czechoslovakia and the Six Day War in the Middle East. In spite of his passive nature, U Thant also believed in the Secretary General's duty to intervene in such events. His abortive mediation efforts in South Vietnam earned him contempt from Washington while his actions during the Cuban Missile crisis also infuriated Moscow.

History remembers U Thant as weak and essentially invisible. The image was partly born of his public passivity and calmness that came with his devout belief in Buddhism.

KURT WALDHEIM, Austrian. 1972-1981

Waldheim took over in an era when the UN's standing in the world was at rock-bottom. Waldheim was seen as weak and an appeaser of the main powers. "I have not got the real power to force anyone to do anything," he lamented.

Waldheim will for ever be associated with the revelations of his Nazi past. It has since been surmised that Russia, for one, knew of his war crime activities and used it to its advantage. What is most remarkable is that the original documents that incriminated him and that charged him with "murder" and "putting hostages to death" had all along been held in UN archives. No-one had bothered to check them.

JAVIER PEREZ de CUELLAR, Peruvian. 1982-1991

A long-time UN bureaucrat, Perez de Cuellar is credited with taking advantage of the Cold War's close to give the UN fresh standing. He began his tenure by complaining that the Security Council was passing resolutions that "were increasingly ignored or defied"; by the time of his retirement he was hailing an organisation in the midst of "renaissance".

He saw the UN mediate to end the Iran-Iraq war and the conclusion of the Lebanon hostage crisis. An early nightmare for Perez de Cuellar came with the 1982 Falklands crisis. He attempted to mediate a settlement, even suggesting that the islands live under three flags.

BOUTROS BOUTROS-GHALI, Egyptian. 1992-1996

Elected with French backing almost by accident in 1991 - the British did not want him and the Americans supported him in the belief he could not win - Boutros-Ghali brought the UN a flavour of patrician diplomacy. In spite of his age, 70 when he arrived, he proved a forceful and fiercely independent Secretary General. That independence quickly began to grate with the Clinton administration, which erroneously came to assign to Boutros-Ghali much of the blame for the debacle in Somalia. Boutros-Ghali, who was even ridiculed in America because of his name, was later to be similarly maligned over the prolonged failure of the peace mission in Bosnia.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, Security Cleared

£100 - £110 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Ham...

Senior Digital Marketing Executive

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...

Junior Developer- CSS, HMTL, Bootstrap

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading company within the healthcare ...

Junior Web Developer- CSS, HMTL

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading company within the healthcare ...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz