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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map