United Nations Secretary-General

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The United Nations Secretary-General is the head of the Secretariat, one of the principal divisions of the United Nations. According to the United Nations Charter, the Secretary-General is to be appointed by the General Assembly on the recommendation of the Security Council. It is widely considered the most influential role in the United Nations.


Current Office Holder

Kofi Annan
Kofi Annan

The current Secretary-General is Kofi Annan. His appointment began on January 1, 1997, and his second term began on January 1, 2002. "I am a cheerleader, I am a promoter, I am a salesman, I am a debt collector, I am a father confessor and there are other aspects I still have to discover," Annan has said in describing his job.


The Secretary-General is described by the Charter as the "chief administrative officer" of the organization. Originally some felt that the role of the Secretary-General should be purely administrative. It was Trygve Lie, the first Secretary-General, who asserted that it was his role to speak out and act as leader and mediator. Every Secretary-General since has spoken out on global issues and used his good offices to mediate disputes. This is in keeping with the original vision of US president Franklin D. Roosevelt, who held office just before the creation of the UN and who has much influence on its shaping, that the organization should be headed by a "world moderator."

Term and Selection

The Secretary-General is appointed to a five year term. UN Secretaries-General normally spend two terms in office; however, sometimes, they will serve only one. By convention, the position of UN Secretary-General rotates by geographic region, but since Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt served only one term, a successor from Africa, Kofi Annan of Ghana, was chosen. When Annan had finished his first term, the member states were so impressed with his performance that he was appointed for a second term despite the fact that the next Secretary-General should have been from Asia. There has not yet been a Secretary-General from North America or Oceania.

Most Secretaries-General are compromise candidates from middle powers and with little prior fame. While high profile candidates are frequently touted for the job, these are almost always rejected as unpalatable to some. For instance for the first Secretary-General such figures as Charles de Gaulle, Dwight Eisenhower and Anthony Eden were considered, but were rejected in favour of the uncontroversial Norwegian Trygve Lie. As a result of international politics and mechanicisms of political compromise, there are many similarities between the process and ideals for selecting the Secretary-General and those of selecting leading figures in other international organizations, including the election of Popes in the Roman Catholic Church.

The Secretary-General is appointed by the General Assembly, on the recommendation of the Security Council. The Secretary-General's selection is therefore subject to the veto of any of the five permanent members of the Security Council. S/he is not directly elected by the citizens in direct voting.

Reported possible candidates

Rumours have recently surfaced that former U.S. President Bill Clinton and current Chilean President Ricardo Lagos have set their sights on becoming Secretary-General. However, it is generally considered to be Asia's turn to fill the post and Clinton has denied such claims. No announcement has been made, but behind the scenes China is already pushing the candidacy of Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, who also seems to have U.S. support. Jayanta Dhanapala of Sri Lanka is also considered a strong candidate. Dhanapala is well reputed in UN circles especially for his contribution to disarmament issues.

Proposed Abolition

In the early 1960s, Soviet ruler Nikita Khrushchev led an effort to abolish the Secretary-General position. The numerical superiority of the Western powers meant that the Secretary-General would come from one of them, and would typically be sympathetic towards the West. Khrushchev advanced a proposal to replace the Secretary-General with a three-person leading council (a "troika"): one member from the West, one from the Communist states, and one from the Non-Aligned powers. This idea failed because the neutral powers failed to back the Soviet proposal.

Reformation and Presidentialism proposals

World movements has proposed a UN Secretary-General directly voted by the citizens. It would be elected using a Presidential system (see Federal World Government).


Sir Gladwyn Jebb (United Kingdom), acting, 19451946.
  1. Trygve Lie (Norway), February 1946 to his resignation in November 1952.
  2. Dag Hammarskjöld (Sweden), April 1953 until his death in a plane crash in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), September 1961.
  3. U Thant (Burma), November 1961 – December 1971.
  4. Kurt Waldheim (Austria) 1972 to the Chinese veto of his third term in 1981.
  5. Javier Pérez de Cuéllar (Peru) 19821991
  6. Boutros Boutros-Ghali (Egypt), January 1992 to the American veto of his second term in December 1996.
  7. Kofi Annan (Ghana), January 1997 to present.

See also

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