Formation of the Secretariat of the United Nations

  June 21, 2021   Read time 3 min
Formation of the Secretariat of the United Nations
One of the first tasks of the new secretary-general was to build up the Secretariat. Some staff had already been taken on, in many cases former League employees, to service the meetings of the Preparatory Commission and its Executive Committee.

The first task was to appoint the assistant secretaries-general (as they were then called), who would be the heads of the main departments and become in effect the inner cabinet of the Secretary-General. Here Lie was to some extent limited by previous understandings reached among the great powers. At San Francisco, as we have seen, the Soviet Union's proposal for four deputies to the Secretary-General, who would be nationals of the great powers, had not been accepted. Neither the Charter nor the Preparatory Commission had laid down any stipulation about deputies. The appointment of staff, including the most senior, and the organisation of the Secretariat were to be left to the Secretary-General himself. During the first Assembly, however, the representatives of the permanent members had got together and agreed among themselves a kind of share-out of the most senior posts. They had agreed that among the assistant secretaries-general a national of each of the five permanent members should be appointed. The Soviet Union demanded that in the first instance the post of assistant secretary-general for Political and Security Council affairs should go to a Soviet national. This was apparently believed by the Soviet Union to be the most important and influential post, since whoever was appointed would be dealing mainly with the important questions considered by the Security Council itself. The others eventually agreed to this. The post, though it has continued to be occupied by a national of the Soviet Union, has in fact secured for her no great political influence.

Lie was therefore approached, soon after his appointment, by Vyshinsky, the Soviet Foreign Minister, with a demand that he should comply with this great-power understanding. Lie confirmed with the other four foreign ministers that such an agreement had indeed been made, though Stettinius, for the United States, insisted that it referred only to the initial appointments to these posts, and it was not recognised that the Soviet Union had any permanent lien on the job. This placed Lie in something of a quandary. The understanding among the big powers was in fact quite unconstitutional. The Secretary-General was supposed to be responsible for all appointments and he was strictly enjoined to take no account of political factors in making them. Under the letter of the Charter he would therefore be fully justified in refusing to take any account of great-power views. He decided, however (as have all his successors), that discretion was here the better part of valour, and that it would be foolish to ignore the claims of the most important supporters of the organisation to some senior posts within the Secretariat: above all since the Secretary-General himself was by general consent always likely to be a national of a smaller power. Nor did he seek to overrule the distribution of posts which they had agreed among themselves, a liberty he might well have allowed himself. In fact he went still further. He not merely consulted the five governments about the individuals to be appointed, but in practice accepted their nominations in each case.

Thus the Soviet nominee was appointed Assistant Secretary-General for Political and Security Council Affairs; a nominee of the US Government was appointed to take charge of administrative and financial services; and a Frenchman was appointed from among two or three names suggested as head of the Department of Social Affairs. A Chinese proposed by the nationalist government was appointed to look after trusteeship and non-self-governing territories. The British Government was somewhat diffident in making suggestions, and eventually Lie appointed his own executive assistant, David Owen, to run the Department of Economic Affairs. To these he added a Chilean to take charge of information work, a Czech to run the legal department, and a Dutchman to look after conference and general services.