WHATEVER else may result from the Security Council's decision to defend the Republic of Korea, the fact that this action was strongly recommended by the Secretary General of the United Nations will have lasting consequences for Trygve Lie and his successors. Mr. Lie's statement at the opening of the June 25th meeting--he insisted on speaking before Mr. Gross presented the United States' demand for action--was important if only because of the fact that it was the first time that he had used the power given him by Article 99 of the Charter to "bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security." But its significance went far beyond mere technical considerations.

Mr. Lie's statement that "I consider it the clear duty of the Security Council to take steps necessary to reëstablish peace in that area," brought him back to the original San Francisco conception that the United Nations, under the leadership of the Great Powers, must act vigorously to enforce peace. What was new, both for Mr. Lie and the world, was that action should be taken not merely in the absence of one of the two super-Powers, but against one of that Power's satellites--and not a "satellite" merely in a manner of speaking, but one that clearly could not have launched its aggression without its patron's full approval.

During the four and a half years between his election as Secretary General and the invasion of South Korea, Mr. Lie had operated on a different concept. For the first two years he still hoped that it would be possible to make the United Nations a league to enforce peace on the basis of some approach to harmony among the Great Powers. By 1948 he had been forced by a series of shattering events to lay aside such hopes, and he had turned instead to mediation and conciliation as the most that the United Nations could accomplish, apart from its long-range program for economic and social progress. Meanwhile, however, he had done what he thought lay within his powers to compose the differences between the Great Powers, and particularly those between the United States and the Soviet Union. In the early months of 1950 the Soviet walkouts threatened the very existence of the United Nations. Mr. Lie, who until that time had been timid about exercising the special powers granted him by the Charter, then started a campaign to meet the Soviet demand by admitting Communist China to the United Nations.

This unquestionably marked an increase in Mr. Lie's efforts to assert his powers. Formerly he had drawn back when he met serious opposition. On China he did not draw back, although his moves aroused increasing disapproval in the United States and some of the other democracies, approval in others, and hosannas of praise from Communist organs throughout the world. Then came the invasion of South Korea, and Mr. Lie, laying aside his inhibitions about the use of his powers and at the same time dropping his campaign to get the Soviet Union to return, went all-out for a maximum military effort.

Some of his actions in support of the Security Council decision were mistaken, in particular his cable requesting additional armed forces, "particularly ground forces." This met with a poor response, mainly because he had failed to take the indispensable step of inquiring in advance whether the governments most likely to provide them were in a position to do so immediately. However, his initial statement to the Council, if nothing else, was valuable because it probably resulted in winning the votes of India and his native Norway for the cease-fire resolution. His stand on Korea was an answer to the type of American thinking represented by Senator Knowland, who had charged only a month before that Mr. Lie was "selling a 1950 brand of appeasement."

Mr. Lie, however, had not entirely abandoned the one-world concept. In his report to the 1950 session of the Assembly he said that his "twenty-year peace plan"--which would involve the admission of Communist China--would be still more necessary after the Korean question had been settled. He thus left the way open for a resumption of his campaign to make the United Nations work through the coöperation of all the Great Powers. Despite his position on Korea, he was not in accord with the growing feeling that since the Soviet Union had torpedoed the work of the United Nations its departure from the organization would be good riddance. This feeling had gained much strength from the resentment aroused by Mr. Malik's tactics following upon his return to preside over the Security Council--and to block any further action on Korea--during August. Thus it appeared that if Mr. Lie were reëlected, the political powers of the Secretary General would be confirmed, but upon the understanding that if he intervened again he would do so on the side of the majority.

Prior to his intervention on Korea Mr. Lie had supported Soviet moves in the "cold war," and criticized those of the United States, more often than he had supported the United States. This has given rise to the canard that Mr. Lie is a stooge of the Kremlin and that he was foisted upon the United States and the United Nations on the basis of false representations as to his impartiality. Actually, he was a compromise selection by the United States and the Soviet Union after each had blocked the candidate of the other. These negotiations now seem lost in geologic time, for in London in January 1946, it still appeared possible that Russia and the West would be able to maintain reasonably friendly relations. Lester B. Pearson, then Canadian Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs, was the United States candidate; Stanoye Simich, Jugoslav Ambassador to Washington, was the Soviet candidate, with Wincenty Rzymowski, Foreign Minister of Poland, second choice. Even in those relatively halcyon days it was, of course, impossible for the United States to agree to a Slav Secretary General. The Soviet Union, while offering no objection to Mr. Pearson personally, refused to accept him on the ground that the headquarters of the U. N. was to be in the United States, and a North American Secretary General would be too much.

This produced a deadlock which ended only when the United States proposed Mr. Lie, who as a Norwegian Socialist was not in either camp; and the Soviet Union immediately accepted him. Since both countries had supported Mr. Lie for President of the General Assembly this seemed a good omen. Great Britain, France and China then accepted him, and after having been nominated by the Security Council and elected by the General Assembly, he began his five-year term on February 2, 1946. Some time before the General Assembly ends its 1950 session this fall, the Security Council and the General Assembly should in normal course either reëlect Mr. Lie or choose his successor. If necessary to avoid a Great Power veto, the General Assembly could extend his term of office for another year or two.


The office of Secretary General was, of course, modeled upon that of the corresponding official of the League of Nations, and on that analogy the Charter states that the Secretary General "shall be the chief administrative officer of the Organization." However, it assigned to him additional duties and prerogatives which made clear the intention that he should exercise political influence in his own right. There appears to be no confirmation of the story that Roosevelt and Churchill each expressed the hope that he might end his career as Secretary General. Nevertheless it symbolizes the challenge that the position offered.

For various reasons, including the absence at the start of several of the major World Powers, the League of Nations was dominated throughout most of its existence by Great Britain. This made it only natural that a British civil servant should be Secretary General; and Sir Eric Drummond exercised that function throughout the time that the organization had any real influence. The United Nations, however, was created in the belief that the five Great Powers should control it and that no one of them should have a preponderant influence. Obviously, therefore, the actions of the Secretary General had to be acceptable to them all, and by the same token it was impossible to give an office of such importance to a citizen of any one of them. The Secretary General must be provided by one of the smaller Powers. However, before Mr. Lie's election the Big Five had divided up his cabinet in much the same way that the Great Powers of the nineteenth century had set up their spheres of influence in Africa.

Out of the eight departments, each headed by an assistant secretary general, the Soviet Union took security affairs, the United States administrative and budgetary affairs, Britain economic affairs, France social affairs, China trusteeship affairs. On this basis, no one could say that at this stage the United States was grasping. The Netherlands, Czechoslovakia and Chile, as representatives of Western Europe, Eastern Europe and Latin America respectively, were given the three remaining departments. Each of the Great Powers chose the individual who would take over the department which it had been assigned.

These arrangements were an effectual protection against the possibility that the Secretary General might try to incite the small Powers to rebel against the Big Five. But they made no provision for the situation that actually developed--a split among the Big Five themselves, with the Secretary General trying to follow a middle course to the extent that Norwegian ingenuity would permit. The solidarity of the Big Five was of course intended to be the foundation of the entire United Nations structure, and it is ironical to recall the fears of the small Powers at San Francisco that the combined power of the five policemen, symbolized by the principle of unanimity in the Security Council, would enable the Great Powers to run rough-shod over the rest of the world. They conceived of the General Assembly as their principal refuge. They also put some trust in the Secretary General, however, and their proposal to make his interventions in the Security Council mandatory just missed being included in the Charter.


Before taking up Mr. Lie's record as an independent political figure we must examine his record as "the chief administrative officer of the Organization," as his duties are described in Article 97. Similar activities took up three-fourths of the time of Sir Eric Drummond, and although Mr. Lie has delegated considerable responsibilities to Mr. Price, the efficient Assistant Secretary General, they are a considerable burden. Whereas the League of Nations Secretariat never employed more than 700 people, the United Nations has 4,000 on the payroll. In addition to regional offices and commissions there are more than a dozen "specialized agencies" with which it is necessary to maintain liaison.

The larger scale of United Nations activity is symbolized by the fact that whereas the Palais des Nations provided office space for the entire League Secretariat, it is not big enough for even the branch offices and specialized agencies of the United Nations located at Geneva. The World Health Organization is now erecting a separate building. In addition, Mr. Lie has had to deal with the complicated problems arising out of the decision to establish the headquarters in New York. Construction of the permanent headquarters at one time seemed to present insoluble difficulties because of the organization's shortage of dollars, but thanks in part to Mr. Lie's efforts, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., donated the site, the City of New York carried out the necessary improvements, and the United States made an interest-free loan of $65,000,000 to pay for the building. Thanks to the loyal support given by Mr. Lie to Wallace K. Harrison, the director of planning, there has been no repetition of the bickering which delayed the construction of the Palais des Nations. Mr. Lie has not tolerated any interference with Mr. Harrison's superb design. His contribution toward making it a reality is perhaps sufficient excuse for his decision to move into New York from Lake Success next January, before some of the buildings are completed, so that, whether he is reëlected or not, he will be able to say that as the first Secretary General he established the United Nations at "United Nations, New York."

Apart from this unquestioned success, there are mixed feelings about Mr. Lie's ability as an administrator. It is difficult to make a comparison, but the general opinion is that the caliber of the Secretariat of the United Nations is below that which served the League. Some of the Assistant Secretaries General are inadequate for their responsibilities. But the Great Powers have not attempted to pack the Secretariat, and the strongest demands for jobs--which sometimes, in the best Congressional tradition, are coupled with a reminder that Mr. Lie will need votes to get his budget through the General Assembly--come from the small countries. The Charter says that while the "paramount consideration" in appointing the staff shall be efficiency, competence and integrity, "due regard shall be paid to the importance of recruiting the staff on as wide a geographical basis as possible." As a result, Mr. Lie had to establish a quota system whereby the number of Ruritanians on the staff is proportionate to Ruritania's contribution to the United Nations budget. The quotas are not rigidly enforced, but they interfere with efficient administration.

Mr. Lie has other behind-the-scenes duties which were well described by Mr. Austin in an address to the General Assembly when it held its first meeting in the United States in the autumn of 1946. After referring to Mr. Lie's political functions, Mr. Austin continued: "Less obvious, but perhaps equally important, is the function of the Secretary General and his staff to serve as a cohesive and coördinating force in the preparation of studies and proposals for the several organs, by suggesting compromises or techniques for dealing with matters under discussion, and by acting as an intermediary or conciliator. Many of these activities will never be a part of the official record, but the ability of the Secretary General and of his staff to function effectively in this manner will have an important bearing on the development of the United Nations."

These functions are particularly important in the General Assembly, since most of its members arrive only a day or so before it convenes, and advance arrangements have to be made regarding the election of officers. The arrangement of details is mostly handled by Andrew W. Cordier, Mr. Lie's executive assistant. Mr. Lie and Mr. Cordier also have a hand in drafting many of the resolutions presented to the Assembly. Furthermore, Mr. Lie is consulted on the selection of administrators for commissions created by the Assembly, and sometimes is authorized to appoint them outright. The net result of these activities is that Mr. Lie has an excellent opportunity to influence decisions of the Assembly from behind the scenes, and he has been more active in this field than in his public interventions. As examples, he was successful in advocating the Palestine partition resolution in 1947 and the decision in 1949 to grant independence to Libya; but he failed to defeat the decision last year to go ahead with the complete internationalization of Jerusalem. Also, he failed to defeat the election of Jugoslavia to the Security Council over Czechoslovakia.


Important though these activities are, Mr. Lie's place in United Nations history will rest upon his efforts to influence delegates and world opinion by public statements. His principal instrument has been his annual report to the General Assembly, published two months before the Assembly convenes. He also addresses the Assembly at the opening and close of each session. He seldom intervenes in General Assembly debates, except to defend his budget, and even less frequently in the Security Council. In the latter body, his interventions on Iran and Korea are the principal exceptions to his usual habit.

In April 1946, after spending two and a half months recruiting the United Nations staff and moving it to New York, Mr. Lie made his abortive intervention in the Iranian question. Iran had withdrawn its complaint against Soviet Russia for her failure to evacuate her troops from Iranian territory as agreed, and both Iran and the Soviet Union proposed that the Council remove the question from the agenda. This was opposed by the United States and a majority of the Council, who felt that the withdrawal of the Iranian complaint had been extorted by Soviet pressure. Mr. Lie supported the Soviet Union, arguing that in view of the withdrawal, and the Council's failure to take action under the Charter provisions for the settlement of disputes, the case should be dropped. Despite the passage of the years, the Council's records reveal the anger of its president, Dr. Quo of China, who reminded Mr. Lie that Article 97 referred to him merely as "the chief administrative officer" and who tried to have the Council proceed with the vote as though Mr. Lie had remained silent. Mr. Stettinius, the United States representative, said nothing at the meeting, but there is a plausible tradition that he gave Mr. Lie a dressing-down afterwards. Mr. Gromyko, however, quoted Article 99--South Korea was years off--to support Mr. Lie. The intervention came to nothing, for Mr. Lie's statement was referred to the Council's Committee of Experts and was heard of no more. The Council kept the Iranian question on its agenda, where it still is despite the subsequent withdrawal of Soviet troops. Mr. Lie's two primary aims were to assert the powers of the Secretary General, and restore harmony among the Big Five policemen, but the results were not promising. The precedent that nations should be held to the performance of their obligations under the Charter was more important.

Three years later Dr. Herbert V. Evatt, then Australian Minister for External Affairs, commented that despite the rebuff on the Iranian question Mr. Lie should proceed with his interventions. Nevertheless for a considerable time thereafter Mr. Lie showed great caution. He did urge the 1947 session of the General Assembly to take steps to obtain compliance with a resolution adopted the year before, which requested the withdrawal of ambassadors and ministers from Franco Spain. But the Assembly not only did not accede to his request, it failed to reaffirm the resolution. This must be noted as one of the factors that has greatly impaired the prestige of Assembly resolutions, which are in fact mere recommendations, without legal force. A few months later Mr. Lie came under criticism from Arab delegates because the United Nations legal department, which was of course expressing his views, had circulated a memorandum holding that the Security Council had no right to alter the Palestine resolution. As administrative head of the organization, if nothing more, Mr. Lie was obviously responsible for the memorandum. He disavowed it, however, saying that when he wished to express his personal views he would do so direct to the Council--which he never did.

In the meanwhile, Mr. Lie made many speeches defending the United Nations, and insisting that it was necessary for the Great Powers to work together if the United Nations was to succeed. He emphasized the need to establish international atomic control and place armed forces at the disposal of the Security Council, but gave top priority to the conclusion of peace treaties with Germany and Japan. However, as the intensity of the cold war increased, he did not take a public stand for or against any major move by either East or West. Although he felt very strongly about President Truman's decision in the spring of 1947 to send military aid to Greece and Turkey without attempting to act through the U. N., Mr. Lie made no comment for the record.

In the summer of 1948, however, Mr. Lie resumed his interventions and at the same time brought forward a more modest goal for the United Nations of mediation and conciliation. By this time, many felt, on the basis of the Soviet attitude toward the civil war in Greece and the Berlin situation, that the U.S.S.R. intended to defy the U.N., to hamstring it by the veto, and to use armed force to gain its end. To them, Lie's attitude seemed a relinquishment of the position of neutral judge which he had held earlier. Nevertheless, his report to the 1948 session of the General Assembly endorsed the Marshall Plan, and urged the creation of a United Nations guard, which in fact, if not in name, was to be the first step toward his new plan to provide the United Nations with military force to carry out its decisions. Both statements were strongly attacked by the Soviet press, but a few weeks later, when Mr. Lie went to Norway for his annual vacation, he made a speech at Bergen criticizing regional defense pacts, and attacking the claim that they are authorized by Article 51 of the Charter, which safeguards the right of individual and collective self-defense against armed attack. The United States held that Article 51 justified our defense treaty system with Latin America, and the North Atlantic Treaty was already being seriously discussed, so the target of the speech was obvious.

Later in the year Mr. Lie joined with Dr. Evatt, who was President of the Assembly, in urging the Great Powers to make one more effort to reach agreement on the Berlin question. This was after the Soviet Union had vetoed a Security Council resolution requesting it to lift the blockade, and after publication of a newspaper dispatch saying that the Lie-Evatt statement played into the hands of the Kremlin was inspired by the State Department official who was dealing with the Berlin question. Trygve Lie afterwards joined the "neutrals" on the Security Council in proposing a solution for the Berlin currency question, which ostensibly was the reason for the Soviet blockade; but it was rejected by the Western Powers. From then until his intervention over China Mr. Lie's most controversial statement was an endorsement of President Truman's Point Four program. In fact, this was not very controversial because the Soviet Union, despite its growls, joined in the unanimous vote at the 1949 session of the General Assembly endorsing an expanded United Nations technical assistance program.

The extent of the change in Mr. Lie's position since then may be judged by the fact that when he went to Norway on his vacation in August 1950, after Korea, he announced that he supported the North Atlantic Treaty.

For reasons of space the above account has necessarily given only the bare outlines of Mr. Lie's political interventions, or lack of them, and has omitted much of the background, including the failure of the Security Council to act effectively even when, as in the case of Palestine and Indonesia, the East-West issue was not directly involved. I believe that Mr. Lie was right in doing what he could in the early days to restore good relations among the five policemen, and that he was right in shifting his emphasis to conciliation and mediation when it developed that the policemen would keep on quarreling. He probably was right again when he urged that one last effort be made to get the missing policeman to come back to the station house. And certainly he was both correct and courageous in urging united action when it developed that the missing policeman had actually incited a hold-up.

Mr. Lie himself would probably be the last to claim that he is a great political thinker, and his principal service to the United Nations may well have been his understanding of the desire of ordinary men and women for peace, and his ability to act as a symbol and as a spokesman for that longing. Both his virtues and his vices reflect his earlier career as a trade-union negotiator. And yet, despite differences in age and background, Mr. Lie and Mr. Austin have many points in common. Mr. Lie, in fact, is the nearest Europe can come to producing a United States Senator, and had he been born in this country there is little doubt that by now he would have become senior Senator from Minnesota, if no higher. Mr. Lie unfortunately has never been invited to address the United States Congress, but if he had been he could have said with Mr. Churchill that he might have gotten there on his own.

Any assessment of Mr. Lie's record as Secretary General must take into account both his personal background and the geographical position of Norway, which has the unenviable distinction of being the only party to the North Atlantic Treaty that shares a frontier with the Soviet Union. As a Social Democrat Mr. Lie was brought up to see evils in both Communism and capitalism, and as a citizen of a country exposed to Soviet reprisals he has been understandably reluctant to commit himself irrevocably to the anti-Communist side. It is now obvious that Mr. Lie--like his friend Jan Masaryk and many other democratic leaders in Eastern Europe--was too slow in awakening to the fact that Soviet imperialism, precisely because it marches under the banner of peace and the common man, is an even more dangerous foe than Nazi imperialism. But until very recently this was a fact hidden from others besides Mr. Lie, and it should be enough to recall that after the war both Britain and France tried for a time to act as a "bridge" between the United States and the Soviet Union, and even the State Department has been slow to realize the danger that threatens the free world. After all, the entire United Nations concept was based on the willingness of the Soviet Union to coöperate with other countries, and from the nature of the office it was inevitable that its Secretary General should try to follow the middle way until Korea made this impossible. Moreover, such actions as the proclamation of the Truman Doctrine demonstrated that the United States did not always take into account the necessity of working through the United Nations, and the world needed someone to speak for the organization as a whole.

The criticism that Mr. Lie has been timid in asserting his powers, and has made tactical mistakes once he has committed himself, is more justified. Some delegates are extremely antagonistic to him, holding that the United Nations would be a different sort of organism if it had had a different Secretary General. They also hint that Mr. Lie's burst of activity in his final year in office was inspired at least in part by his desire for reëlection. Mr. Lie has of course announced that he will not be a candidate, but it is supposed that he could be drafted, and his supporters insist that in spite of his errors both of omission and commission, he has achieved as much as anyone could have done in view of the Great Power split after San Francisco. There is no provision in the Charter, incidentally, which makes it possible to remove a Secretary General before his term expires. There is force in the argument that a more able or courageous spokesman might have split the organization apart.

It cannot be said that Mr. Lie has given the office of Secretary General a commanding position. His part has been rather that of the chorus in a Greek tragedy, explaining events and sometimes predicting the inexorable workings of Fate, rather than controlling them. Perhaps it is true that no man could have done more.

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  • THOMAS J. HAMILTON, head of the United Nations Bureau of The New York Times; author of "Appeasement's Child" and "Report on the United Nations"
  • More By Thomas J. Hamilton