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The New Secretary-General

- Abstract

THE UNITED NATIONS Charter describes the Secretary-General as “the chief administrative officer of the organization.” It limits his political initiative to “bring[ing] to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.” In the performance of other non-administrative functions, he is instructed to act upon the initiative, and as the agent, of the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, and the Trusteeship Council. He and his colleagues are enjoined to “refrain from any action which might reflect on their position as international officials responsible only to the organization.”

This limited and subordinate character of the functions assigned by the Charter to the Secretary-General is predicated upon the assumption that the main political agencies of the United Nations-the Security Council and the General Assembly-are able to act in accordance with the intentions of the Charter. This assumption has proven illusory, for the Security Council has been rendered impotent by the cold war between the Soviet Union and the other permanent members of that body, and the General Assembly has been made unwieldy by the increase in membership from the original fifty-one to the present one hundred and ten. As the Russian veto has immobilized the Security Council, so a large and disparate membership threatens the ability of the General Assembly to marshal a two-thirds majority behind any substantive policy. The present eminence of the office of the Secretary-General, unforeseen and unintended by the Charter, is a function of this decline of the Security Council and the General Assembly as the main political organs of the United Nations. First, the weight of political decision shifted from an impotent Security Council to the General Assembly, and then it shifted from an unwieldy General Assembly to the Secretary-General.

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