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  • On 10 April, Dag Hammarskjöld takes the oath of office as Secretary-General of the United Nations.
  • Re-organization of the Secretariat.
  • Subsequent to the letter of resignation submitted by Trygve Lie, the first Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Security Council met in March 1953 to consider a replacement. The permanent members were unable to reach a compromise until 31 March when the name of  the Swedish Minister of State, Dag Hammarskjöld was formally proposed by Ambassador Henri Hoppenot of France and seconded by Ambassador Andrei Vishinsky of Russia. The recommendation was adopted by 10 votes to none, with China abstaining. Such secrecy had been maintained throughout that even Mr. Hammarskjöld was unaware his name had been put forward. Noting that the absence of any prior consultation could result in Mr. Hammarskjöld's refusal of the nomination, the members urged the President of the Security Council to send the following cablegram:
    "In view of the immense importance of this post, more especially at the present time, members of the Security Council express the earnest hope that you will agree to accept the appointment if, as they hope and believe, it is shortly made by the General Assembly" 

    (Security Council Official Records, Eighth Year, 617th Meeting, March 31, 1953).

    Mr. Hammarskjöld was indeed stunned when he received the news. He had neither the wish nor the ambition to be Secretary-General of the United Nations, but was able to put aside his personal doubts and private concerns. He, nevertheless,  underlined his feelings of inadequacy for the position in his acceptance cablegram to the Security Council:
    "With strong feeling personal insufficiency I hesitate to accept candidature... but do not feel I could refuse to assume the task imposed on me"

    (Cablegram sent to the President of the Security Council)".

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    On 7 April 1953, the General Assembly voted by secret ballot, and adopted by 57 votes to 1, with 1 abstention,  the recommendation of the Security Council to appoint Mr. Dag Hammarskjöld, as the second Secretary-General of the United Nations  (423rd plenary meeting) [Chinese |French|Russian| Spanish]. 

    When he arrived in New York on 9 April, he was met at the airport by Trygve Lie, who told him he was about  to take over: 
    "the most impossible job in the world."

    In a prepared statement to the press, Mr. Hammarskjöld introduced himself and outlined the beliefs that were to guide his conduct in succeeding years. An understanding of these beliefs is key to understanding both Hammarskjöld the man, and the evolution of his role as Secretary-General. 
    ".....In my new official capacity the private man should disappear and the international public servant take his place. The public servant is there in order to assist, so to say from the inside, those who make the decisions which frame history. He should - as I see it - listen, analyze and learn to understand fully the forces at work and the interests at stake, so that he will be able to give the right advice when the situation calls for it. Don't think that he - in following this line of personal policy - takes but a passive part in the development. It is a most active one. But he is active as an instrument, a catalyst, perhaps an inspirer - he serves.

    Irrespective of the political responsibilities of the Secretary-General to which I have just referred, he has an important, indeed an overwhelming job as chief administrator of the UN Secretariat.  To me it seems a challenging task to try and develop the UN administrative organization into the most efficient instrument possible. My experience from other administrations tells me that even in the best one there is always much to improve.  On the other hand, I feel that an administration inspired by sound self-criticism, never blunted by conceit or false loyalties, and self-improving in that spirit, has a just claim to the respect and confidence of the governments and the public.

    In articles recently published it has been said that I am interested in mountaineering.  That's true. But I have never climbed any famous peaks.  My experience is limited to Scandinavia where mountaineering calls more for endurance than for equilibristics, and where mountains are harmonious rather than dramatic, matter of fact (if you permit such a term in this context) rather than eloquent.  However, that much I know of this sport that the qualities it requires are just those which I feel we all need today: perseverance and patience, a firm grip on realities, careful but imaginative planning, a clear awareness of the dangers but also of the fact that fate is what we make it and that the safest climber is he who never questions his ability to overcome all difficulties." 

    (Statement to the press on arrival at International Airport, New York, 9 April 1953, UN Press Release, SG/287, April 9, 1953).

    On 10 April,  Dag Hammarskjöld took the oath of office for a term of five years and replaced Trygve Lie (426th plenary meeting)  [Chinese| French|Russian|Spanish].

    During the year, the Secretary-General considered the dichotomy between his political philosophy of "quiet diplomacy", and his public responsibility to educate the press and the public about the Organization and its goals - and, indeed its Secretary-General - by holding press conferences.  The press found that he gave them much invaluable background and many revealing insights at these conferences and the transcripts are considered by some to be the most historically valuable of the public papers left behind .

    In May 1953, Mr. Hammarskjöld made his first speech to the staff in which he remarked:
    "....whatever action I take will be taken always with the interest of the United Nations and its staff solely in view, on the basis of as full and objective information as I can get, in accordance with the best of my judgment and in complete independence of influences from outside - or from inside - the Organization".

    Emphasizing his parallel belief that integrity, complete impartiality, and independence from any authority outside the United Nations in the performance of their duties are vital requisites for staff members, Mr. Hammarskjöld said the following to the European Office Staff in Geneva:
    "The right of the Secretariat to full independence, as laid down in the Charter, is an inalienable right.  But it can only be defended on the basis of full recognition by every staff member of his own unlimited obligation to remain politically independent".

    General Assembly resolution 708 (VII), [Chinese | French| Russian| Spanish] combined with a personal belief in its importance, prompted  Mr. Hammarskjöld to conduct a careful review of the administrative system of the Organization and the rules applying to staff in its employ. Noting ambiguities and omissions in the staff regulations, he drafted amendments to the Staff Regulations and revisions of certain Articles in the Statute of the Administrative Tribunal.

    Later in the year, when he presented the General Assembly with his Report on the Organization of the Secretariat, he outlined a plan for a more efficient and economical structure and underlined the necessity to give the Secretary-General certain clearly expressed powers. He also recommended the establishment of a system of checks and balances on the office to provide fuller protection for the staff from arbitrary decisions.

    Concerning the question of the Secretariat's departments at Headquarters, his stated goals were to determine if ongoing activities continued to have relevance, whether tasks should be reshuffled, and if all activities were "mutually supporting" common objectives. Based on a survey conducted by senior officials, and noting that the "magnitude" of the Department of Conference and General Services led to "administrative difficulties", he proposed that  General Services be removed  from it and designated a separate Office. He also proposed to coordinate  the Departments of Economic and Social Affairs into one but to leave intact the Departments of Political and Security Council Affairs, the Department of Trusteeship and Information from Non-Self-Governing Territories, and the Department of Public Information. Yet, despite its need for close coordination with the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Mr. Hammarskjöld decided to leave the Technical Assistance Administration as an independent unit, under his direct supervision, because of its widespread operations in Member and non-Member countries, and its working relations with other technical assistance programmes, whether inside or outside the family of the United Nations. Additionally, he proposed that three other departments and bureaus (Legal, Personnel and Finance) be newly-designated as Offices with the latter being renamed completely as Office of the Comptroller; that the Library be transferred from his Office to the Department of Conference Services; and that the Field Service be transferred to the Office of General Services. 

    He also proposed changes at the uppermost levels. The original structure had two top echelons:  Assistant Secretaries-General and Principal Directors.  The roles of the Assistant Secretaries-General were to head their departments and, at the same time, serve the Secretary-General in a "representative capacity" with individual Member countries and groups of countries. Once permanent missions  for the member countries were established at Headquarters, the Secretary-General's opportunities to interact with the various governments increased and the representative capacity of the Assistant Secretaries-General was no longer required. Noting that any remaining political responsibilities at this level would be exercised solely on the personal responsibility of the Secretary-General, he replaced the two categories with one:  Under Secretaries-General.  He reserved the right however of appointing, in exceptional circumstances Deputy Under-Secretaries within a Department and or Under-Secretaries without portfolio serving as advisers to him on special questions. 

    In a speech before the Foreign Policy Association, 21 October 1953, New Diplomatic Techniques in a New World Mr. Hammarskjöld spoke in an uncannily prescient way of the effect of technological innovations on communication and the media:
    "Technological development has altered the basis for diplomatic action... Just as the diplomat of today must rule out war as an instrument of policy, so he must recognize that in the new state of interdependence between nations, war anywhere becomes the concern of all. The intricate web of relationships which now exist have as part of their basis the new means of communication which have overnight made our world so much smaller than it was in previous generations."

    "We are very conscious of the fact that it is now but a question of hours for military forces to reach distant parts of the globe and that the old considerations of strategy based on geographic separation may no longer count for much."

    "News also reaches us from all corners of the globe almost as quickly as if we were eyewitnesses. We are parties to an action practically at the very moment it is undertaken. The nerve signals from a wound are felt at once through the body of mankind."

    On 25 October 1953, Dag Hammarskjöld made the first of what were to become annual remarks during the intermission of the United Nations Day Concert.  The Secretary-General took a great interest in these concerts and was actively involved in their planning.  He often noted that the basic harmony of the universe could be expressed best through the universal language of music.

    In a public address in London on 17 December, Mr. Hammarskjöld summed up the work of the 8th General Assembly by saying that:
    "it neither fulfilled the hopes that many nourished in the beginning, nor marked any retrogression.  It was a session characterized by caution - a caution that prevented far-reaching steps in any direction but also diluted the effects of harsh debate on several bitterly contested issues".

    The Cold War continued to be an overriding political issue and was 
    "deeply sensed as the background  during the debates on the question of new members, the representation of China, the question of preparations for a revision of the Charter, and the problem of disarmament". 

    He went on to say that the restraint shown in these and other cases was
    "an indication that all parties had in their minds and wanted to safeguard the potentialities of the United Nations as an invaluable, indeed unique instrument, if and when there is a chance for a truly international, constructive approach to the underlying conflict.

    In the same speech, he made special note of President Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace Proposal" (A/PV.470 p. 450-452) [Chinese | French| Russian| Spanish] delivered 7 days earlier to the General Assembly . He remarked  that it 
    "reflected the basic purposes of the United Nations in international life" because, while it did not "pretend the impossible - to resolve at one stroke, and in the face of all unresolved East-West conflicts, the problem of the control and elimination of atomic weapons, it was a proposal to begin on a modest scale, under the auspices of the United Nations, the universal sharing of fissionable materials for peacetime uses - a proposal for a new beginning toward the ultimate resolution of the central problem of our time - to find the way by which the miraculous inventiveness of man shall not be dedicated to his death, but consecrated to his life".

    In his final address of the year, broadcast over United Nations Radio on 31 December 1953,  Mr. Hammarskjöld said:
    "....Our work for peace must begin within the private world of each one of us. To build for man a world without fear, we must be without fear.  To build a world of justice, we must be just. And how can we fight for liberty if we are not free in our own minds?  How can we ask others to sacrifice if we are not ready to do so?... Only in true surrender to the interest of all can we reach that strength and independence, that unity of purpose, that equity of judgment which are necessary if we are to measure up to our duty to the future, as men of a generation to whom the chance was given to build in time a world of peace."

    (UN Press Release SG/360, December 22, 1953)

    "To know that the goal is so significant that everything else must be set aside gives a great sense of liberation and makes one indifferent to anything that may happen to oneself."

    Private letter, 1953

    Unless otherwise noted, the information included in these pages is based on the "Public Papers of the Secretaries-General of the United Nations: Volumes II-V: Dag Hammarskjöld", selected and edited with commentary by Andrew W.Cordier and Wilder Foote, Columbia University Press, 1974-1975. 
    Events of 1953 Events of 1954 Events of 1955 Events of 1956 Events of 1957 Events of 1958 Events of 1959 Events of 1960 Events of 1961