The Term of Office of the UN Secretary-General

21 Pages Posted: 19 Jan 2013 Last revised: 16 Oct 2013

See all articles by James Crawford

James Crawford

University of Cambridge - Faculty of Law

Date Written: January 2013


Of the office of the Secretary-General (SG) a great deal has been written, but nothing sums up the position quite as well as the remark made by the first SG, Trygve Lie, to his successor, Dag Hammarskjöld, on meeting him at New York’s Idlewild Airport on 9 April 1953, that Hammarskjöld was about to inherit ‘the most impossible job in the world’. Called on to be politician, diplomat and administrator, the SG who speaks with the ostensible authority of the United Nations on matters great and small whilst at the same time working behind the scenes for the advancement of international peace and security. His – there has never been a female SG – is a continuous balancing act, serving the interests of multiple constituencies which did not elect him.

Professor James Crawford reflects on the roles and challenges of the UN Secretary-General.

Keywords: UN, United Nations, Secretary-General, SG, Charter of the United Nations, Diplomacy, Politics, International Law

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Crawford, James, The Term of Office of the UN Secretary-General (January 2013). University of Cambridge Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 1/2013, Available at SSRN: or

James Crawford (Contact Author)

University of Cambridge - Faculty of Law ( email )

10 West Road
Cambridge, CB3 9DZ
United Kingdom

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