Who Runs the International System? Nationality and Leadership in the United Nations Secretariat

64 Pages Posted: 26 Jun 2015 Last revised: 15 Nov 2017

See all articles by Paul Novosad

Paul Novosad

Dartmouth College

Eric Werker

Harvard University - Business School (HBS)

Date Written: October 31, 2017


National governments frequently pull strings to get their citizens appointed to senior positions in international institutions. We examine, over a 60 year period, the nationalities of the most senior positions in the United Nations Secretariat, ostensibly the world's most representative international institution. The results indicate which nations are successful in this zero-sum game, and what national characteristics correlate with power in international institutions. The most overrepresented countries are small, rich democracies like the Nordic countries. Statistically, democracy, investment in diplomacy, and economic/military power are predictors of senior positions -- even after controlling for the U.N. staffing mandate of competence and integrity. National control over the United Nations is remarkably sticky; however the in influence of the United States has diminished as US ideology has shifted away from its early allies. In spite of the decline in US influence, the Secretariat remains pro-American relative to the world at large.

Keywords: United Nations, international institutions

JEL Classification: F5, F53, F59

Suggested Citation

Novosad, Paul and Werker, Eric, Who Runs the International System? Nationality and Leadership in the United Nations Secretariat (October 31, 2017). Center for Global Development Working Paper No. 376, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2622700 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2622700

Paul Novosad

Dartmouth College ( email )

Department of Sociology
Hanover, NH 03755
United States

Eric Werker (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Business School (HBS) ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

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