U.N. Headquarters New York City, New York, US
5 years renewable (traditionally limited to 2 terms)
The Secretary-General of the United Nations (UNSG or just SG) is the head of the United Nations Secretariat, one of the principal organs of the United Nations. The Secretary-General serves as the chief administrative officer of the United Nations. The role of the United Nations Secretariat, and of the Secretary-General in particular, is laid out by Chapter XV (Articles 97 to 101) of the United Nations Charter.
As of 2017, the Secretary-General is António Guterres, appointed by the General Assembly on 13 October 2016.
The Secretary-General was envisioned by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a "world moderator", but the vague definition provided by the UN Charter left much room for interpretation by those who would later occupy the position. According to the UN website, their roles are further defined as "diplomat and advocate, civil servant, and CEO". Nevertheless, this more abstract description has not prevented the office holders from speaking out and playing important roles on global issues to various degrees. Article 97 under Chapter XV of the United Nations Charter states that the Secretary-General shall be the "chief administrative officer" of the Organization, but does not dictate their specific obligations.
Responsibilities of the Secretary-General are further outlined in Articles 98 through 100. Article 98 states that they shall act as the chief administrative officer "in all meetings of the General Assembly, of the Security Council, of the Economic and Social Council and the Trusteeship Council, and shall perform other functions as are entrusted to him by these organs". They are also responsible for making an annual report to the General Assembly. According to Article 99, they may notify the Security Council on matters which "in their opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security". Other than these few guidelines, little else is dictated by the Charter. Interpretation of the Charter has varied between Secretaries-General, with some being much more active than others.
The Secretary-General, along with the Secretariat, is given the prerogative to exhibit no allegiance to any state but to only the United Nations organization: decisions must be made without regard to the state of origin.
The Secretary-General is highly dependent upon the support of the member states of the UN. "The Secretary-General would fail if they did not take careful account of the concerns of Member States, but they must also uphold the values and moral authority of the United Nations, and speak and act for peace, even at the risk, from time to time, of challenging or disagreeing with those same Member States."
"The personal skills of the Secretary-General and their staff are crucial to their function. The central position of the UN headquarters in the international diplomatic network is also an important asset. The Secretary-General has the right to place any dispute on the provisional agenda of the Security Council. However, they work mostly behind the scenes if the members of the council are unwilling to discuss a dispute. Most of their time is spent on good offices missions and mediation, sometimes at the request of deliberative organs of the UN, but also frequently on their own initiative. Their function may be replaced or supplemented by mediation efforts by the major powers. UN peacekeeping missions are often closely linked to mediation (peacemaking). The recent improvement in relations between the permanent members of the Security Council (P5) has strengthened the role of the Secretary-General as the world's most reputable intermediary."
In the early 1960s, Soviet First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev led an effort to abolish the Secretary-General position. The numerical superiority of the Western powers combined with the one state, one vote system meant that the Secretary-General would come from one of them, and would potentially be sympathetic towards the West. Khrushchev proposed to replace the Secretary-General with a three-person leading council (a "troika"): one member from the West, one from the Eastern Bloc, and one from the Non-Aligned powers. This idea failed because the neutral powers failed to back the Soviet proposal.
Selection and term of office
Article 97 of the United Nations Charter determines that the Secretary-General is "appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council." As the recommendation must come from the Security Council, any of the five permanent members of the Council can veto a nomination. Most Secretaries-General are compromise candidates from middle powers and have little prior fame. Unofficial qualifications for the job have been set by precedent in previous selections. The appointee may not be a citizen of any of the Security Council's five permanent members. The General Assembly resolution 51/241 in 1997 stated that in the appointment of "the best candidate", due regard should be given to regional (continental) rotation of the appointee's national origin and to gender equality.
The Secretary-General is customarily appointed for a five-year term, although the length of the term is discretionary. Trygve Lie's second appointment was for three years, and U Thant's first two terms were short terms that added up to five years. The Secretary-General customarily runs unopposed for a second term if he wishes to continue serving, and he is reappointed unless vetoed by a permanent member. Although there is no formal limit to the number of terms, none so far has held office for more than two full terms. Kurt Waldheim ran for a third full term in 1981, but several candidates ran to oppose him. China cast a record 16 vetoes against Waldheim, forcing him to suspend his candidacy. No Secretary-General since 1981 has attempted to secure a third term.
Since 1981, Secretaries-General have been chosen behind closed doors by the Security Council and then had their names submitted to General Assembly for ratification. No candidate has ever been rejected by the General Assembly. The Security Council and General Assembly took steps in 2016 to make the selection process more transparent and open, sending a letter to UN member states asking them to nominate candidates for the position. However, the Security Council voted in private and followed the same process as previous selections, leading the President of the General Assembly to complain that it "does not live up to the expectations of the membership and the new standard of openness and transparency".
The official residence of the Secretary-General is a townhouse in Sutton Place, Manhattan, in New York City, United States. The townhouse was built for Anne Morgan in 1921, and donated to the United Nations in 1972.
This is a graphical lifespan timeline of the Secretaries-General of the United Nations. They are listed in order of office.