The international civil servant: A beacon of hope

The international civil servant: A beacon of hope

Peace Diplomacy, Global Justice and International Agency’s many contributors, more than 20 in all, provide a fitting tribute and an objective analysis of Dag Hammarskjold’s achievements as the second UN Secretary-General. This Swedish international civil servant held the post during one of the world’s most perilous eras, during the Cold War when there was a constant risk of a global conflagration and the spectre of a nuclear holocaust. Review by Stephen Williams.

Hammarskjöld is perhaps best known for three aspects of his life: first, his adroit handling of the Suez Crisis that averted a much wider conflict and introduced the concept of peacekeeping to the role of UN’s operations. The death of nine UN peacekeepers in Mali in October 2014 is a reminder of the difficulties and dangers blue helmets faced then, and now.



The second aspect is the more controversial Congo crisis, which led to the appalling murder of the newly independent country’s prime minister, Patrice Lumumba. Third, it is the Secretary-General’s own death, in a mysterious air crash that many believe was no accident, but an assassination conspiracy. Incidentally, next month, on Monday 15th December, the UN General Assembly will be discussing the details of the “investigation into the conditions and circumstances resulting in the tragic death of Dag Hammarskjöld and of the members of the party accompanying him”.

Hammarskjöld had many multi-disciplinary strings to his bow – including his work in the field of economics and formulating post-World War II European reconstruction policies.

Indeed, Anne Orford, who contributed the chapter ‘Hammarskjöld, Economic thinking and the UN, makes the point that “Hammarskjöld’s approach to economic and social policy may have been the reason he was an attractive choice for UN Secretary-General from the America [US] perspective”.

Hammarskjöld had hoped that the UN, having no past in many African countries, could play a special role in their future

Orford’s chapter also reveals that Hammarskjöld “had shaped Sweden’s post-war economic and financial planning, led trade and financial negotiations with countries including the US and the UK, was the Swedish delegate to the Paris Conference at which the administration of the Marshall Plan was negotiated, and was a key player in shaping the terms of Sweden’s accession to the Bretton Woods institutions.

“Hammarskjöld’s liberal economic worldview,” she writes, “was the foundation for his principled commitment to decolonisation and to the equality of new states, but was also the foundation for his faith in the free market and in a model of international economic integration.”

Hammarskjöld himself, writing in the introduction to the 1960 Annual Report of the Secretary-General on the work of the UN organisation, stated: “The challenges of decolonisation in the context of the Cold War meant that new forms of executive action were necessary to protect the independence of newly decolonised states and to create an international order that ensured ‘equal economic opportunities for all individuals and nations’.”

Henning Melber, one of the co-editors of this book (and who was kind enough to ensure a copy of the book was made available to African Business), contributes a chapter entitled ‘Dag Hammarskjöld and Africa’s Decolonisation’.

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