10 Things to Read About the UN Secretary-General

How important is the post of UN Secretary-General?

The hype surrounding elections for the post of UN Secretary-General makes us wonder… What exactly are the inherent responsibilities of the UNSG? How does this person contribute towards the promotion of international norms? How important is this job? We have compiled a list of academic articles and books in order to provide our readers with a better understanding of this position.

1. The Political Powers and Practice of the UNSG

In 1952, when the post of UNSG was quite recent, Stephen Schwebel wrote a book about it. In this book, the author offered one of the first and most comprehensive analyses of the role and potential of the UNSG.

2. Human Rights and the UNSG

Bertrand G. Ramcharan published an article, in 1982 – UNSG election year -, focusing on the UNSG’s ‘obligation’ and ‘moral responsibility’ to play an active role in promoting human rights.

3. The Secretary-General: a Comparative Analysis

In 1985, Alan James wrote an interesting chapter, in a book called ‘Diplomacy at the UN’, where he examined the role of UNSG through a comparative analysis with other leaders and SGs of other international institutions.

4. The Challenging Role of the UNSG

In 1993, a book edited by Benjamin Rivlin and Leon Gordenker offered what may have been the first comprehensive examination of the role of the UNSG after the Cold War. The book examines this position’s various roles and responsibilities, and illustrates the latter with real events.

5. The UNSG’s Peace and Security Responsibilities

Edward Newman published a book, in 1998, where he examined the UNSG’s role in the area of peace and security. The author focuses on the constraints and opportunities that this position has come across from the Cold War until the late 1990s.

6. From Manager to Visionary

In 2006, Kent J. Kille wrote a book concerning the influence that the personal traits of past UNSGs have had on their leadership abilities and their outlooks on key international issues.

7. The UNSG’s Role in World Politics

In 2007, Simon Chesterman edited a very comprehensive book about the UNSG. It begins with the selection and appointment of the UNSG, and it includes chapters about its different responsibilities and relationship with the UN and other institutions. The book ends with an assessment of this position’s potential role in world politics.

8. The UNSG’s Moral Authority

In the same year – UNSG election year, of course – Kent J. Kille edited another book on the subject of the UNSG. This book focuses on the fascinating role that moral authority, ethics, and religion play in international leadership. It focuses on the specific case of the UNSG, given the latter’s ability to influence global affairs.

9. The UNSG as a Norm Promoter

In a 2015 constructivist-oriented article, Daisuke Madokoro explains how UNSG promotes international norms. The author, looking at the cases of Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon, focuses on the latter’s role in issues of legitimation and the responsibility to protect.

10. The UNSG’s role in Climate Change

With the worsening of the planet’s climate situation, Janos Pasztor explores the UNSG’s role in the Climate Change Process in a 2016 article. Despite lack of mandate to deal with such matters, the post of the UNSG has proven to be more important than would be expected.

United Nations logo, Geneva – Photo by Harshil Shah / CC BY-ND 2.0

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Inês Marques Ribeiro

Research Assistant at CEI-IUL. Editorial Assistant at PJSS. Guest lecturer at ISCTE-IUL. PhD Candidate in History, Defence and IR (ISCTE-IUL); M.A. in European Political and Administrative Studies (College of Europe).

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