My United Nations memories reach very far back; as a young diplomat, I attended the first session of the General Assembly, in London, in 1946. It was a time of immense hope which was soon dashed. Before the end of the decade the permanent members of the Security Council were in open competition both ideologically and geopolitically. The collegiality between them, on which rested the collective security system, disappeared. A new world war with major powers in direct confrontation was averted, but otherwise, for decades, the ability of the United Nations to carry out its primary purpose, the maintenance of international peace and security, was severely constrained.
My career as a diplomat took me elsewhere for almost a quarter of a century before I returned to the United Nations first as the Ambassador of Peru, then as a senior Secretariat official, and, a decade later, as Secretary-General. The threat of nuclear war had receded from its October 1962 peak, but most of the other aspects of the cold war lingered. The United Nations and its Secretary-General remained largely marginalized. I am proud of what was accomplished in the decade that I held that position, much of it through careful, painstaking United Nations good offices, frequently with the assistance of outside actors, but often also by the United Nations lending assistance to the efforts of others, working closely and effectively with the Security Council.
It was a time of renewed hope, as the Security Council noted, meeting for the first time at its first-ever summit of Heads of State and Government, one month after my departure. The United Nations had played a key role--frequently the central one--in ending a series of conflicts in Afghanistan, between Iran and Iraq, and in Cambodia. Agreements on Angola opened the door to the self-determination and independence of Namibia and helped to end apartheid in South Africa. In Mozambique peace was near. The violence in Nicaragua ended, and, in El Salvador, the first United Nations mediation of an internal conflict was successfully completed. What the United Nations did in the late 1980s and early 1990s contributed significantly to the long process of unwinding the cold war.
What lessons do I draw for the future of the United Nations from that time? I devoted considerable effort to my 10 annual reports, each of which was a months-long effort involving my closest colleagues for sessions that spoiled many a summer. I have published a book...