'Secretary or General? The U.N. Secretary-General in World Politics' & 'Law and Practice of the United Nations, Documents and Commentary'.

Author:van Aggelen, Johannes

Secretary or General?: The U.N. Secretary-General in World Politics & Law and Practice of the United Nations, Documents and Commentary

This review is dedicated to the memory of Professor Thomas Frank, who has profoundly influenced the publication of the two books under review. His seminar, entitled "Constitutional Law of the United Nations" which was offered at the New York University School of Law since 1957, spanning over half a century, was the spiritual inspiration which led to the second book.

The U.N. publishes, since its inception, albeit on a very irregular basis, a Repertory of Practice of United Nations Organs, (1) giving an article-by-article interpretation of its practices. However, the U.N. publication is first and foremost factual rather than analytical in nature. The two books addressed in this book review fill this gap, being both factual and analytical in nature.

Secretary or General?: The U.N. Secretary-General in World Politics has already been extensively reviewed by Professor Margaret McGuiness elsewhere (2) and for that reason the emphasis of this review will be on the book Law and Practice of the United Nations, Documents and Commentary, but will nevertheless discuss some issues not considered in Professor McGuiness' review. It also appears that Professor Simon Chesterman sensed the lacunae in the first book because the issues which Professor McGuinness rightly criticized in her review have been elaborated upon in the second book.


    In the introduction to the book Secretary or General?, the editor stated that the approach to the book was necessarily "selective." (3) The reason, in this reviewer's opinion, that there is no chapter focusing solely on the administrative responsibilities of the office as well as the absence of a chapter on the relationship between the Secretary-General and the General Assembly to which an annual report is due, (4) is that these topics did not fit in the structure of the book. Nevertheless, the editor acknowledges that the book discusses these issues, but in a larger context.

    A chapter of Secretary or General? not discussed in Professor McGuinness' review is the chapter by Colin Keating entitled Selecting the World's Diplomat. (5) The selection of the Secretary-General nevertheless is an important issue in Secretary or General?, as five of the seven appendices deal with one or more aspects of the selection of the Secretary-General. (6) The table titled Use of the Veto in the Appointment of the Secretary-General (7) clearly shows that the initial term of appointment and its process established in 1946 such as to "enable a man of eminence and high attainment to accept and maintain the position" (8) had gone totally astray during the 1950s. In the aftermath of the Cold War the U.N. badly needed new initiatives for appointing its Secretary-General. In particular, the so-called "Wisnumurti Guidelines" for selecting a Secretary-General and the Canadian Non-Paper were instrumental in the revitalization of the process. (9)


    The structure of the book The Law and Practice of the United Nations: Documents and Commentary (10) is somewhat similar to the approach taken in the book International Human Rights in Context: Law, Politics, Morals (11) in that it situates legal analysis in the context of policy and practice. Law and Practice combines primary materials with expert commentary and contains many thought-provoking questions at the end of each subsection. The editors demonstrate the possibilities and limitations of multilateral institutions in general. The same possibilities and limitations are also demonstrated in Secretary or General?, however Secretary or General? focused more on the possibilities and limitations of the Head of the Organization.

    Law and Practice is divided into four parts: relevance (chapters one and two), capacity (chapters three through six), practice (chapters seven through fourteen), and accountability (chapters fifteen through seventeen). Each chapter begins with an introductory essay by the authors that describes how the documents that follow illustrate a set of legal, institutional, and political issues relevant to the practice of diplomacy and the development of public international law through U.N. practice.

    Based on many years of teaching experience, the authors consequently help students form a realistic idea of the work of international diplomacy by demonstrating that negotiations of legal texts such as treaties and resolutions are often based on political compromises. Students will develop an ability to read these documents critically, not only understanding their meaning, but also the political and the bureaucratic interests of the member states behind them.

    The selection of illustrative documents, including many judicial decisions and Security Council resolutions, especially in the aftermath of the Cold War, is excellent. Law and Practice contains many cross references in its chapters which makes it even easier to understand the issues at hand.

    Chapter three on legal status is an excellent example of how to assist students to form sound legal judgment. Chapter four, entitled The Secretary-General and the Secretariat, treats in a nutshell issues contained in Secretary or General?. However, sub-section 4.2 on the U.N. Administrative Tribunal makes the...

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