Appointed sixth secretary-general of the United Nations in November 1991, Egyptian lawyer, academic, civil servant, and diplomat Boutros Boutros-Ghali (born 1922) sought to reassert the leadership role of the United Nations in contemporary world affairs.
Boutros Boutros-Ghali was born on November 14, 1922, into one of the Egyptian Coptic community's most influential and affluent families. His father, Yusuf, served at one time as the country's finance minister, while a grandfather had been premier of Egypt from 1908 until his assassination in 1910. Boutros-Ghali's own cosmopolitanism and fluency in English and French, in addition to Arabic, can be traced to his patrician upbringing and formal schooling. After completing a law degree in 1946 at Cairo University, he spent the next four years in France, earning diplomas in higher studies in public law and in economics, as well as a Ph.D. in international law from Paris University in 1949.
Returning to Egypt, Boutros-Ghali became professor of international law and international relations at Cairo University. During his 28 years in academia he was a Fulbright scholar at Columbia University (1954-1955) and director of the research center at the Hague Academy of International Law (1967-1969). In addition to participating in many international conferences and delivering guest lectures at prestigious universities abroad, from Princeton to the Warsaw Institute of International Relations and Nairobi University, his list of scholarly publications ran to over 100 articles on foreign policy problems and at least 12 books. Membership on the UN Commission of International Law (1979-1992) gave him a better understanding of the workings of that body, which would serve him later in his career.
Boutros-Ghali left academia in October 1977, with what proved to be an exquisite sense of timing. Appointed minister of state for foreign affairs, he accompanied President Anwar Sadat on the historic journey to Jerusalem on November 19, 1977. Then he attended the Camp David peace summit the following September as part of the Egyptian delegation. During the 1980s he was also involved in domestic politics as a leading member of the National Democratic party and as a delegate to the Egyptian parliament from 1987. In May 1991 President Husni Mubarak promoted him to deputy prime minister for international affairs and minister of state for immigration and Egyptian expatriates. However, this deepening involvement in Egyptian national and external affairs ended toward the close of 1991 with the invitation to head the United Nations.
Upon assuming office in January 1992, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali became the world's leading spokesman for post-Cold War internationalism, as well as its foremost practitioner. The new head of the United Nations insisted on viewing the end of the U.S.-Soviet rivalry and the precedent for collective enforcement measures against aggression established during the Kuwait crisis as presenting an historic opportunity for transforming the nature of world politics. Boutros-Ghali used his position to summon all countries and governments belatedly to fulfill the original 1945 UN Charter pledge of an integrated global system and, accordingly, championed the UN organization and its affiliate specialized agencies in promoting the cause of international peace and common security, economic development, and human rights through multilateral cooperation. But on the immediate and more practical level, much of his energy went toward putting the United Nations' own house in order.
The secretary-general's ambitious list of UN-related priorities included: streamlining the secretariat and coordinating the efforts of UN personnel headquartered in New York with those in Geneva, assuring that budgetary resources in the future would be commensurate with the increased number and complexity of the missions undertaken around the globe, prodding the United States and other permanent members of the Security Council, as well as the General Assembly, to redefine the UN's mandate, and stengthening the commitment of each of the more than 180 member-states to the world body. The highest priority assigned by Boutros-Ghali was to broaden the role of peace-keeping. His goal was to assure greater effectiveness by the eve of the United Nations' fiftieth anniversary in 1995.
This program of structural, procedural, and functional reform inevitably made Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali a controversial figure in world affairs. Against the backdrop of destabilizing events in Bosnia and Somalia, he found himself involved in sharp political differences not only with the United States and other Western governments, but also with UN military field commanders. This seemed uncharacteristic to the rather unassuming, former Egyptian statesman and man of letters. Nevertheless, he continued to commit UN resources in search of peace in Cyprus, the Middle East, Angola, Cambodia, and elsewhere.
Indeed, Boutros-Ghali's appointment had surprised many UN experts, who were inclined to dismiss him as excessively conservative and uncharismatic. They saw his selection as a gesture toward the Third World, especially its 51-member African bloc. Noting his age (69), they also rushed to predict he would be more of an interim caretaker than a voice for dynamic change by an action-oriented United Nations.
The secretary-general's critics apparently had underestimated his leadership qualities and inner resolve. Certainly, the biography of Boutros-Ghali, his long public career, and previous experience in international and Middle East diplomacy, underscored impressive professional qualifications for the sensitive UN position.
Boutros-Ghali has continued to remain committed to democratization throughout historically conflicted countries. He has overseen the deployment of over 70, 000 UN peace keeping troops during his years in office. Boutros-Ghali remained a prominent and outspoken memeber of the United Nations until the end of his term in 1996.
Further Reading on Boutros Boutros-Ghali
Insight into Boutros-Ghali's thinking on current international politics and his approach to the United Nations can be found in his important special report to the Security Council entitled An Agenda for Peace (1992). Earlier major publications include: "Contribution à l'Etude des Entences Régionales" (XV Editions, Paris, 1949); "Cours de Diplomatie et de Droit Diplomatique et Consulaire" (Cairo, n.d.); "Les Problémes du Canal de Suez" (1957); "Egypt and the United Nations" in collaboration with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (1957); "Le Principe d'Egalité des Etats et les Organisations Internationales" (1961); "Foreign Policy in a World of Change" (1963); "Contribution à une Théorie Générale des Alliances" (Paris, 1963); "L'Organisation del'Unité Africaine" (Paris, 1969); "Le Mouvement Afro-Asiatique" (Paris, 1969); "Les Difficultés Institutionelles du Panafricanisme" (Geneva, 1971); "La Ligue des Etats Arabes" (Leyden, n.d.); and "Les Conflits de Frontièeres en Afrique" (Paris, 1973).
Additional Biography Sources
New York Times, August 7, 1991; November 22, 1991; November 23, 1991.
Time, December 2, 1991; February 3, 1992; March 23, 1992;January 6, 1997.
UN Press Release, November 15, 1996.