The Swedish diplomat Dag Hammarskjöld (1905-1961) served as the secretary general of the United Nations from 1953 until his death.
Dag Hammarskjöld played a leading role in expanding the operations of the United Nations (UN), most notably through the establishment of peace-keeping forces and through technical and economic assistance to poor and newly independent nations. He practiced "quiet diplomacy" to reduce conflict and to build an international civil service that could carry out functions necessary to maintain peace and promote welfare. His extraordinary intellectual brilliance and courage were widely admired.
Dag Hammarskjöld was born on July 19, 1905, in Jönköping into one of Sweden's oldest aristocratic families, with a long history of government service. Hammarskjöld spent most of his childhood in Uppsala, where his father served as provincial governor. He attended a private school and then entered the university in 1923. He received his law degree at Uppsala in 1930, and in 1934 he earned a doctorate in political economics at the University of Stockholm.
Expert in Economics
In 1930 Hammarskjöld was appointed secretary of the Royal Commission on Unemployment. He served next as secretary of the Central Bank. His economic expertise brought him the high post of undersecretary in the Ministry of Finance at the age of 31. Five years later he was named chairman of the Central Bank and also assumed the duties of commissioner and assistant undersecretary in the State Financial Office. In 1946 he transferred to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as an economic adviser. The next year he served as Swedish delegate to the Paris conference on economic recovery and later was responsible for Sweden's role in the Marshall Plan. He played a prominent role in establishing the Organization for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC), serving as vice-chairman of its executive committee. In 1949 he was appointed undersecretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Two years later he was named a minister without portfolio in the Swedish Cabinet.
UN Secretary General
Hammarskjöld served as vice-chairman of the Swedish delegation to the General Assembly of the UN in 1952. The following year he became chairman of the delegation. In March 1953 Hammarskjöld received the recommendation of the Security Council to replace Trygve Lie as UN secretary general, and on April 7 the General Assembly adopted the recommendation. He took office 12 days later.
During his initial year at the UN, Hammarskjöld sought to streamline the operations of the Secretariat and to reduce the political interference of member states in Secretariat administration. He made it clear, however, that he felt the role of secretary general included serving as a trusted consultant to all sides in conflict and as a discreet channel of communications when normal diplomatic channels were inadequate. The practicality of this approach was proved in 1955, when Hammarskjöld successfully secured the release of 15 American fliers shot down over China and held by the Chinese.
Peace-keeping in the Middle East
Hammarskjöld's role as mediator became even more apparent in the 1956 Middle East crisis. In January he conferred with both President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and Premier David Ben Gurion of Israel, and his quiet diplomacy kept the explosive situation temporarily in check. After the nationalization of the Suez Canal in late 1956 and the subsequent military invasion of Egypt by Israel, France, and England, Hammarskjöld led in getting these forces removed and the canal reopened. A crucial factor was the establishment of a United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF), though previously the UN had only sent observers to areas of strife. Within a matter of weeks Hammarskjöld was able to establish the force and arrange for its operation along the lines between Israel and Egypt.
In 1958 Hammarskjöld was reelected as secretary general. He increasingly turned his attention to the emerging nations of Asia and Africa. Asian leaders sought his personal advice and diplomatic help. Hammarskjöld's trip to 24 African nations in 1960 deeply impressed him with the need for the UN to give assistance to newly independent countries, particularly with problems of public administration, economic development, and social reform.
Conflagration in the Congo
In July 1960 the Security Council authorized Hammarskjöld to give military assistance to the newly independent Republic of the Congo in order to restore and maintain law and order. Hammarskjöld organized a military force composed of contingents contributed by various countries, excluding the major military powers. He felt that maintaining order in the troubled country was the greatest single task the UN faced. His efforts were severely criticized by the U.S.S.R. and nations in its sphere of influence.
In September 1961 Hammarskjöld traveled to the Congo at the invitation of the Congolese government to mediate between the various factions within the country. During his stay fighting broke out between secessionist forces in Katanga and the UN peace-keeping troops stationed there. In Léopoldville, Hammarskjöld conferred with the government, then flew to meet Moise Tshombe, leader of the Katanga secessionists. En route, on September 17 Hammarskjöld and 15 others were killed when their plane crashed in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia). Hammarskjöld was awarded the Nobel Prize for peace posthumously in 1961.
The posthumous publication of Hammarskjöld's journal, Markings, revealed him as an intensely religious man, preoccupied with the spiritual problems of reconciling abstract ideals with human frailty.
Further Reading on Dag Hammarskjöld
Hammarskjöld revealed his literary and philosophical qualities in Markings (1964). The Light and the Rock:The Vision of Dag Hammarskjöld, (no date) edited by T. S. Settel, is a parallel volume of Hammarskjöld's statements that reflect his thoughts on many subjects. A helpful collection of Hammarskjöld's writings and speeches is Wilder Foote, The Servant of Peace:A Selection of Speeches and Statements of Dag Hammarskjöld (1962).
Among the many biographies and full-length portraits of Hammarskjöld are Joseph P. Lash, Dag Hammarskjöld:Custodian of the Brushfire Peace (1961); Sten Valdemar Söderberg, Dag Hammarskjöld:A Pictorial Biography (1962); Emery Kelen, Hammarskjöld (1966); Sven Stolpe, Dag Hammarskjöld:A Spiritual Portrait (trans. 1966); Charles May Simon, Dag Hammarskjöld (1967); Henry Pitney Van Dusen, Dag Hammarskjöld:The Statesman and His Faith (1967); Emery Kelen, ed., Hammarskjöld:The Political Man (1968); and Bo Beskow, Dag Hammarskjöld:Strictly Personal; A Portrait (1969). Gustaf Aulén, Dag Hammarskjöld's White Book:The Meaning of "Markings" (1969), is an investigation of the intellectual and theological background for Hammarskjöld's views recorded in his Markings. One of the most useful studies of Hammarskjöld's role in the UN is Marc W. Zacher, Dag Hammarskjöld's United Nations (1969).
Additional Biography Sources
Hammarskjöld, Dag, Markings, Boston:G. K. Hall, 1976, 1964.
Urquhart, Brian., Hammarskjöld, New York:Harper & Row, 1984, 1972.