The Norwegian statesman Trygve Halvdan Lie (1896-1968), first secretary general of the United Nations, developed a political role for this new office that his successors maintained.
Trygve Lie was born in Oslo, Norway, on July 16, 1896. The son of a carpenter, he worked his way through school as an office boy with the Labor party. He was elected president of a branch of the Labor party at the age of 16. On graduation from the Oslo University faculty of law in 1919, he joined the secretariat of the Labor party.
At the age of 25 Lie was appointed one of three of the Labor party's national executive secretaries. A year later he became legal adviser to the Trade Union Federation. When the Labor government came to power in 1935, Lie, then elected to Parliament, was appointed minister of justice. In 1939 he became minister of commerce and, with the outbreak of World War II, minister of shipping and supply.
After the German invasion of Norway, Lie, as a member of the government, escaped with the King and other ministers to England. Lie was named acting foreign minister of the government in exile and became foreign minister in 1941. He played a principal part in ensuring that Norwegian ships and sailors continued their vital service to the Allied forces.
Lie led the Norwegian delegation to the United Nations Conference on International Organization in San Francisco in April 1945. He served as chairman of the Conference commission that dealt with the draft articles of the UN Charter on the Security Council. That winter the first General Assembly of the UN convened in London; Lie was narrowly defeated in a contest for Assembly president.
First Secretary General
Lie was both the United States' and the Soviet Union's second choice for secretary general. On the United States' proposal, cordially supported by the U.S.S.R., Lie was agreed upon by the Security Council and was elected secretary general by the General Assembly on Feb. 1, 1946, for a 5-year term.
Now thrust to the center of the world diplomatic stage, Lie was a burly, slow-speaking, quick-tempered man and a shrewd politician, not lacking in international ideals. Though his education and his style were unsophisticated, he brought valuable administrative and labor-negotiating experience to his office, plus determination and a sense of what the United Nations should become. A forceful politician rather than an artful diplomat, Lie impressed his personality on the unformed office of secretary general.
Thus, when at the outset of its organizational life the Security Council considered Iran's complaint that Soviet troops remained on Iranian territory contrary to the UN Charter, Lie was not only the traditional behind-the-scenes conciliator but took an active public stance. He submitted, on his own initiative, a legal opinion which (though not followed) established the precedent that the secretary general had the right to intervene substantively and on his own motion in the Council's discussions. This precedent was soon embodied in the UN rules of procedure.
Lie progressively developed the powers of his office through his activity on various questions that came before the UN. Despite his efforts to promote continuing Soviet participation in the UN and to facilitate inclusion of Communist China, Lie maintained general support until the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. Then his outspoken role in organizing the UN's security effort against North Korean aggression led the Soviet Union to break with him.
The U.S.S.R. made clear that it would not support Lie's continuation for a second term in office. The United States was unwilling to see Lie ejected and maintained that it would accept no secretary general but Lie. Thus, the Security Council was deadlocked, and the General Assembly extended Lie's term for 3 years. The U.S.S.R., claiming this extension was illegal, refused to recognize Lie as secretary general once his original term expired, and Lie's usefulness was profoundly impaired.
At the same time, persecution in America of alleged Communists of United States nationality employed by the UN Secretariat caused Lie and his staff much pain. Disheartened by this and by the Soviet boycott, Lie decided the best interests of the UN lay in his resigning. His resignation took effect in April 1953.
Lie returned to Norway, wrote his memoirs, and resumed Cabinet and ambassadorial functions in the Norwegian government. He died on Dec. 30, 1968, survived by his three daughters.
Further Reading on Trygve Halvdan Lie
Lie described his 7 years with the UN in In the Cause of Peace (1954). See also Stephen M. Schwebel, The Secretary-General of the United Nations (1952); Leon Gordenker, The UN Secretary-General and the Maintenance of Peace (1967); Andrew W. Cordier and Wilder Foote, The Public Papers of the Secretaries-General of the United Nations, vol. 1: Trygve Lie (1969); and Arthur Rovine, The First Fifty Years (1971).
Additional Biography Sources
Barros, James, Trygve Lie and the cold war: the UN Secretary-General pursues peace, 1946-1953, DeKalb, Ill.: Northern Illinois University Press, 1989.