Global Policy Forum

Secretary General U Thant's Reform Agenda - 1961 to 1971


Picture Credit:
United Nations

Two weeks after Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold's death in 1961, the General Assembly appointed U Thant, Ambassador of Burma to the UN, to fill the unexpired term of the late Secretary General. The following year, U Thant was elected unanimously by the General Assembly to serve for another four years. U Thant was the first person from a non-European country to hold the post as Secretary General. As he represented a non-aligned country, the US and the Soviet bloc saw him as a rather neutral choice. Known for using quiet mediation, U Thant played an important role in ending the civil war in Congo, diffusing the missile crisis in Cuba, negotiating Algeria's independence in 1962 and finding a peaceful settlement in the former Dutch East Indies. In 1966, the General Assembly unanimously reelected U Thant as Secretary General for a five year term. This became a more difficult period, dominated by the Vietnam War and the war between Israel and its neighbors. Later, the US and Israel criticized U Thant for agreeing to withdraw the peacekeeping UN Emergency Force from the Sinai Peninsula. During U Thant's tenure, the UN expanded its work on economic and social development in poor countries, and established new programs and funds, such as the UN Development Program and the UN Environmental Program.



Ban Marks Centenary of Birth of Former Secretary General U Thant (January 22, 2009)

This article summarizes Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's comments on the achievements by former Secretary General U Thant. In line with his background as a teacher, Thant established the UN University and the UN Institute for Training and Research. The UN General Assembly further established a range of development bodies, such as the UN Development Programme, during Thant's tenure. (UN News)

Secretary General's Message to Event Marking the Centenary of the Birth of U Thant (January 22, 2009)

This is the speech delivered by Bishow Parajuli, UN Resident Coordinator in Myanmar, on behalf of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to commemorate the birth of former Secretary General U Thant. The message includes comments on the reforms and achievements in the areas of education and development that Thant facilitated during his tenure.(Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary General)


Myanmar's U Thant Steered United Nations During Crisis (January 24, 2000)

This article compares the re-election processes of former UN Secretary Generals U Thant, Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Kurt Waldheim. Whereas Boutros-Ghali and Waldheim were "political animals" who actively campaigned for second and even a third term, U Thant stated he would "under no circumstances whatsoever" campaign for a third term even though he had the support of the Security Council. The author advocates for a return to the days "when the office of UN Secretary General sought the person instead of the other way around." (Jakarta Post)


The UN's Acting Secretary General U Thant (November 10, 1961)

In 1961, U Thant succeeded Dag Hammarskjí¶ld as UN Secretary General, after serious disagreements between Russia and the US on the number of assistant Secretary Generals. As the oldest son in a family of landowners, he quit university to support his family when his father died. He began a career in journalism and became speechwriter and secretary of his personal friend and Burmese Prime Minister U Nu. In 1952 he joined the UN delegation of Burma and before becoming Secretary General he held several posts at the UN. This article expects that, unlike his bold predecessor, U Thant will be a patient and efficient Secretary General. (Time)



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