Award ceremony speech

Presentation Speech by Gunnar Jahn*, Chairman of the Nobel Committee

The Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Parliament has awarded the Peace Prize for 1961 posthumously to Dag Hammarskjöld.

Dag Hammarskjöld was born in 1905, and prior to his appointment as Secretary-General to the Secretariat of the United Nations in 1953, he had been associated with the administration of his native Sweden ever since the completion of his education.

He had studied widely, and his knowledge ranged far beyond his chosen field. His special subject, however, was regarded as economics, in which he took his doctor’s degree in 1934, with a thesis entitled “Konjunkturspridningen.”1 He had by then already obtained degrees in philology and in law. In 1936 he entered the Swedish Ministry of Finance, and from 1941 to 1948, he was chairman of the Board of the Swedish Riksbank. In 1945 he became government adviser on trade policy and financial policy and in 1947 joined the Swedish Foreign Office. In 1951 he was appointed a consultative cabinet minister. But as he himself pointed out, he was committed to no particular party, and his cabinet appointment was a professional rather than a political one. In addition to leading various Swedish financial delegations in negotiations with other countries – primarily in connection with trade agreements – he also represented Sweden in UNISCAN2 negotiations and was for a time vice-chairman of OEEC.3

A brief recapitulation of this kind tells us little about Dag Hammarskjöld the man; nor does his well-merited reputation as a person of outstanding intellectual ability shed much light on his personality. So many men receive this tribute. Those of us who knew him before he became the Secretary General were also impressed by this young man’s wide knowledge and indefatigability, as well as by his quiet and unassuming approach to his administrative duties in the service of his country.

In 1953 he assumed his post as Secretary-General in the United Nations Secretariat. He had already come into contact with the United Nations as a member and vice-chairman of the Swedish delegation to the General Assembly in 1951 and as chairman of the delegation in 1952. As Secretary-General he succeeded Mr. Trygve Lie,4 who had not only built up the United Nations administration and participated in planning its new building, but had also given the post of secretary-general a more important and independent position within the United Nations than had probably been originally envisaged. In other words, he took over an office which had already been given form and an administrative apparatus which had acquired a certain amount of tradition.

There is no doubt that in accepting this high office Dag Hammarskjöld fully realized that the years ahead would not prove easy. He was all too familiar with the difficulties Trygve Lie had encountered to have any illusions on that score. Fully aware of the magnitude and complexity of his task, he devoted himself to it completely, exerting all his determination and strength in carrying it out. In a private letter written in 1953 he says: “To know that the goal is so significant that everything else must be set aside gives a great sense of liberation and makes one indifferent to anything that may happen to oneself.”

It has often been said that from the very first he wished to play the role of adviser rather than that of politician, or we might say that he preferred to be the one carrying out what others had decided rather than the one who made the decision.

As far as I can judge, this appraisal is not correct. From the beginning, back in 1953, when he outlined the role and activities of the Secretariat and the secretary-general, he laid down that, while it is clearly the duty of the Secretariat and of the Secretary-General to obtain complete and objective information on the aims and problems of the various member nations, the secretary-general must personally form an opinion; he must base it on the rules of the UN Charter and must never for a moment betray those rules, even if this means being at variance with members of the UN.

From the very first he placed great importance on the solution of disputes through the medium of private discussion between representatives of the individual countries, pursuing what has come to be known as the “method of quiet diplomacy.” There is, of course, nothing new in this, as informal meetings of this kind have always been and will always be an important part of the work necessary to achieve agreement between conflicting views.

Outwardly it may have looked as if he became more and more active as time went on, but this, I believe, can be ascribed more to the course of events than to any change in his views. In every situation with which he was faced he had one goal in mind: to serve the ideas sponsored by the United Nations. He called himself an international civil servant, with the emphasis on the word “international.”5 As such he had only one master, and that was the United Nations.

There can be little doubt that Dag Hammarskjöld achieved a great deal through the informal meetings he took part in, and that in these he demonstrated strong personal initiative; yet his personal contribution was best known to the general public in cases where attempts to reach agreement between members in the United Nations had failed, or where the instructions he had received were not sufficiently clear, and he was compelled personally to point the way, as we shall see. It is impossible to mention in detail the many areas in which he intervened and on which he left his mark during the time he was Secretary-General.

The first and most important disputes which fell to his lot to settle arose in the Middle East. The first of these was the conflict between Israel and the Arab States in 1955. As the representative of the UN, he succeeded in easing the tension by negotiating an agreement between each of the parties involved and the UN, setting up demarcation lines and establishing UN observation posts. Personally he did not believe that the relaxation of tension would prove permanent, and he was right in his surmise.

In the following year, in September of 1956, the conflict that arose between Great Britain, France, and Egypt, after Egypt had nationalized the Suez Canal, was submitted to the Security Council. In October, 1956, Dag Hammarskjöld tried to find a solution to this dispute through private negotiations conducted by himself, and it looked as if these would lead to a satisfactory result. But at the end of October, 1956, Israel attacked Egypt, and on October 30 the Security Council was called together to deal with the situation that had arisen. This meeting, however, proved abortive when France and Great Britain exercised their veto right to obstruct a resolution calling on Israel to withdraw her troops. On the next day, October 31, France and Great Britain launched their attack on Egypt. At the meeting of the Security Council on October 31, Hammarskjöld was the first person to speak. In a forthright speech he hinted that he would resign unless all member states honored their pledge to abide by all clauses of the Charter.

On October 31 the General Assembly was then convoked, and on November 1 passed a resolution calling on the parties concerned to terminate hostilities immediately and requesting the Secretary-General to keep a close watch on the course of events and to report on the way in which the resolution was being implemented. In reality the Secretary-General was thus vested with far-reaching powers. On November 3 Hammarskjöld was already able to announce that France and Great Britain were willing to suspend hostilities, provided that Israel and Egypt were prepared to accept the establishment of a UN force to ensure and supervise the suspension of hostilities and subsequently to prevent the violation of the Egyptian-Israeli border. The result was that the war was brought to an end, a demarcation line was fixed, and a UN force was established to guard it.

He also made a major contribution to the solution of a crisis between Lebanon, Jordan, and the Arab States in 1958. In this, both the United States and Great Britain were involved.

During these crises, all his qualities were given full scope, particularly his ability to negotiate and to act swiftly and firmly; and to Dag Hammarskjöld must go the principal credit for the fact that all these crises were resolved in the spirit of the United Nations. A state of peace was established in this area.6 This was a triumph for the ideal of peace of which the UN is an expression, and in addition undoubtedly greatly strengthened the position of the Secretary-General.

The concept of peace contained in the UN Charter was always to remain Dag Hammarskjöld’s guiding principle in tackling such problems as that presented by the liberation of the Congo on June 30, 1960.

There is no time to deal here with all the problems confronting the United Nations in connection with the termination of colonial rule. I must restrict myself to the role which the United Nations was to play in the Congo. When the Congo achieved its independence on June 30, 1960, it was constituted as a unified state. Kasavubu7 was elected president and Lumumba8 was made prime minister. Lumumba had always supported the idea of a unified Congo.

The new government was faced with a difficult situation: the administration, which had been in Belgian hands, had broken down; the army had mutinied; a large proportion of the white population had fled; Belgian troops had intervened – in part to protect the white inhabitants; and on July 1, the province of Katanga declared itself an independent state.

All these factors – the collapse of the administration, the mutiny of the armed forces, and finally Katanga’s secession from the rest of the Congo form the background for the request made to the UN by Kasavubu and Lumumba on July 1 for civil assistance and on July 12 for military aid. In a cable dispatched on July 13, Lumumba emphasized that UN military assistance was needed to protect the Congo against an attack by Belgian troops.

Hammarskjöld was in a position to grant the Congo’s request for civil aid without referring the case to the Security Council; military aid, however, could be given only by decision of the Security Council, which he summoned on July 13.

This meeting is highly important, for it marks a turning point in the history of the UN. It was the first time that the UN used armed force to intervene actively in the solution of a problem involving the termination of colonial rule. In the resolution unanimously adopted by the Security Council, Belgium was ordered to withdraw her troops from Congo territory, and the Secretary-General was authorized in consultation with the Congo government to provide whatever military aid proved necessary until such time as the country’s own forces were, in the opinion of the Congo government, in a position to carry out their functions.

The military aid made available to the Congo consisted of contingents from African nations and from neutral Sweden and Ireland. No troops from the Eastern bloc or from the old colonial powers were included. The UN force was to function as a noncombatant peace force; there was to be no intervention in disputes involving matters of internal policy, and arms were to be used only in self-defense.

This form of military aid did not meet the expectations of the Congo government, which had clearly envisaged the expulsion of Belgian troops by UN forces; whereas the UN’s action was taken on the assumption that Belgium would comply with the order of the Security Council and withdraw her troops from the Congo.

This Belgium failed to do, despite the fact that a note of July 14 addressed to the Congo government announced that Belgian troops would be withdrawn to two bases in Katanga as soon as UN forces had succeeded in establishing law and order.

Thus, during these first few days, UN intervention had not brought about the result Lumumba had anticipated. The Belgian troops remained in their bases in Katanga, and fresh Belgian troops were dispatched to the Congo.

As a consequence, during the period from July 14 to July 20, 1960, Lumumba made some highly unexpected moves. First of all, as early as July 14 he sent a cable to Khrushchev,9 announcing the possibility of asking for Russian aid if the Western powers continued their aggression against the Congo. On July 15 he had already received an encouraging reply from Khrushchev.

With that, the Congo crisis became a factor in the East-West conflict, rendering the position of Hammarskjöld and the UN in the Congo immensely difficult.

As the days and months went by, their position became no easier. All conceivable obstacles to the success of the UN’s Congo venture seemed to pile up: disagreement among the Congolese themselves on the question of unified state or confederation, the support Katanga received from Belgium, Soviet aid to Lumumba, the dissolution of the central government, the military rule under Mobutu, the murder of Lumumba, increasingly violent Russian attacks on Hammarskjöld and UN action. A complete account of all that occurred cannot be given here; but an examination of the available documents covering this period will establish that it was the United Nations alone that worked to realize the establishment of the Republic of the Congo as an independent nation, and that the man who above all others deserves the credit for this is Dag Hammarskjöld.

Time and again, in the Security Council and in the meetings of the General Assembly, he fought in defense of his policy and carried the day. He insisted throughout that all aid to the Congo civil as well as military – must be made available through the medium of the UN. No vested interests representing any of the power blocs must be allowed to exert their influence. Is it then surprising that he was the object of attack, at times from the West but most often and most violently from the Soviet Union, whose charges took the form of an assault on the very idea of the United Nations Organization as a separate power? In the calm and dignified answer which Dag Hammarskjöld made to the Soviet leaders, he said that he would remain at his post as long as this was necessary to defend and strengthen the authority of the United Nations. And he added: It is not Soviet Russia or any of the great powers that need the vigilance and protection of the UN; it is all the others.10

But he was not destined to live long enough to pursue his policy to its conclusion.

We all know that he perished on his way to a meeting which he hoped would bring an end to the fighting in the Congo between Katanga troops and UN forces, which had just broken out during the attempt to implement the UN resolution of February 21, 1961. This resolution called on UN military forces to take immediate steps to prevent a civil war in the Congo, and to use force only as a last resort. The UN was furthermore enjoined to ensure that all Belgian and other foreign military, political, and other advisers not under UN command should be withdrawn immediately.

Hammarskjöld left for the Congo on September 12, at the invitation of the Congolese government, to discuss the range and details of the UN’s program of aid to the Congo. When Dag Hammarskjöld left New York, he knew that the situation in Katanga was difficult, but it was not until he received Dr. Linner’s report on September 14 that he learned that Katanga forces and UN troops were fighting one another.11

Attempts to conclude a truce during the first few days of his visit proved unsuccessful; so Dag Hammarskjöld decided to establish personal contact with the President of Katanga, Tshombe;12 his purpose, as he explained in a message to Tshombe, was to find the means of settling the immediate conflict in a peaceful manner and thus open the way to a solution of the Katanga problem within the framework of the Congolese state.

The meeting never took place. Dag Hammarskjöld’s plane crashed on September 18 on its way to Tshombe. He and all the others aboard perished.

Then – and not till then – criticism of Hammarskjöld and UN policy in the Congo was silenced, but during the period from September 13 to 18, operations in the province of Katanga were severely criticized, this time in Western quarters, with the strongest assault coming from certain English Conservative newspapers.

Dag Hammarskjöld was exposed to criticism and violent, unrestrained attacks, but he never departed from the path he had chosen from the very first: the path that was to result in the UN’s developing into an effective and constructive international organization, capable of giving life to the principles and aims expressed in the UN Charter, administered by a strong Secretariat served by men who both felt and acted internationally. The goal he always strove to attain was to make the UN Charter the one by which all countries regulated themselves.

Today this goal may seem remote; as we know, it is remote. Dag Hammarskjöld fully realized this, and in a speech in Chicago in 1960 he said:

“Working at the edge of the development of human society is to work on the brink of the unknown. Much of what is done will one day prove to have been of little avail. That is no excuse for the failure to act in accordance with our best understanding, in recognition of its limits but with faith in the ultimate result of the creative evolution in which it is our privilege to cooperate.”13

His driving force was his belief that goodwill among men and nations would one day create conditions in which peace would prevail in the world.

The Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Parliament has today awarded him the Peace Prize for 1961 posthumously in gratitude for all he did, for what he achieved, for what he fought for: to create peace and goodwill among nations and men.

Let us stand in tribute to the memory of Dag Hammarskjöld.

* Mr. Jahn delivered this speech on December 10, 1961, in the auditorium of the University of Oslo, following his presentation of the Peace Prize for 1960 to Mr. Lutuli. At its conclusion he presented the Peace Prize for 1961 to Swedish Ambassador Rolf Edberg as representative of the Hammarskjöld family, five of whose members were present. The English translation of Mr. Jahn’s speech is, with certain editorial changes made after collation with the Norwegian text, that published in Les Prix Nobel en 1961, which also contains the Norwegian text.

1. Translated in Richard L. Miller, Dag Hammarskjöld and Crisis Diplomacy (p. 15), as “Expansion of Market Trends”.

2. UNISCAN (United Kingdom-Scandinavia) was a free trade project of the countries concerned, promoted in the early 1950s

3. OEEC (Organization for European Economic Cooperation), established in 1948.

4. Trygve Lie (1896-1968), Norwegian lawyer and statesman; chief representative of the Norwegian delegation at the organizing conference of the UN (1945); chairman of the commission that drafted the Charter; first UN Secretary-General (1946-1953).

5. See, for example, Hammarskjöld’s lecture, “International Civil Servant in Law and in Fact” delivered at Oxford University, May 30, 1961, in Foote, Servant of Peace, pp. 329-349.

6. For details of this and other conflicts mentioned, see Miller, Dag Hammarskjöld and Crisis Diplomacy.

7. Joseph Kasavubu (1917?-1969), African political leader who favored a Congolese federation rather than a strong central government.

8. Patrice Emergy Lumumba (1925-1961), African political leader who supported strong central government, was out of office two months later and eventually imprisoned in Katanga; killed there in 1961 by parties still unknown, he was considered a martyr by his followers.

9. Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev (1894-1971), Russian premier (1958-1964).

10. Joseph Desire Mobutu (1930- ), commander of the Congolese army and “front man of the military regime (September, 1960-February, 1961) set up after the crisis precipitated by Lumumba; became president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1965.

11. After landing in Leopoldville and being ceremoniously welcomed by Congolese dignitaries, the laureate went to the home of Sture Linner, head of the UN mission in the Congo, who gave him his first news of the fighting that had begun during his flight to Africa.

12. Moise (Kependa) Tshombe (1919-1969), African political leader whose Opposition to strong central government resulted in Katanga’s secession from the Democratic Republic of the Congo; signed a cease-fire between Katanga and UN troops a few days after the plane crash, dedicating it to Hammarskjöld. Under UN pressure, Katanga was reintegrated with the Republic in 1963, and Tshombe became premier of the Republic (1964-1965).

13. These sentences conclude “The Development of a Constitutional Framework for International Cooperation”, a speech delivered at the dedication ceremonies of the new buildings of the University of Chicago Law School, May 1, 1960.

From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1951-1970, Editor Frederick W. Haberman, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1972


Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1961

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