From the outset, the secretary-general of the UN has played an important role in helping to settle crises that have troubled nations since the end of World War II. In practice, the role has gone far beyond what might be anticipated from a reading of the terse Charter provisions for the office. Yet the role has been developed precisely through a skillful exploitation of the potentialities inherent in those provisions.

The deliberative organs of the UN are political bodies intended to function as forums where the interests of governments can be represented and reconciled. The secretary-general and the Secretariat embody the other aspect of the UN: the organization is also intended to be a place where people may speak not for the interests of governments or blocs but as impartial third parties. The secretary-general is consistently working in a political medium but doing so as a catalytic agent who, in person or through special missions, observers, and mediators, uses his influence to promote compromise and conciliation.

Under the Charter, the secretary-general has the right to bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter that, in his opinion, might threaten international peace and security. This right goes beyond any power granted the head of an international organization before the founding of the UN. The Charter requires that he submit to the General Assembly an annual report on the work of the organization. In this report, he can state his views and convey his voice to the world's governments. The secretary-general's role has also been considerably enhanced by exploiting the Charter provision that he shall perform "such other functions" as are entrusted to him by the main organizational units of the United Nations.

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