United Nations History/U Thant

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← Dag Hammarskjöld | Kurt Waldheim →

Who was he?[edit | edit source]

U Thant was a Burmese diplomat and the third Secretary-General of the United Nations, from 1961 to 1971. He was chosen for the post when his predecessor Dag Hammarskjöld was killed in a plane crash in September 1961.

"U" is an honorific in Burmese, roughly equal to "Mister." "Thant" was his only name. In Burmese he was known as Pantanaw U Thant, a reference to his home town of Pantanaw.

Secretary General[edit | edit source]

Thant began serving as Acting Secretary-General from November 3, 1961, when he was unanimously appointed by the General Assembly, on the recommendation of the Security Council, to fill the unexpired term of Dag Hammarskjöld. He was then unanimously appointed Secretary-General by the General Assembly on November 30, 1962 for a term of office ending on November 3, 1966. During this first term he was widely credited for his role in defusing the Cuban Missile Crisis and for ending the civil war in the Congo.

U Thant was re-appointed for a second term as Secretary-General of the United Nations by the General Assembly on December 2, 1966 on the unanimous recommendation of the Security Council. His term of office continued until December 31, 1971, when he retired. During his time in office, he oversaw the entry into the UN of dozens of new Asian and African states and was a firm opponent of apartheid in South Africa. He also established many of the UN's development and environmental agencies, funds and programmes, including the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN University, UNCTAD, UNITAR and the UN Environmental Programme.

Mediation[edit | edit source]

He had also led many successful though now largely forgotten mediation efforts, for example in Yemen in 1962 and Bahrain in 1968. In each case, war would have provoked a wider regional conflict, and it was Thant's quiet mediation which prevented war.

Opposition to Vietnam[edit | edit source]

He is also famous for opposing the United States for its Vietnam War.