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Dag Hammarskjöld – the Peacemaker

Dag Hammarskjöld — the Peacemaker

[Dag Hammarskjöld] [Barndom och studietid] [Dag Hammarskjölds Uppsala] [Film om Dag Hammarskjöld] [Dag Hammarskjöld – the Peacemaker]

By Gunnel Torén, 2011

Dag Hammarskjöld, UN Secretary General

Diplomat Dag Hammarskjöld was a pioneering mediator. Photo: UN/JO

It’s 50 years since Sweden’s most famous peacemaker, Dag Hammarskjöld, was killed in a plane crash in Africa — but his legacy lives on. The United Nations Secretary-General believed that problems should be solved at an early stage and promoted preventive diplomacy. During his tenure he also introduced quiet diplomacy, realising that in certain situations, this method was preferable to open debates.

Nothing is impossible

In April 1953, Dag Hammarskjöld (1905-1961) was elected UN Secretary-General, a position he held for eight years. He was told by his predecessor that he was ”about to enter the most impossible job on this earth.” But with his personal integrity, courage, diplomatic skills and purposeful drive to implement the ideals of the UN Charter, Hammarskjöld brought new authority to the role. His innovative approach strengthened the UN’s ability to avert impending conflicts. During the 20th century, Hammarskjöld was the Swede who became best known for his international achievements.

Quiet diplomacy

Hammarskjöld was born in Jönköping but grew up in the university town of Uppsala, where his father was the County Governor. Dag became a senior lecturer in Economics in 1933. Between 1936 and 1945, he served as State Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, before joining the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1946, where he stayed until 1951. He was the Swedish representative at the Paris Marshall Plan Conference in 1947, the main Swedish delegate at OECC (the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation; today the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development or OECD) in 1947-48, State Secretary 1949-51 and Cabinet Minister without portfolio in 1951–53.

Dag Hammarskjöld in Kongo

Hammarskjöld in the Congo for talks concerning the civil unrest that followed the country’s independence from Belgium. Photo: UN/HP

Hammarskjöld was an unknown quantity, when he accepted the position as UN Secretary-General, at the age of 48. However, it soon became clear that he had the ability to make the sluggish organization more effective. He was enterprising, dynamic and driven by a desire to act quickly in order to solve problems at an early stage, before they became more complicated. During his tenure, the quiet diplomacy was deployed. He was of the opinion that in certain situations this method was preferable to open debate, which often led to more severe conflicts.

Preventive diplomacy

Hammarskjöld brought new authority to the position of UN Secretary-General. ”Being successful is to implement what is possible”, Hammarskjöld once said. He had pragmatic ideas for solutions and saw the UN as a dynamic instrument for global peace and security. As a negotiator, he followed a neutral line and emphasized the responsibility of the United Nations to assure the interests and rights of smaller states in relation to superpowers. He formulated a concept of ”preventive diplomacy”, founded the United Nations developmental cooperation, and drafted the policy to establish a peacekeeping force — a model that has become an important instrument in United Nations conflict management tools.

Dag Hammarskjöld outside the UN building

UN Secretary-General Hammarskjöld outside the United Nations headquarters in New York — his office for eight years. Photo: UN/DPI

Support to the small states

During his tenure, Hammarskjöld managed to mitigate the impact of severe crises in the world. He knew how to use the UN charter as a basis for a strong response, and contributed to the UN becoming an important peacekeeper in several international conflicts. In 1960, a civil war broke out in the Congo. Hammarskjöld ensured that UN forces were sent there, and personally tried to mediate between the combatants. It was during this mission that Hammarskjöld was killed, his plane crashing on the way to Ndola, in modern-day Zambia, on 17 September, 1961.

Nobel Peace Prize

In 1961 Hammarskjöld was posthumously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He was also a prominent cultural figure — a writer and a translator — and one of the 18 members of the Swedish Academy.

Facts about Hammarskjöld

1905 Born 29 July in Jönköping

1907 Hammarskjöld family moves to Uppsala where the father has been appointed county governor

1914 Hammarskjöld’s father becomes Prime Minister and the family moves to Stockholm

1917 Hjalmar Hammarskjöld resigns as Prime Minister and the family moves back to Uppsala

1922 Hammarskjöld graduates from Uppsala Högre Allmänna Läroverk (Uppsala Higher Secondary Grammar School) now known as Katedralskolan

1925 Receives a Bachelor of Arts in the French, practical philosophy and economics from Uppsala University

1926 Studies economics in Cambridge

1927 Licentiate of Philosophy in economics

1930 Bachelor of Laws, Secretary of the unemployment committee

1933 Doctor of Philosophy in economics at Stockholm University. Appointed Senior Lecturer at Stockholm University

1941 Secretary of the Swedish Central Bank

1945 State Secretary of the Ministry of Finance

1948 Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Central Bank of Sweden

1948 Main Swedish delegate at the OECC (Organisation for European Economic Cooperation)

1949 State Secretary for Foreign Affairs at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs

1951 Cabinet Minister without portfolio

1953 Elected UN Secretary-General

1954 Elected to the Swedish Academy

1955 Negotiated the release of 11 U.S. airmen held in captivity in China, after being shot down during the Korean War while under UN command

1956 Formulates the mandate of the UN’s first peacekeeping force during the Suez Crisis

1957 Re-elected to a second term as UN Secretary-General

1958 Diplomatic intervention in the Middle East crisis

1959 Undertakes an extensive journey on the African continent in order to brief himself on the situation in the United Nations’ new member countries

1960 The Congo Crisis breaks out, and Hammarskjöld acts swiftly to deploy UN troops

1961 Killed in a plane crash during a UN mission on 18 September in Ndola, in today’s Zambia

1961 Posthumously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize

Gunnel Torén

Gunnel Torén is a former UN librarian at the Dag Hammarskjöld library in Uppsala. The article was written in 2011 for the 50th anniversary of Hammarskjöld’s death.


First published by the Swedish Institute on www.sweden.se. Stiftelsen Dag Hammarskjöldbiblioteket was permitted by the Swedish Institute to republish the article here on its website. All content is protected by Swedish copyright law.