Objective, impartial—neutral? (part 3)
We should complete the conversation about the value of objectivity (and related attitudes) in political processes. As secretary-general, Dag Hammarskjöld was expected—and asked of himself—to bring to international disputes an altogether thorough objectivity. But there was nothing passive about it. Hammarskjöld’s colleague, Rajeshwar Dayal, recalled him saying that "an international civil servant should be politically celibate, but not virginal. He should serve in an international spirit, with objectivity and dedication, holding himself answerable not only to his superiors and to his oath of office, but in the final resort to the ultimate judge, his own conscience". This entry explores the issue of neutrality at times of peaceful reflection and at a time of hammer blows—the Congo Crisis of 1960–61.
In the two following statements, Hammarskjöld summarizes the qualities of neutrality and impartiality he understood to best serve his role as a facilitator of negotiation:
I regard myself as a little different from ordinary politicians, as I am the servant of seventy-six nations representing the most varied political philosophies and outlooks. This does not of course mean that I am completely neutral and have no point of view of my own. But my position is nevertheless affected by this fact. I should therefore also like to say that I am afraid my answers will perhaps strike you as rather general. (Public Papers 3, Moscow press conference, 172)
As a servant of the Organization, the Secretary-General has the duty to maintain his usefulness by avoiding public stands on conflicts between Member Nations unless and until such an action might help to resolve the conflict. However, the discretion and impartiality thus imposed on the Secretary-General by the character of his immediate task may not degenerate into a policy of expediency. (Public Papers 3, 309)
Bringing Hammarskjöld into sharp conflict with Nikita Khrushchev and the Soviet bloc, with some elements in the Congo itself, with Belgium, and more covertly but factually with the United States, the Congo Crisis became a fiercely dramatic test of his own and the UN’s commitment to impartial pursuit of the aims of the United Nations Charter. In response to a verbal assault by Khrushchev in the fall 1960 General Assembly, Hammarskjöld had in part this to say:
Use whatever words you like, independence, impartiality, objectivity—they all describe essential aspects of what, without exception, must be the attitude of the Secretary-General. Such an attitude, which has found its clear and decisive expression in Article 100 of the Charter, may at any stage become an obstacle for those who work for certain political aims which would be better served or more easily achieved if the Secretary-General compromised with this attitude. But if he did, how gravely he would then betray the trust of all those for whom the strict maintenance of such an attitude is their best protection in the world-wide fight for power and influence. Thus, if the office of the Secretary-General becomes a stumbling block for anyone, be it an individual, a group, or a government, because the incumbent stands by the basic principle which must guide his whole activity, and if, for that reason, he comes under criticism, such criticism strikes at the very office and the concepts on which it is based. I would rather see that office break on strict adherence to the principle of independence, impartiality and objectivity than drift on the basis of compromise. That is the choice daily facing the Secretary-General. It is also the choice now openly facing the General Assembly….
(Public Papers 5, 197–98)
As the Congo Crisis moved on from bad to worse, Hammarskjöld weighed the value of neutrality and the conflicts to which it can give rise. In his last major public talk, at Oxford in the spring of 1961, he returned to the topic:
If the international civil servant knows himself to be free from…personal influence in his actions and guided solely by the common aims and rules laid down for, and by the Organization he serves and by recognized legal principles, then he has done his duty, and then he can face the criticism which, even so, will be unavoidable. As I said, at the final last, this is a question of integrity, and if integrity in the sense of respect for law and respect for truth were to drive him into positions of conflict with this or that interest, then that conflict is a sign of his neutrality and not of his failure to observe neutrality—then it is in line, not in conflict with his duties as an international civil servant. (Public Papers 5, 488–89)
On this topic Dag Hammarskjöld liked to quote his father, Hjalmar, who had served as Swedish prime minister during the first years of World War I. A tough-minded defender of Swedish neutrality, Hjalmar had this provocation to offer: "Neutrality is not saying yes to both sides, but saying no to both sides." (Kelen, 34) This doesn’t cover all aspects of the issue; it’s just an interesting aphoristic burst. But it reinforces the understanding that real neutrality/impartiality/objectivity has muscle. It is an act and attitude of courage, outwardly guided by law and the values of "the Organization"—whichever organization it may be—and ultimately guided by conscience.