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Kurt Waldheim Appointed UN Secretary-General

By Patrick Mondout

Nazi sympathizer and collaborator Kurt Waldheim was appointed Secretary-General of the United Nations for a five-year term beginning on January 1, 1972. He replaced U. Thant. The Security Council had recommended the appointment on December 21, 1971 and the General Assembly approved it by acclamation on the following day. The extent of his Nazi-related activities was not generally known at the time, but it does at least represent an unfortunate footnote to the history of the United Nations.

Kurt Waldheim was elected president of Austria in 1986 despite charges that he had lied about the extent of his complicity in Nazi war crimes while he was a lieutenant in the German army during World War II. In fact, when the United States Senate passed the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act (S. 1379) in 1998, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) had this to say:

We should never repeat what happened with government records pertaining to Kurt Waldheim. In that instance, the Central Intelligence Agency withheld critical information from researchers about Waldheim's collaboration with the Nazis, even as other government agencies were placing him on the list of individuals forbidden to enter our country because of suspected war crimes. Moreover, an extensive Justice Department report on Waldheim completed in 1987 was then kept secret for six long years, before Attorney General Reno, in response to a FOIA lawsuit, released the document in 1994. The United States government should not be in the business of helping Nazi war criminals keep their past deeds secret.

His official UN biography conveniently skips over the war years.

Official UN Biography

Mr. Waldheim joined the Austrian diplomatic service in 1945, and from 1948 to 1951 he served as First Secretary of the Legation in Paris. He was head of the personnel department of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Vienna from 1951 to 1955 In 1955 he was appointed Permanent Observer for Austria to the United Nations and later that year became head of the Austrian Mission when Austria was admitted to the Organization.

From 1956 to 1960, Waldheim represented Austria in Canada, first as Minister Plenipotentiary and later as Ambassador. From 1960 to 1962 he was head of the Political Department (West) in the Austrian Ministry for Foreign Affairs, subsequently becoming Director-General for Political Affairs until June 1964.

From 1964 to 1968, Waldheim was Permanent Representative of Austria to the United Nations. During that period he was Chairman of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space; in 1968 he was elected President of the first United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.

From January 1968 to April 1970, Waldheim was Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Austria. After leaving the Government, he was unanimously elected Chairman of the Safeguards Committee of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and in October 1970 he again became the Austrian Permanent Representative to the United Nations, a post he held until he was elected Secretary-General of the Organization.

In April 1971, he was one of the two candidates for the Federal Presidency of Austria.

During his first three years as Secretary-General, Mr. Waldheim made it a practice to visit areas of special concern to the United Nations. In March 1972 he traveled to South Africa and Namibia in pursuance of a mandate given him by the Security Council in order to assist in finding a satisfactory solution for the problem of Namibia.

The Secretary-General paid three visits to Cyprus, in June 1972, August 1973 and August 1974, for discussions with government leaders and to inspect the United Nations Peace-keeping Force in the island. During his visit in August 1974, in the wake of the hostilities, Mr. Waldheim arranged for talks to begin between Acting President Glafcos Clerides and Rauf Denktash.

The Secretary-General also made a number of trips to the Middle East in the continuing search for peace in the area. In August 1973 he visited Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt and Jordan; in June 1974 he met with the leaders of Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Jordan and Egypt; and in November 1974 he went to Syria, Israel and Egypt in connection with the extension of the mandate of United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF). On these visits he also inspected the United Nations peace-keeping operations in the area - the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) and UNDOF.

In February 1973, during an official trip to the subcontinent, the Secretary-General discussed with the Governments of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh the problems created by the war between India and Pakistan and ways and means to overcome its consequences. He also inspected the United Nations Relief Operation in Bangladesh, the largest relief operation ever undertaken under United Nations auspices.

In February and March 1974, the Secretary-General visited a number of countries in the Sudano-Sahelian area of Africa where the United Nations had undertaken a major relief operation to assist the victims of a prolonged drought.

The Secretary-General also opened and addressed a number of major international conferences convened under United Nations auspices. These include the third session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Santiago, April 1972), the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm, June 1972), the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (Caracas, June 1974), the World Population Conference (Bucharest, August 1974) and the World Food Conference (Rome, November 1974).

He addressed and attended meetings of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in Rabat (June 1972 on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the OAU, in Addis Ababa (May 1973) and in Mogadiscio (June 1974). He also addressed the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington (March 1972).

In February 1973, the Secretary-General took part in the Paris International Conference on Vietnam; in December of the same year he presided over the first phase of the Geneva Peace Conference on the Middle East.

Waldheim was a second five-year term in 1976 and tried for an unprecedented third term in 1981. China vetoed his candidacy through 16 rounds of voting before Waldheim withdrew.



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Waldheim was born at Sankt Andra-Wordern, near Vienna, Austria, on 21 December 1918. He graduated from the University of Vienna as a Doctor of Jurisprudence in 1944. He is also a graduate of the Vienna Consular Academy.

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