League of Nations Secretariat

The Deputies-Secretaries-General & Under-Secretaries-General

by Haakon A. Ikonomou, PhD in History. Associate Professor, Saxo Institute, University of Copenhagen

The variety of the duties entrusted to the Secretary-General (SG) made it necessary for him to be assisted by immediate collaborators who were capable of deputizing for him. These were the Deputy-Secretaries-General (DSG) and the Under-Secretaries-General (USG). At the same time, it was necessary that the British (and later French) leadership of the Secretariat, was balanced by principal officials of the permanent Council members – France, Britain, Japan and Italy – from the very beginning. This balance was later expanded to include other major member states (Germany, Russia, Spain) and towards the end also smaller states and non-European states (Ireland, Greece, Argentina).

Inazo Nitobe Under-Secretary-General USG: Intellectual Coop. & Int. Bureaux Section 1919 1926 Japanese
Jean Monnet Deputy-Secretary-General Secretary-General's Office 1919 1923 French
Prof. Bernardo B. Attolico Under-Secretary-General Under-Secretary-General's Office 1919 1920 Italian
Raymond B. Fosdick Under-Secretary-General Under-Secretary-General's Office 1919 1920 US-American
Dionisio Anzilotti Under-Secretary-General Under-Secretary-General's Office 1920 1921 Italian
Prof. Bernardo B. Attolico Under-Secretary-General USG: Internal Administration Office 1922 1927 Italian
Joseph Louis Marie Charles Avenol Deputy-Secretary-General Deputy Secretary-General's Office 1923 1933 French
Albert Dufour-Féronce Under-Secretary-General Under-Secretary-General's Office 1927 1932 German
Giacomo Paulucci di Calboli Barone Under-Secretary-General USG: Internal Administration Office 1927 1933 Italian
Yotaro Sugimura Under-Secretary-General USG: Political Section 1927 1933 Japanese
Ernst Paul Archibald Trendelenburg Under-Secretary-General Under-Secretary-General's Office 1932 1933 German
Massimo Pilotti Under-Secretary-General USG: Intellectual Coop. & Int. Bureaux Section 1932 1933 Italian
Francis Paul Walters Under-Secretary-General USG: Political Section 1933 1939 British
Pablo de Azcárate Deputy-Secretary-General Deputy Secretary-General's Office 1933 1936 Spanish
Marcel Rosenberg Under-Secretary-General Under-Secretary-General's Office 1935 1936 Russian
Sean Lester Deputy-Secretary-General Deputy Secretary-General's Office 1937 1940 Irish
Vladimir Sokoline  Under-Secretary-General Under-Secretary-General's Office 1937 1939 Russian
Luis Agustin Podesta Costa Under-Secretary-General Under-Secretary-General's Office 1938 1943 Argentinian
Thanassis Aghnides Under-Secretary-General Under-Secretary-General's Office 1939 1944 Greek
Francis Paul Walters Deputy-Secretary-General Deputy Secretary-General's Office 1939 1940 British

Deputy-Secretaries-General and Under-Secretaries-General with years of service, nationality, and place of employment

The roles

Thus, the role of the DSG and USG was always double. On the one hand, they (often) had substantial managerial and supervisory roles within the Secretariat. This was perhaps particularly true of the DSG, who – at least until 1933 – had the overall responsibility of the technical and economic sections; and was acting on the SG’s behalf in his absence. Moreover, according to the 1921 Noblemaire Report produced for the Assembly, the SG and the DSG, were to keep “close personal contact with the Assembly and with the members of the committees and conference meeting under the auspices of the League” and to maintain “close relations with the important political centers of the world”. Yet, the Deputy-Secretary-General’s official position was considerably higher than his responsibilities and actually “exercised less influence upon the day-to-day work of the Secretariat than did a number of directors”. On the other hand, the DSG and even more so the USGs were essentially “ambassadorial positions”. Their most important function “seemed to be that of being present, to indicate thereby the existence of normal relations between the League and their country of origin and its willingness to collaborate at Geneva”.


After the admission of Germany to the League of Nations (1926), a third post of Under-Secretary-General was created for a German national and until the time of Drummond’s departure, there were three posts of Under-Secretary-General between 1927 and 1932, each having a designated area of responsibility. When the so-called Committee of Thirteen was set up to study the reorganization of the Secretariat, in 1929-30, the five posts of the Principal Officers were occupied by nationals of the five permanent members of the Council. The majority of the committee, carried particularly by the British and French delegates, called for an increase in the number of USGs turning them into higher ranking directors. Power mattered, and trust and recognition of the permanent council members was indispensable. In 1932 the Assembly approved the structure of seven posts: SG, two DSGs, three USGs and a Legal Advisor with the rank of USG. The norm of favouring permanent Council members continued as well. When the U.S.S.R. was admitted to the League of Nations, a Soviet Under-Secretary-General, Rosenberg, was appointed and when Japan, Germany, Italy and the U.S.S.R. withdrew (or were kicked out) of the League the corresponding USGs and DSGs retired. From 1933 onwards, the DSGs were increasingly detached from the overall leadership of the Secretariat, now concentrated in the hands of Avenol.

During the time of Drummond

Drummond appointed a Deputy-Secretary-General and two Under-Secretaries-General to assist him. (For a few months, there was a third Under-Secretary-General, Raymond Fosdick from the United States, but he withdrew from the position when it became clear that the United States would not become Member of the League of Nations). When one of these Under-Secretaries-General left the Secretariat, the Fourth Committee of the Assembly, in 1921, recommended that the post which he had occupied should be abolished. Accordingly, the Secretariat was to have a Secretary-General, a Deputy-Secretary-General and an Under-Secretary-General.

Following this, the Noblemaire Report recommended that all routine, internal administrative business should be assigned to a designated Under-Secretary-General. This USG would thus be placed in permanent charge of all matters connected with interior organisation and finance, discipline, staff questions and routine and supervise those sections “which properly belong to what may be called the machinery of the Secretariat”. This, the Noblemaire Report held, would leave the SG and DSG “free to concentrate all the reins of policy in their hands”. The Noblemaire Report underlined the close association between the DSG and the SG, which, in fact, already existed between Sir Eric Drummond and M. Jean Monnet. Monnet was responsible for the general direction of the sections of a technical character, such as the Economic and Financial Section. In 1923, Joseph Avenol succeeded Jean Monnet as DSG. The division of labor, however, remained intact until Drummond stepped down as SG in July 1933.

Further readings

Material from UN Archives Geneva

A-140-1921 - Report Submitted by the Fourth Committee to the Assembly on the Conclusions and Proposals of the Commission of Experts Appointed in Accordance with the Resolutions Adopted by the Assembly of the League of Nations at its Meeting of December 17th, I920 (Noblemaire Report), 1921

S930/239 - Committee of Thirteen - Committee of Enquiry into the Organization of the Secretariat, the International Labour Office and the Registry of the Permanent Court of International Justice, 1930

R5359/18A/44136/563 - Summary of the History and Development of the Secretariat as an International Service (UN Preparatory Commission, Committee 7), 1947 [Sean Lester, August 1945]