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The Case for International Civil Servants

Cooperation among nation-states is still the most important element of global governance. But organizations and civil servants that serve the world as a whole are an indispensable source of support for necessary collective action to address major opportunities and threats.

WASHINGTON, DC – The notion of an “international” civil service goes back a century, to the establishment of the League of Nations after World War I. Whereas civil servants had until then always served their countries or empires, the League’s small secretariat would facilitate cooperation among member states. The founding of the United Nations following World War II gave a new and much stronger impetus to the idea and practice of an international civil service. And today, when global efforts are essential to address issues such as climate change and the spread of new digital technologies, the world needs high-quality international civil servants more than ever.

The concept is enshrined in Article 100 of the UN Charter: “In the performance of their duties the Secretary-General and the staff shall not seek or receive instructions from any government or from any other authority external to the Organization.” Moreover, “They shall refrain from any action which might reflect on their position as international officials responsible only to the Organization.”

Whom, then, are international civil servants supposed to serve, if not national governments?

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