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Maurice Strong: a study in leadership - Informal Communications



As seen in the list of the core staff of the Conference Secretariat, a special liaison function with the host country was established in the Secretariat through the author. This informal arrangement proved a good way to maintain close and continuous contact with the host government. The author, after having been transferred from New York, served in an informal capacity in the Conference Secretariat while being formally a member of the Swedish mission in Geneva. This arrangement allowed for informal communications on key substantive issues and facilitated contacts on practical matters in connection with the Conference. With the location of the Secretariat in Geneva, this informal channel also provided a backup and support to the Swedish UN mission in New York.

Strong, who initiated the unorthodox arrangement, realized the paramount importance of ensuring a mutual understanding of this complex and politically sensitive process between the Secretariat and the host country. He ensured, mostly through Nerfin, a continuous and completely transparent dialogue on all issues of interest. The special arrangement served its purposes well and never came under criticism from any delegation.

Strong and his colleagues maintained regular, open and businesslike contacts with the key political, substantive and administrative Swedish actors in Stockholm and New York as well as with the Swedish ambassadors during all their travels. He established trustful relations with the political leadership of Sweden, particularly with Prime Minister Olof Palme, his predecessor Tage Erlander, who was the Chairman of the National Committee for the Conference, and the future Conference President, Minister of Agriculture Ingemund Bengtsson.

It is noteworthy that he also developed a cordial relationship with Gustav VI Adolf, King of Sweden, who regularly invited him to the Palace during his visits to Stockholm. Crown Prince Carl Gustaf visited New York as part of his education in the fall of 1970, where he was introduced to and became particularly interested in the emerging environmental issue. He later attended the second session of the Preparatory Committee and has made environmental concerns a centrepiece of his reign since 1973.

In his relationship with the host country, Strong put special emphasis on his overall policy of close dialogue with Member States. This created an atmosphere of mutual confidence and trust that characterized the relations between the Conference Secretariat and the host country.

Documentation: The generous budget for consultants was made possible through a drastic reduction of the official documentation foreseen, from 6,500 to 1,600 pages. That number was later reduced to 600, further adapting old UN routines to the new, action-oriented format. This included producing the documents with new and more appealing design, a major innovation in a world not yet introduced to computers.