Feng-Yang Chai, who was Director of the Security Council secretariat at the time, recalls that “when the Western Powers and the USSR carried their “Cold War” fight to the Security Council, Mr. Lie often became entangled when he tried to intervene.” Both sides had occasion to find fault with him, but Moscow’s outrage over the UN intervention in Korea focused with particular intensity on the Secretary-General’s unabashed support of it. In 1950 it vetoed a second five-year term for Lie. When the United States resorted to the General Assembly and had the Secretary-General’s term extended by three years, the Soviet bloc reacted by refusing to have anything to do with Lie, even socially.

During this time the UN was coming under growing attack also from Washington, where Senator Joseph McCarthy was leading a witch hunt for communists. Alger Hiss, who had, as a US State Department official, played a key role in shaping the UN, both at the San Francisco conference and in the Preparatory Commission, was denounced as a traitor and convicted of perjury on the patently dubious testimony of Whittaker Chambers, a former TIME correspondent. American newspapers and magazines carried wild stories of communist influence at the UN. The FBI set up shop in the UN building and took to interrogating American staff members about their political leanings and screening new applicants. Those who refused to answer questions by invoking the Fifth Amendment of the US constitution were summarily dismissed from UN service. The consequent erosion of staff support for Lie was probably the last straw. On 10 November 1952, as delegates in the General Assembly were waiting to hear a speech by the Prime Minister of Belgium, the Secretary-General took the floor with the surprise announcement that he was resigning.

Trygve Lie of Norway was selected to be the first Secretary-General without fuss, despite the fact that the Soviet Union had initially proposed Paul Henry-Spaak of Belgium for the job. His entry into office proved to be the smoothest part of his tenure as Secretary-General, for Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech later in 1946 marked the beginning of the “Cold War”, and Lie found himself repeatedly in no-win situations. His instincts were those of a politician, not a diplomat, and in the treacherous currents of the “Cold War”, they did not serve him well.