Elected to a five-year term as UN secretary-general in Dec., 1971, Waldheim attempted, with little success, to end the Iran-Iraq war and the China-Vietnam war and to gain the release of American hostages in Iran. He was reelected in 1976 despite Third World opposition, but was blocked from a third term by a Chinese veto in 1981. He was succeeded as secretary-general by Javier Pérez de Cuéllar.
In 1986 he was elected president of Austria, despite the scandal caused by the revelation that he had been an officer in a German army unit that committed atrocities in Yugoslavia during World War II. He consistently denied any knowledge of the atrocities, and an international investigation cleared him of complicity. Nonetheless, many felt he must have known more than he revealed, and the allegations overshadowed his diplomatic and political legacy. His tenure as president was marked by international isolation, and he did not run in 1992.
See his memoir (1986) and autobiography (1999); R. Beckermann, dir., The Waldheim Waltz (documentary, 2018).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: United Nations: Biographies