Born in Rotterdam in 1911, Joseph Luns attended schools in Amsterdam and Brussels and, aged 20, spent a year as an Ordinary Seaman in the Royal Netherlands Navy. He took his degree in Law from the Universities of Leiden and Amsterdam in 1937 and then studied at the London School of Economics and Berlin University before entering the Foreign Service of the Netherlands. During the war he served in Switzerland, Portugal and the United Kingdom.
From 1949 to 1952 he represented his country at the United Nations in New York, and resigned when he became joint Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands. As a member of the Catholic People's Party he was four times successful in elections to Parliament, and was Minister of Foreign Affairs in various administrations, in which capacity he signed the 1957 Treaty of Rome on behalf of his country.
He was appointed Secretary General of NATO in October 1971 and was succeeded by Lord Carrington in May 1984.
He died on 17 July 2002.