Lecture Notes




















































How did the P5 get so lucky?

The five permanent members of the Security Council.

By now it should be clear that the P5 are “first among equals” at the United Nations. They have special privileges that other countries don’t have.

Considering these facts, we might ask ourselves: How did the P5 get so lucky? The short answer is this: These five countries were the winners of World War II. They used to be called the Allies.

Study the chart below:

“Big Three” Winners of World War II

  • United States
  • United Kingdom
  • Russia (former Soviet Union)


The “Big Three” (the U.S., the U.K., and the Soviet Union) did most of the heavy lifting during World War II. These were the countries that actually defeated Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

Following the war, these three countries wrote the U.N. Charter.

Minor Winners of World War II

  • China
  • France


China and France were among the Allies, but had lesser roles in defeating Germany and Japan. In fact, both these countries were essentially defeated early in the war and spent much of the war under German or Japanese occupation. Nonetheless, both were given permanent seats on the Security Council. 

  • France had been a world superpower before World War II, and still retained much of its clout (influence).  Also, France had been a leading member of the League of Nations. Because of these things, France was given a seat on the Security Council.
  • China did little to help the Allies defeat Japan; it was too embroiled in its own civil war. Nonetheless, FDR wanted China to have a seat on the Security Council, because he thought that Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of the Nationalist government, would be a reliable vote on the side of “Western capitalism.” To the horror of the United States, Chiang was thoroughly defeated by the communists only four years later, in 1949. Chiang fled to the island of Taiwan, leaving Mao in charge of the mainland.


Having written the Charter, the major powers—(the “Big Three)—presented a largely non-negotiable framework for the U.N. to the other states. After the experience of the League of Nations, most governments understood the importance of having the cooperation of these most powerful states for the success of the organization. Therefore, they agreed to the Great Powers’ requirements.

Key Points:


Check Your Understanding

  1. Why are the P5 considered “first among equals” at the United Nations? 
  2. How did the P5 get so lucky?