The past week has seen the celebration of the anniversary from January 1945 of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp by Soviet forces. The casual reader of the speech given by United States Vice President Mike Pence could be forgiven for not realising that the liberation was carried out by Soviet forces. Although a relatively trivial slur by the United States Vice President it was symptomatic of a wider tendency in the United States perception of world events.
The liberation of Auschwitz was followed four months later by the final defeat of Nazi Germany and the end of the European phase of the world war. Many thought and hoped that it marked the end of an old discredited era and the beginning of a brave new world. This optimism was manifested in the founding of the United Nations. Many saw that development as commencing a new era with the scourge of war that could be, if not abolished, at least severely limited.
That optimism was exemplified in the United Nations Charter, one of the most important provisions of which was a severe limitation on the circumstances in which a country could take military action against another country. Essentially, a country could take military action either in self-defence, or with the imprimatur of the United Nations Security Council.
The Security Council itself reflected the geopolitical realities of 1945, with its five permanent members being the five victorious powers of World War Two, namely, the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, France and China. Whatever justification there may have been for those five permanent members in 1945 has not stood the test of time.
China’s seat on the Security Council was held by the Chiang Kai Shek government. Although that government was defeated in the Chinese Civil War that ended in 1949 with the Nationalists fleeing to Formosa (modern day Taiwan) they continued to hold China’s seat on the Security Council for a further 26 years. This manifest absurdity was finally ended in 1971.
Today, France and the United Kingdom retain their seats on the Security Council although the logical basis for doing so has long since dissipated. Germany and Japan are both vastly greater economic powers than France and the United Kingdom and in their respective regions have more economic and political influence than that of the two nominal victors.