The permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (also known as the Permanent Five, Big Five, or P5) are the five states which the UN Charter of 1945 grants a permanent seat on the UN Security Council (UNSC): China, France, Russia (formerly the Soviet Union), the United Kingdom, and the United States. These countries represent the five great powers considered to be the victors of World War II. A total of 15 UN member states serve on the UNSC, the remainder of which are elected. Only the five permanent members have the power of veto, which enables them to prevent the adoption of any "substantive" draft Council resolution, regardless of its level of international support.
At the UN's founding in 1945, the five permanent members of the Security Council were the French Republic, the Republic of China, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Soviet Union. There have been two seat changes since then, although not reflected in Article 23 of the United Nations Charter as it has not been accordingly amended:China's seat was originally held by the Nationalist government of the Republic of China. However, it lost the Chinese Civil War and retreated to the island of Taiwan in 1949. The Communist Party won control of mainland China and established the People's Republic of China. In 1971, UN General Assembly Resolution 2758 recognized the Government of People's Republic of China as the legal representative of China in the UN, and gave it the seat on the Security Council that had been held by the Republic of China, which was expelled from the UN altogether. Both governments still officially claim one another's territory. However, only 22 states continue to officially recognize the Republic of China's sovereignty, while many more unofficially recognize Taiwan.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia was recognized as the legal successor state of the Soviet Union and maintained the latter's position on the Security Council.
Additionally, France reformed its provisional government into the French Fourth Republic in 1946 and later into the French Fifth Republic in 1958, both under the leadership of Charles de Gaulle. France maintained its seat as there was no change in its international status or recognition, although many of its overseas possessions eventually became independent.
The five permanent members of the Security Council were the victorious powers in World War II and have maintained the world's most powerful military forces ever since. They annually top the list of countries with the highest military expenditures; in 2011, they spent over US$1 trillion combined on defense, accounting for over 60% of global military expenditures (the U.S. alone accounting for over 40%). They are also five of the world's six largest arms exporters, along with Germany and are the only nations officially recognized as "nuclear-weapon states" under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), though there are other states known or believed to be in possession of nuclear weapons.
The "power of veto" refers to the veto power wielded solely by the permanent members, enabling them to prevent the adoption of any "substantive" draft Council resolution, regardless of the level of international support for the draft. The veto does not apply to procedural votes, which is significant in that the Security Council's permanent membership can vote against a "procedural" draft resolution, without necessarily blocking its adoption by the Council.
The veto is exercised when any permanent member—the so-called "P5"—casts a "negative" vote on a "substantive" draft resolution. Abstention or absence from the vote by a permanent member does not prevent a draft resolution from being adopted.
There have been proposals suggesting the introduction of new permanent members. The candidates usually mentioned are Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan. They comprise the group of four countries known as the G4 nations, which mutually support one another's bids for permanent seats. The United Kingdom, France, and Russia support giving permanent seats in the UN Security Council to the G4 nations.
This sort of reform has traditionally been opposed by the "Uniting for Consensus" group, which is composed primarily of nations that are regional rivals and economic competitors of the G4. The group is led by Italy and Spain (opposing Germany), Mexico, Colombia, and Argentina (opposing Brazil), Pakistan (opposing India), and South Korea (opposing Japan), in addition to Turkey, Indonesia and others. Since 1992, Italy and other council members have instead proposed semi-permanent seats or expanding the number of temporary seats.
Most of the leading candidates for permanent membership are regularly elected onto the Security Council by their respective groups. Japan was elected for eleven two-year terms, Brazil for ten terms, and Germany for three terms. India has been elected to the council seven times in total, with the most recent successful bid being in 2010 after a gap of almost twenty years since 1991–92.
In 2013, the P5 and G4 members of the UN Security Council accounted for eight of the world's ten largest defense budgets, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
The following are the heads of state and government that represent the permanent members of the UN Security Council as of 2017: