The Big Five: Clinging to power

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When the United Nations proclaimed its Charter in 1945, it included therein a special privilege for five member states: the power of the veto in its Security Council. Why these five states? There was a different reason for each of the five. No matter. The Big Five – the United States, the United Kingdom, France, the U.S.S.R. (now Russia), and China – still have this privilege today, and are unlikely to lose it in the foreseeable future.


But some things have changed fundamentally since 1945. Then the United States was unquestionably the strongest of the five, and largely dominated world political decision-making. This is no longer true. The United States has been in continual geopolitical decline since at least 1970. China, so relatively weak in 1945, has been in significant ascension. In particular, the leaders of the United States (and both the United Kingdom and France) are personally obliged to struggle to stay in power, whereas the leaders of China and Russia seem to worry less about their control of internal political decision-making.


This turnabout in internal stability has one major consequence. Precisely because the leaders of the three are under so much pressure, they concentrate their energies on working hard to reverse their weakness. They begin a largely futile game of unpredictable shifts in policy. And this leads most political leaders and analysts to ask the question: What will they do next?


The eyes of the world are especially focused on Donald Trump – a person without principle, extremely volatile, and personally mean and indifferent to the suffering he causes. What will he do next? No one really knows. The only thing about which we can be sure is that he will not give up or admit in any way that he was wrong in what he did at one point or another. This makes him simultaneously very weak and very dangerous. He is so arrogant that he believes his defeats are victories because they keep him on top of the media space.



- Immanuel Wallerstein, Senior Research Scholar at Yale University, is the author of The Decline of American Power: The U.S. in a Chaotic World (New Press).


Copyright ©2019 Immanuel Wallerstein — used by permission of Agence Global.
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