How did the Cold War affect the rest of the world?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Cold War was characterized primarily by the nuclear stand-off between the two reigning superpowers of the time, the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or Soviet Union. While the presence in the arsenals of both countries of large-scale nuclear forces targeting each other's homeland helped to keep a lid on the confrontation in Europe, the less-developed regions of the world, or "Third World," became the more active scene of ongoing conflicts by proxies of both superpowers.  Across Africa, Latin America and Asia, guerrilla insurgencies and terrorist groups supported by the Soviet Union and its closest allies, namely East Germany and Czechoslovakia, waged war against pro-U.S. governments, while the United States supported anti-communist insurgencies in places like Nicaragua, Angola and Albania (the latter during the earlier phase of the Cold War).  The result was a great deal of political, economic and social instability that exacerbated underlying developmental problems like corruption and repression. An enduring legacy of those proxy wars, sadly, is the wide-scale problem of land mines that were sown across fields and forests by various parties to these conflicts and that continued to maim and kill innocent civilians long after the fighting had ceased. 

One of the problems of the Cold War's "spill-over" into the less-developed world was that human rights problems were given subordinate consideration to the governing regime's record on supporting or opposing the United States in its broader confrontation with the Soviet Union.  While there was no question that the autocratic and, frequently, totalitarian regimes allied with the Soviet Bloc maintained awful human rights practices against their own populations, the United States, especially in Central America, similarly prioritized geopolitical considerations above human rights, which fueled anti-government insurgencies in countries like El Salvador and Nicaragua (the latter witnessing the victory of its Marxist-Leninist insurgency, the Sandinista National Liberation Front and its imposition of a Soviet/Cuban-style totalitarian regime to replace the pro-U.S. dictatorship it overthrew). 

In conclusion, the Cold War allowed for the peaceful development of democratic governments in Western Europe, while pro-democracy movements in Eastern Europe were ruthlessly crushed in places like Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland.  It was in the desperately poor regions of the Third World, however, where the most sustained bloodshed occurred.

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