The Cold War

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

The constant competition between the US and the USSR often made other nations into opportunities for one side to gain an advantage over the other. For example, the USSR established the "iron curtain" to control most of Central and Eastern Europe. Additionally, American fear of the spread of communism led to a number of proxy wars. The Cold War also spread the worldwide fear of nuclear war, which heavily influenced international diplomacy and affairs.

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The Cold War (1947–1991) affected the rest of the world in many ways. The conflict with the Soviet Union dominated American foreign policy for nearly half a century. The American-Soviet confrontation was primarily ideological, but it included "real" wars such as those in Korea and Vietnam.

Great Britain, the Soviet Union, China, and the United States had fought together against the Axis nations during World War II (1939–1945), and Germany and Japan surrendered in 1945. The alliance fell apart after 1945 because of distrust between the Anglo-Americans and the Soviets. China was torn apart by civil war from 1946 to 1949.

The most important area of the Cold War was probably Europe. The city of Berlin, the nation of Germany, and the rest of Europe were divided into Communist and pro-Western regions. The United States sought to contain Communist expansionism with the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan. The Truman Doctrine shored up Turkey and Greece against Moscow's pressure; the Marshall Plan provided economic aid to war-devastated Europe. Moscow tried to cut West Berlin off from the West in 1948-49, but the Berlin Airlift maintained the enclave. In 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was set up.

Asia became a "hot" war in the struggle between East and West. In 1949, Mao Zedong's Communist Chinese armies conquered the Chinese mainland. Then Mao sent his victorious troops into the bloody Korean War (1950–1953), which ended in stalemate. The US constructed alliance systems in Asia, too. America's participation in the Vietnam War (1965–1973) ended in failure.

The Cold War extended to the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. In the Middle East, America and Russia supported opposing sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Cuban Missile Crisis almost touched off nuclear war.

America claimed "victory" in the Cold War as the Soviet Union's sphere-of-influence and territories disintegrated in 1989-1991.

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The Cold War forced countries outside of the United States and the Soviet Union to choose sides, whether they wanted to or not, and gave both superpowers an excuse to meddle in the affairs of sovereign nations. The Soviet Union, for example, felt it had to keep an iron grip on the Warsaw Pact nations to its west. It hoped to install sympathetic communist governments, fearing the capitalist countries in the West would try to invade. The U.S.S.R. erected a metaphoric "iron curtain" between its satellite countries, such as Poland, East Germany, Hungary, Yugoslavia,and Czechoslovakia, and western nations, so that travel between the two zones was difficult. When countries such as Hungary and Czechoslovakia tried to loosen the grip, the U.S.S.R. sent in tanks. In Berlin, the Soviet Union erected a wall to keep Germans in East Germany. Meanwhile, the United States organized its allies into NATO, with mutual promises of protection backed by American military might. While the Soviets worried that the West would invade, the West feared the worldwide spread of communism.

Fearing the "domino effect" in which countries would one by one be turned communist, the United States asserted itself in Asia, engaging in open warfare against both North Korea and North...

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Vietnam. It also interfered in the internal politics of African nations, fearing the spread of communism on that continent. In one instance when President Lumumba in the Belgian Congo asked for Soviet help against nationalist factions, the West got involved in what has been described as a "proxy" war between the U.S.S.R. and the United States. In South America, which the United States considered a sphere of influence, the United States was quick to train and back anti-communist forces and leaders. Whether or not the smaller nations across the globe who were used as pawns in the struggle between the superpowers would have fared better or worse without Cold War interference, there is no doubt the Cold War has had a profound effect on the entire world. 

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The main antagonists in the Cold War were the United States and the Soviet Union. However, the Cold War ended up affecting practically every country in the world in some way.

Some countries were affected by having wars erupt within them.  The three biggest examples of this were Vietnam, Korea, and Afghanistan.  In each of these wars, indigenous communists fought indigenous non-communists.  In each case, both sides had help from other countries that were on their side.  In each case, the countries were badly impacted by the fighting. 

In other countries, the impacts were more positive.  The US and the USSR would compete with one another to help countries that were not firmly aligned in one camp or the other.  They would often give economic aid to countries to help persuade those countries to take their side.  This meant that some countries benefitted from the Cold War in economic terms.

Finally, we can say that all countries were affected by the Cold War because the Cold War shaped the international order.  All countries had to worry about what would happen if nuclear war broke out between the two main powers.  By contrast, most countries also benefitted to some degree from the relative peace that typified the Cold War.  The US and USSR generally kept large wars from breaking out among other countries because it was in their interests to do so. 

Thus, the Cold War had a wide variety of impacts on various countries of the world. 

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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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