Post–Cold War era

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The post–Cold War era is a period of history that follows the end of the Cold War, which represents history after the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.


During most of the latter half of the 20th century, the two most powerful states in the world were the Soviet Union and the United States. Both federations were called the world's superpowers.[1]

Faced with the threat of growing German and Italian fascism, Japanese Shōwa statism, and a world war, the Western Allies and the Soviet Union made an alliance of necessity during World War II.[1] The pragmatic nature of that alliance and the underlying ideological differences between the powers led to mutual suspicions between the allies after the Axis powers were defeated.

The struggle, known as the Cold War, lasted from about 1947 to 1991. It began with the second Red Scare and ended with the fall of the Soviet Union. A prominent historian of the Cold War, John Lewis Gaddis, wrote at the dawn of the post–Cold War era that the characteristics of the new era are not yet certain but that it was certain that it would be very different from the Cold War era and that it meant that a turning point of world-historical significance took place:

The new world of the post–Cold War era is likely to have few, if any, of these [Cold War] characteristics: that is an indication of how much things have already changed since the Cold War ended. We are at one of those rare points of 'punctuation' in history at which old patterns of stability have broken up and new ones have not yet emerged to take their place. Historians will certainly regard the years 1989–1991 as a turning point comparable in importance to the years 1789–1794, or 1917–1918, or 1945–1947; precisely what has 'turned,' however, is much less certain. We know that a series of geopolitical earthquakes have taken place, but it is not yet clear how these upheavals have rearranged the landscape that lies before us.[2]

Dating issues[edit]

Because the Cold War was not an active war but rather a period of geopolitical tensions punctuated by proxy wars, disagreement exists on the official ending of the conflict and the subsequent existence of the post–Cold War era. Some scholars claim the Cold War ended when the world's first treaty on nuclear disarmament was signed in 1987 and the end of the Soviet Union as a superpower amid the Revolutions of 1989, but others state that it truly ended only by the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.[3] Despite the ambiguity, the end of the Cold War symbolized a victory of democracy and capitalism and gave a boost to the rising world powers of the United States, China, and India. Democracy became a manner of collective self-validation for countries hoping to gain international respect. With democracy being seen as an important value, political structures began adopting that value.[3]


The era has mostly been dominated by the rise of globalization (as well as by nationalism and populism in reaction), which was enabled by the commercialization of the Internet and the growth of the mobile phone system. The ideologies of postmodernism and cultural relativism have, according to some scholars, replaced modernism and notions of absolute progress and ideology.[4] The post–Cold War era has enabled renewed attention to be paid to matters that were ignored during the Cold War and has paved the way for nationalist movements and internationalism.[3] After the nuclear crises of the Cold War, many nations found it necessary to discuss a new form of international order and internationalism in which countries cooperated with one another instead of using nuclear blackmail.

The period has seen the United States become by far the most powerful country in the world and the rise of China from a relatively-weak developing country to a fledgling emerging superpower. In response to the rise of China, the United States has strategically sought to "rebalance" the Asia-Pacific region, and at the same time, it began to retreat from international commitments.[5] It has also seen the European Union, the merger of most of Europe into one economy, as well as a shift of power from the G7 to the larger G20 economies. Accompanying NATO expansion, Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) systems were installed in Eastern Europe. Those marked important steps in military globalization.

International co-operation[edit]

The end of the Cold War intensified hopes for increasing international cooperation and strengthened international organizations focused on approaching global issues.[6] That has paved way for the establishment of international agreements such as the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and the Paris Climate Agreement. Also, environmentalism has become a mainstream concern in the post–Cold War era after the circulation of widely-accepted evidence for human activity's effects on Earth's climate. The same heightened consciousness is true of terrorism, largely because of the September 11 attacks in the United States and their aftermath.

Consequences of the fall of Soviet Union[edit]

The fall of the Soviet Union caused profound changes in nearly every society in the world. Much of the policy and the infrastructure of the Western world and the Eastern Bloc had revolved around the capitalist and communist ideologies, respectively, and the possibility of a nuclear warfare.

Government, economic, and military institutions[edit]

The fall of communism formed an existential threat for many institutions. The United States military was forced to cut much of its expenditure, but the level rose again to comparable heights after the September 11 attacks and the initiation of the War on Terror in 2001.[7]

The end of the Cold War also coincided with the end of apartheid in South Africa. Declining Cold War tensions in the later years of the 1980s meant that the apartheid regime was no longer supported by the West because of its anticommunism, but it was now condemned with an embargo. In 1990, Nelson Mandela was freed from prison and the regime made steps to end apartheid. They on an official basis completed were 1994 with the new election, which put Mandela into power.

Socialist and communist parties around the world saw drops in membership after the Berlin Wall fell, and the public felt that free-market ideology had won.[8] Libertarian, neoliberal,[9] nationalist[9] and Islamist[9] parties, on the other hand, benefited from the fall of the Soviet Union. As capitalism had "won," as people saw it, socialism and communism in general declined in popularity. Social-Democratic in Scandinavia countries privatized many of their institutions in the 1990s, and a political debate on modern institutions was reopened.[10] Scandinavian nations are now more seen as social democrat (see Nordic model).

The United States, having become the only global superpower, used that ideological victory to reinforce its leadership position in the new world order. It claimed “the United States and its allies are on the right side of history.”[11] The US also became the most dominant influence over the newly-connecting global economy.[12] However, the unipolar international system was in tension with the emerging potential for a multipolar world as India, China, and Japan developed to a point that they might challenge US hegemony.[13] That created new potential for worldwide conflict, ending the balance, from mutually-assured destruction in the case of nuclear war, which had held the world in a state of “long peace” throughout the Cold War.[12]

The People's Republic of China, which had started to move towards capitalism in the late 1970s and faced public anger after the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 in Beijing, moved even more quickly towards free-market economics in the 1990s. McDonald's and Pizza Hut both entered the country in the second half of 1990, the first American chains in China, aside from Kentucky Fried Chicken, which had entered in 1987. Stock markets were established in Shenzhen and Shanghai in late 1990 as well. Restrictions on car ownership were loosened in the early 1990s and caused the bicycle to decline as a form of transport by 2000.

The move to capitalism has increased the economic prosperity of China, but many people still live in poor conditions and work for companies for very low wages and in dangerous and poor conditions.[14]

After the end of the Cold War, communism ended also in Mongolia, Congo, Albania, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Angola. Now, only five countries in the world are still ruled by communist single parties: China, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam.

Many other Third World countries had seen involvement from the United States and/or the Soviet Union but solved their political conflicts because of the removal of the ideological interests of those superpowers.[15] As a result of the apparent victory of democracy and capitalism in the Cold War, many more countries adapted these systems, which also allowed them access to the benefits of global trade, as economic power became more prominent than military power in the international arena.[15] However, as the United States maintained global power, its role in many regime changes during the Cold War went mostly officially unacknowledged, even when some, such as El Salvador and Argentina, resulted in extensive human rights violations.[16]


The end of the Cold War allowed many technologies that had been off limits to the public to be declassified. The most important of these is the Internet, which was created as ARPANET by the Pentagon as a system to keep in touch after an impending nuclear war. The last restrictions on commercial enterprise online were lifted in 1995.[17]

In the years since then, the Internet's population and usefulness have grown immensely. Only about 20 million people (less than 0.5 percent of the world's population at the time) were online in 1995, mostly in the US and several other Western countries. By the mid-2010s, more than a third of the world's population was online.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Cold War Revision". 2008-11-21. Retrieved 2013-09-21.
  2. ^ "The Cold War, the Long Peace, and the Future," Diplomatic History, 16/2, (1992): p 235.
  3. ^ a b c Goldman, Kjell, Hannerz, Ulf, Westin, Charles (2000). Nationalism and Internationalism in the post–Cold War Era. ISBN 9780415238908 – via SAGE Pub.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ "postmodernism (philosophy) - Encyclopædia Britannica". Retrieved 2013-09-21.
  5. ^ Weisbrode, K. "America's Strategic Surrender," Internationale Politik, Summer 2006.
  6. ^ Mohapatra, J. K., & Panigrahi, P. K. (1998). "The Post–Cold War Period: New Configurations". India Quarterly. 54 (1–2): 129–140. doi:10.1177/097492849805400111. S2CID 157453375.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ Shah, Anup. "World Military Spending — Global Issues". Retrieved 2013-09-21.
  8. ^ "Left and radical :: SWP". Socialist Party. 14 January 2013. Retrieved 2013-09-21.
  9. ^ a b c "The Lost American - Post–Cold War | FRONTLINE". PBS. Retrieved 2013-09-21.
  10. ^ Francis Sejersted (2011). The Age of Social Democracy: Norway and Sweden in the Twentieth Century. Princeton University Press. p. 356. ISBN 978-0-691-14774-1.
  11. ^ Condoleezza Rice, "Promoting the National Interest," Foreign Affairs, 79/1, (January/February 2000): p 45.
  12. ^ a b GADDIS, JOHN LEWIS (April 1992). "The Cold War, the Long Peace, and the Future". Diplomatic History. 16 (2): 234–246. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7709.1992.tb00499.x. ISSN 0145-2096.
  13. ^ William Wohlforth, "The Stability of a Unipolar World," International Security, 24/1, (1999): p 39.
  14. ^ "Apple's Chinese suppliers still exploiting workers, says report". CBS News. 2013-02-27. Retrieved 2013-09-21.
  15. ^ a b Ruland, Jurgen (2016-07-22). U.S. Foreign Policy Toward the Third World: A Post–Cold War Assessment. doi:10.4324/9781315497495. ISBN 9781315497495.
  16. ^ Bonner, Raymond. "Time for a US Apology to El Salvador | The Nation". The Nation. ISSN 0027-8378. Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  17. ^ Cameron Chapman. "The History of the Internet in a Nutshell". Retrieved 2013-09-21.
  18. ^ "One third of the world's population is online : 45% of Internet users below the age of 25" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-09-21.

Further reading[edit]

  • Aziz, Nusrate, and M. Niaz Asadullah. "Military spending, armed conflict and economic growth in developing countries in the post–Cold War era." Journal of Economic Studies 44.1 (2017): 47-68.
  • Bartel, Fritz (2022). The Triumph of Broken Promises: The End of the Cold War and the Rise of Neoliberalism. Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674976788.
  • Henriksen, Thomas H. Cycles in US Foreign Policy Since the Cold War (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).
  • Jones, Bruce D., and Stephen John Stedman. "Civil Wars & the Post–Cold War International Order." Dædalus 146#4 (2017): 33-44.
  • Menon, Rajan, and Eugene B. Rumer, eds. Conflict in Ukraine: The Unwinding of the Post–Cold War Order (MIT Press, 2015).
  • Peterson, James W. Russian-American relations in the post–Cold War world (Oxford UP, 2017).
  • Sakwa, Richard. Russia against the Rest: The Post–Cold War Crisis of World Order (Cambridge UP, 2017) 362pp online review
  • Wood, Luke B. "The politics of identity and security in post–Cold War Western and Central Europe." European Politics and Society 18.4 (2017): 552-556.