Post–Cold War era

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The post–Cold War era is the period in world history from the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 to the present.[1] The term was criticized for its ambiguity: "Even though it has been ten years since the Berlin Wall came down, wrote Paul Wolfowitz in 2000, we still have no better name for the period in which we live than the post-Cold War era." The name means that this new era “does not yet have a name.”[2] it was suggested that Pax Americana would more reflect the reality of the era but this term would be "offending for many."[3] The same dilemma expressed Condoleezza Rice: “That we do not know how to think about what follows the US-Soviet confrontation is clear from the continued references to the "post-Cold War period.'"[4] "We knew better where we had been than where we were going.”[5]

It has mostly been dominated by the rise of globalization (as well as seemingly paradoxically, nationalism) enabled by the commercialization of the Internet and the growth of the mobile phone system. The ideology of postmodernism and cultural relativism has according to some scholars replaced modernism and notions of absolute progress and ideology.[6]

It 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 potential superpower. Reacting on the rise of China, the United States strategically "rebalanced" to the Asia-Pacific region. It has also seen the merging of most of Europe into one economy and one military bloc. Accompanying the NATO expansion, Ballistic Missile Defenses (BMD) were installed in East Europe. These marked important steps in the military globalization.

Environmentalism has also become a mainstream concern in the post-Cold War era. Recycling has become commonplace in many countries over the past 30 years.


During most of the latter half of the 20th century, the two most powerful states in the world were the Soviet Union (USSR) and the United States (USA). These two federations were called the world's superpowers.[7]

Faced with the threat of growing Japanese, German and Italian fascism and a world war, the western Allies and the Soviet Union made an alliance of necessity during World War II.[7]

The alliance between the USA and USSR was simply against a greater common enemy and the two countries never really trusted each other. After the Axis was defeated, these two powers became highly suspicious of each other because of their vastly different ideologies.

This struggle, known as the Cold War, lasted from about 1946 to 1991, beginning with the second Red Scare and ending with the August Coup, a coup d'état attempt that destabilized the Soviet Union and later contributed to its dissolution. 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 it is certain that it will be very different from the Cold War era and it means 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 has taken place, but it is not yet clear how these upheavals have rearranged the landscape that lies before us.[8]

Consequences of the Fall of Communism[edit]

The collapse of the Soviet Union caused profound changes in nearly every society in the world. Much of the policy and infrastructure of the West and the Eastern Bloc 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 US military was forced to cut much of its expenditure, though the level rose again to comparable heights after the September 11 attacks and the initiation of the War on Terror in 2001.[9]

Socialist parties around the world saw drops in membership after the Berlin Wall fell and the public felt that free market ideology had won.[10]

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 as a bulwark against communism and they were condemned with an embargo. In 1990, Nelson Mandela was freed from prison and the regime made steps to end apartheid, which were on an official basis completed by 1994 with the new election.

Libertarian, neoliberal,[11] nationalist [11] and Islamist [11] parties on the other hand benefited from the fall of the Soviet Union. As capitalism had "won", as people saw it, socialism in general declined in popularity. Socialist Scandinavian countries privatized many of their commons in the 1990s and a political debate on modern institutions re-opened.[12] Scandinavian nations are now more seen as social democrat (see Nordic model).

The People's Republic of China, already having moved towards capitalism starting in the late 1970s and facing public anger after the 1989 killings 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 entered 3 years earlier in 1987. Stock markets were established in Shenzhen and Shanghai late in 1990 as well. The restrictions on car ownership were loosened in the early 1990s, causing 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, working for companies for very small pay and in dangerous and poor conditions.[13]


The end of the Cold War allowed many technologies that were formerly off limits to the public to be declassified. The most important of these was the Internet, which was created as ARPANET by the Pentagon as a system to keep in touch following an impending nuclear war. The last restrictions on commercial enterprise online were lifted in 1995.[14]

In the approximately two decades since, the Internet's population and usefulness grew 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 one third of the world's population was online.[15]


One third of the world's population formerly lived in communist states, and the dismantling of the Iron Curtain caused their economies to open to the rest of the world. For the first time in history there was an economy that was not only truly global (within the exception of Cuba and North Korea) but thanks to modern communications, instantaneous as well.[citation needed]

While capital and economic opportunity now moves almost without regards to national borders, people do not and are subject to immigration laws that are just as strict and sometimes more strict than they were during the Cold War. This has caused human trafficking to become a growing crime.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "A Tale of Two Worlds: Core and Periphery in the Post-Cold War Era - CDDRL". Retrieved 2013-09-21. 
  2. ^ "Remembering the Future," National Interest, 59, (2000): p 35.
  3. ^ William Wohlforth, "The Stability of a Unipolar World," International Security, 24/1, (1999): p 39.
  4. ^ Condoleezza Rice, “Promoting the National Interest,” Foreign Affairs, 79/1, (January/February 2000): p 45.
  5. ^ )Condoleezza Rice, “Rethinking the National Interest,” Foreign Affairs, 87/4, (July/August 2008),
  6. ^ "postmodernism (philosophy) - Encyclopædia Britannica". Retrieved 2013-09-21. 
  7. ^ a b "Cold War Revision". 2008-11-21. Retrieved 2013-09-21. 
  8. ^ "The Cold War, the Long Peace, and the Future," Diplomatic History, 16/2, (1992): p 235.
  9. ^ Shah, Anup. "World Military Spending — Global Issues". Retrieved 2013-09-21. 
  10. ^ "Left and radical :: SWP". Socialist Party. Retrieved 2013-09-21. 
  11. ^ a b c "The Lost American - Post-Cold War | FRONTLINE". PBS. Retrieved 2013-09-21. 
  12. ^ The Age of Social Democracy: Norway and Sweden in the Twentieth Century - Francis Sejersted - Google Books. 2011-01-31. Retrieved 2013-09-21. 
  13. ^ "Apple's Chinese suppliers still exploiting workers, says report". CBS News. 2013-02-27. Retrieved 2013-09-21. 
  14. ^ Cameron Chapman. "The History of the Internet in a Nutshell". Retrieved 2013-09-21. 
  15. ^ "One third of the world's population is online : 45% of Internet users below the age of 25" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-09-21. 
  16. ^ "Globality Studies Journal (GSJ) | Human Trafficking: A Call for Global Action". Retrieved 2013-09-21.