Friday, August 29, 2014

Since 1945 - The United States as a World Power - World History

In the years following the Second World War, the USA found itself resisting the expansion of international communism. This led to American participation in two major wars – in Korea and Vietnam – and frequent military and diplomatic interventions in other areas. The break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 left the USA as the sole surviving superpower.

IN 1920, THE USA declined to join the League of Nations and retreated into a period of isolationism, which was only brought to a close by the Japanese attack on the American fleet at Pearl Harbour in December 1941. When the war ended in 1945, the USA and the Soviet Union were left as the two greatest military powers. The USA found itself playing the leading role on the world scene in resisting the attempts of the Soviet Union to further the advance of international communism.

The policy of containment 

In the spring of 1947, conscious of what appeared to be a Soviet threat in eastern Europe, Greece and Turkey, the Truman administration adopted a policy of “containing” communist expansionism.

Containment remained the basis of American foreign policy until the 1980s. It had a number of successes in the late 1940s: Marshall Aid (introduction in 1948) which saved the economies of war-torn Europe; the Berlin airlift of 1948-9 which defeated a Soviet blockade of the city; and the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949. Yet the policy also suffered reverse: the communist take-over of China in 1949 and, the same year, the Soviet Union’s detonation of an atomic bomb. President Truman responded in 1950 by ordering the construction of the hydrogen bomb and accepting NSC-68, a document calling for the rearmament of America’s conventional forces. In 1950, when communist North Korea invaded South Korea, Truman committed US forces against them and their Chinese allies in the Korean War (1950-3).

Under the Eisenhower administration from 1953 Secretary of State John Foster Dulles talked not of containing communism but of the “liberation” of eastern Europe. The hollowness of this rhetoric was demonstrated when the Russians suppressed East German workers’ food riots in 1953 and by the Hungarian uprising of 1956. On both occasions the USA proved powerless to help.

After an abortive US-backed attempt to overthrow the Castro regime in Cuba in 1961, Cuba was the site (in October 1962) of the most dangerous moment of the Cold War. When the USSR attempted to install nuclear missiles in Cuba, President Kennedy ordered a naval blockade of the island. Both sides seemed on the brink of nuclear war until the Russians agreed to withdraw their missiles in return for concessions over US missiles in Turkey. From 1962, relations between the two “superpowers” – the USA and the USSR – began slowly to improve, as symbolized by the 1963 treaty banning nuclear testing in the atmosphere and the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) agreed in 1972. The Nixon Administration (1969-74) also began a process of rapprochement with Communist China.

The Vietnam War 

Kennedy provided South Vietnam with military advisers, but not troops, in an attempt to shore up a South Vietnamese government threatened by North Vietnamese-backed communist insurgents. In 1965, his successor, Lyndon Johnson, committed American ground forces to the preservation of South Vietnam. US involvement in Vietnam lasted eight years, cost 58,000 American lives, and had profound repercussion on domestic politics. It also failed - in April 1975, North Vietnam successfully unified the country under communist rule.

The Vietnam War led to a period of “neo-isolationism”. President Carter, elected in 1976, helped Israel and Egypt make peace (in the wake of the Yom Kippur War of 1973). But he had no answer to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 or the holding of American hostages by Iranian revolutionaries.

The collapse of communism

Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980 promising a firmer line in foreign policy. He followed a two-prong strategy: large-scale rearmament, directed at the Soviet Union: and intervention, either open (as in Grenada in 1983) or covert (as in Nicaragua) to overthrow left-wing regimes.

The collapse of communism in eastern Europe in 1989 and the demise of the Soviet Union itself in 1991 left the USA as the sole remaining superpower and replaced a bipolar with a multi-polar world. With the ending of the Cold War, a whole series of ethnic, nationalist and separatist conflicts emerged. In many of these the USA played a crucial role – as in the 1995 bombing of Bosnian Serbs that persuaded them to join the Dayton peace negotiations. The USA also led the coalition against Iraq in the Gulf War of 1991. Despite a strong post-Vietnam dislike of involving American forces in conflicts abroad, the 1990s saw American troops deployed in many trouble-spots overseas. Since the late 1990s the United States has become the dominant force in international affairs.

Following the AI-Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington on 11 September 2001 President George W. Bush declared a “war on terror” which brought US intervention in Afghanistan in October 2001 and US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 in defiance of much world opinion. The occupation of Iraq cost US forces over 26,000 casualties by 2007.

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