Read this article to learn about the condition of the world after the Second World War!
Almost sixty years since the end of the Second World War, the world has changed dramatically.
The political shape of the world had been completely transformed. The period witnessed the total disintegration of the imperialist domination and a near total collapse of European hegemony of the world.
In 1945, fifty nations had joined together in founding the United Nations. After Namibia’s emergence as an independent nation in March 1990 and, later, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the number of member-countries of the United Nations has gone up to 192.
Most of the new members are countries, mostly of Asia and Africa, which have won their independence after the Second World War.
USA and the Soviet Union established themselves as the greatest powers of the world for over four decades after the defeat of Germany, Japan and Italy, and the loss of the colonial empires of Britain and France. These two countries exercised a dominant role in world affairs and headed the two power blocs that came into being soon after the war. USA headed the Western bloc, comprising countries of Western Europe, North America and the Pacific.
These countries chose to describe themselves as constituting the ‘Free World’. The Soviet Union was the dominant power in the Socialist bloc which, came into being as a result of the capture of power by Communist parties in countries of Eastern Europe and, later, in China and North Korea.
Many changes took place within and between these two blocs, or groups of countries, but the position of USA and the Soviet Union as pre-eminent military powers in the world remained unchanged till the end of the 1980s.
There have been vast political, economic and social changes in every part of the world. The direction and extent of changes vary from country to country but the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights with its stress on civil and political, and economic and social rights may be regarded as a symbol of the main direction of change.
Almost every country in the world attained independence and the people, at least in principle, everywhere have become masters of their own destiny. Though the main direction of change has been in the growth of political freedom and establishment of universal franchise and representative institutions, many countries are still ruled by military dictators, autocrats and oligarchies.
For about 45 years since the end of the Second World War, until the dramatic changes which began to take place around 1990, the two main political, economic and social systems in the world were described as capitalist and socialist. Each of them underwent many important changes.
In countries with an advanced capitalist system, there was a general recognition of economic and social rights. This came about, at least partly, as a result of the struggles by workers’ unions and labour and socialist movements.
Most of the advanced capitalist countries have followed welfare policies which have mitigated the worst miseries associated with capitalism before the Second World War. The kind of socialist system which was built in the Soviet Union and, after the Second World War, in Eastern Europe was for some years seen as an alternative to the capitalist system.
This system, often referred to as ‘actual existing socialism’, also underwent many changes until it collapsed. The newly independent countries have been engaged in the task of building their social, economic and political systems.
The backwardness which they inherited from the colonial rule, however, continues to characterise most of these countries. The world economic system continues to be inequitable and is a major factor in the continuing backwardness of these countries which, together, is referred to as the Third World.
Some countries of the Third World witnessed very high rate of economic growth. The most spectacular has been the rise of China as a great economic power during the past 20 years. India is also beginning to emerge as a major economic power.
There have been technological changes of a dramatic nature during the past fifty years. These technological changes have particularly transformed the economies of the advanced capitalist countries.
Besides USA, Japan and Germany have emerged as major economic powers. The advances in technology have tended to further widen the gap between the economically developed countries and the countries of the Third World which are called developing countries.
The division of the world into developed and developing countries has become a major feature of the post-Second World War world.
The period after the Second World War has been a period of tensions and conflicts. The alliance which had come into being during the war to defeat fascism came to an end soon after the war was over.
Then followed a period of confrontation between what came to be known as the Western and the Soviet blocs. This confrontation which continued for fifty years after the end of the Second World War is known as the Cold War.
It was accompanied by a race for more and more, destructive weapons which threatened the very survival of the human race. Many wars broke out in different parts of the world, and although in many of these wars the countries of the two antagonistic blocs were directly or indirectly involved, these wars remained localised. There were many occasions during this period when the world was brought on the brink of disaster but a general war was averted.
The emergence of independent nations in Asia and Africa has been a distinctive feature of the world after the Second World War. The independent countries of Asia and Africa along with many countries of Latin America pushed for an independent role in world affairs.
During the period of the Cold War, their refusal to align with any of the military blocs helped in creating an atmosphere of peace. The coming together of these countries led to the rise of the Non- Aligned Movement which played an important role in lessening tensions around the world, in ending colonialism, imperialism and racialism and in bringing to the fore the issue of development as an international concern.
There were periods of thaw and the lessening of tensions since the 1960s, but now it can be said with certainty that the world since the 1990s is a post-Cold War world. The end of the Cold War marks the end of an era which began with the end of the Second World War.
Whether it also marks the beginning of a genuinely peaceful world cannot be said with certainty. The post-Cold War world is not without tensions and conflicts. It should be remembered that the hunt for more destructive armaments during and even after the Cold War was a more puzzling question for world peace efforts. Only a genuine concern for disarmament and international cooperation, and not merely the avoidance of war, can guarantee world peace.
Since the end of the 1980s, some of the changes that have taken place in the world are so far-reaching that they may be said to mark the beginning of a new phase in world history. The Soviet Union as a state—as a Union of Soviet Socialist Republics—collapsed.
The 15 republics which constituted USSR have become independent states. The rule of the communist parties in these states, as well as in the countries of Eastern Europe, has ended. With the ending of the communist rule, the kind of socialist political and economic system which was built in these countries has collapsed.
The Soviet Union had been a major factor in world politics since the Russian Revolution. After the Second World War, it headed a mighty military bloc and, along with countries of Eastern Europe, was seen as representing a powerful challenge to the military might and the political and economic system of USA and Western Europe.
There is hardly any major event in world history since the Second World War which can be fully understood without reference to the direct or indirect role, or the sheer existence, of USSR. The most obvious consequence of the collapse of USSR has been the end of the Cold War.