David Brydan of the Historical Association Highlights Global Impacts of the Cold War

How did the Cold War effects stretch beyond Europe and how is it still felt today?

by PAC Intern Kamila Magiera

On April 23, The Historical Association hosted a webinar, titled “The Global Cold War”, to shed light on the years after the partial collapse of the Soviet Union by studying the relationship between the Soviet Union (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or USSR) and the United States from 1945 to 1991.. The event was hosted by David Brydan, a professor at King’s College London. Brydan’s research focuses on internationalism, the Cold War, twentieth-century history of Europe, and the history of global health. As a member of the Historical Association, which is based in London, England, Brydan and other member historians deliver lectures to the public. 

The focus of this global Cold War lecture emphasized our present perspective. We currently are at a stage when we can look at the effects of the Cold War from a longer perspective and with a greater focus on geography. For example, Bryden specifically highlights the fact that Berlin is considered to be one of the battlegrounds of the Cold War, however, little fighting occurred and few lives were lost in Berlin. . Instead, of Berlin, Brydan focuses on three aspects of Cold War history: proxy wars, decolonization, and international development. 


A proxy war is defined as a conflict in which the instigator does not become involved. In the case of the Cold War, many areas in Africa and Asia were dominated by conflicts in which neither the USSR nor the United States became belligerants. Afghanistan and Guatemala were the venues of several military interventions. Korea and Vietnam became the new epicenters of war. The legacies of the war era are still felt in many countries and regions today, most famously coining the term “third world countries” as a result of global instability caused by the Cold War. 

Decolonization rapidly proceeded in Africa from 1960 to the independence of the Portuguese colonies in the mid-1970. Transformed by the old European subcontinent and its new independence, the number of states that gained freedom grew threefold. However, there was a price for decolonization. Not only did the United States and USSR fight to see which side, democratic or communist, the state would fall to, but also China became a rival for influence. However, with only a few years of independence, “these states were hit by war, conflicts, and economic crises as a result of cold war intervention.” Political, social, and economic development was halted, however, post-colonial leaders sought a commitment to national sovereignty. For example, in 1955, the Afro-Asian Conference took place in Bandung, with 29 nations present calling to respect self-determination, respect for national sovereignty, non-interference, and international equality. Six years later, the Non-Aligned Conference took place in Belgrade, with African countries with others, such as Yugoslavia and Cuba, to call for peace and anti-colonialism. 

International development became involved with ideological competition because the newly independent states were battlegrounds to test which economic system, free enterprise or socialism would prevail.. The theory of modernization, a model that explains the transition from a traditional or “pre-modern” to modern society or country, predicts that democratization is more likely to succeed at higher stages of economic development. Through this theory, the United States led efforts to influence new states through economic policy; U.S. President Truman began in 1949 up until President Kennedy after launching the Peace Corps. However, Soviet money and expertise contributed to a large number of countries in the world, including India and Krushchev’s partnership with Nasser. China also felt that a communist revolution in an agrarian model was much more appropriate for countries to follow, leading to Mao spreading ideas beyond China. 

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