Limiting the Spread of Nuclear Weapons

By the late 1960s, Britain, France, and China had developed their own nuclear weapons. By then, many world leaders were eager to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. In 1968, dozens of nations signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). They agreed not to develop nuclear weapons and cooperate in the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

The Cold War Around the World

The superpowers waged the Cold War not only in Europe, but also around the world. By the end of World War II, the Soviets were helping communist forces in China, Korea, and elsewhere. The United States took action to respond to the global threat of communism.

Establishing Alliances and Bases

To stop the spread of communism, the United States sought regional alliances with friendly powers. In Europe, it backed NATO. In Asia, the United States promoted another regional alliance, the Southeast-Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). It included the United States, Britain, France, Australia, Pakistan, Thailand, New Zealand, and the Philippines.

The United States also formed military alliances with individual nations, such as Japan and South Korea. Often, these agreements included the right to set up American military bases. As a result, American bases circled the globe from North America to Europe, Asia, and the islands of the Pacific.

Meanwhile, the Soviet Union formed its own alliances. In addition to the Warsaw Pact in Europe, the Soviet Union formed alliances with newly independent nations in Africa and Asia. However, the Soviet Union had few bases overseas.

Where the Cold War Got Hot

Because both superpowers had a global reach, local conflicts in many places played into the Cold War. Often, the United States and its allies supported one side, and the Soviet bloc supported the other. Through such struggles, the superpowers could confront each other indirectly, rather than head to head.

Political shifts around the world added to Cold War tensions. When communist forces won control of mainland China in 1949, the United States feared that a tide of communism would sweep around the world. During this period, European colonies in Africa and Asia battled for independence. Liberation leaders and guerrillas frequently sought help from one or the other Cold War power.

Photo of an aircraft carrier in open waters.

The United States had many military bases overseas, and its navy played a vital role in maintaining the U.S. presence around the world.

On occasion, the Cold War erupted into “shooting wars,” especially in Asia. Both Korea and Vietnam were torn by brutal conflicts in which the United States, the Soviet Union, and China played crucial roles. More commonly, however, the superpowers provided weapons, training, or other aid to opposing forces in Asia, Africa, or Latin America.

The United States and Latin America

The United States was especially concerned about the threat of communism in the Western Hemisphere. Seeing reform movements in Latin American countries as communist threats, it backed right-wing, anti-communist dictators and helped topple elected socialist leaders. In 1962, Cuba, a small island nation just 90 miles from Florida, became the chief focus of United States concern.

The Communist Revolution in Cuba

In the 1950s, a young lawyer, Fidel Castro, organized an armed rebellion against the corrupt dictator who then ruled Cuba. By 1959, Castro had led his tiny guerrilla army to victory and set about transforming the country into a communist state.


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments