Photo of an armed soldier in field combat uniform holding a rifle in a group of middle eastern men.

The role of the United States as the sole remaining superpower means that the U.S. military often responds to problems and conflicts all over the world.

Different Paths for Vietnam and North Korea

Two other communist nations in Asia, Vietnam and North Korea, took different paths. Vietnam allowed some market reforms and won increased foreign investment. North Korea, however, clung to its old ideology, continuing its strict isolation from the world.

The Post-Cold War World

When the Cold War ended in the early 1990s, Americans hoped for a more peaceful world. But as the sole superpower, the United States played a leading role in trying to resolve world conflicts. The United States led coalition forces in several missions around the world.

The United States and its European allies were also eager to help the new nations of Eastern Europe to make the difficult transition to democracy and capitalism. They provided advice and loans, but also required far-reaching economic reforms.

The Move Toward Market Economies

In the aftermath of the Cold War, the nations of Eastern Europe—as well as Russia and the former Soviet republics—set out to build stable democratic governments and replace their old command economies with free-market economies. Although the experiences of each nation differed, all faced similar challenges.

To attract badly needed foreign investment, governments had to push radical economic reforms. They privatized industries and stopped keeping prices for basic goods and services low. They ended many benefits from the old days such as free tuition at universities. At first, the changes brought hardships such as high unemployment, soaring prices, and crime. Consumer goods were more plentiful, but few people could afford them.

A further stumbling block to progress was the global economic recession that started in 2008. Economic hard times brought a rise of anti-foreign sentiment along with anti-Semitic and anti-Roma (Gypsy) hate speech from extremist groups. Despite these challenges, the governments of Eastern Europe remained democratic.


  1. Draw Conclusions Why was the Soviet Union unable to keep up with the market economies of the West?
  2. Summarize How did Gorbachev's reforms lead to the breakup of the Soviet empire?
  3. Identify Cause and Effect Why were Eastern Europeans able to break free of communist governments and Soviet domination in the late 1980s?
  4. Infer How did the collapse of the Soviet Union affect the United States?
  5. Infer Why might some communist nations have adopted market principles after the fall of the Soviet Union?

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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