Non-Alignment and the Third World Order

Non-Alignment and the Third World Order


While the United States and Soviet Union attempted to fight against one another throughout the world, there were some that attempted to not be aligned with the polarity of these two countries. Another significant problem that occurred during the Cold War was the process of decolonization. This added much fuel to the conflicts between the United States and the Soviet Union. 

Learning Objectives

  • Evaluate the role of the Cold War in the process of decolonization.
  • Analyze the role of World War II in the role of decolonization.
  • Evaluate the differences between Soviet Communism and United States Capitalism.
  • Analyze the impact of the end of World War II on the post-war societies.
  • Evaluate the role of United States foreign policy in shaping the post World War II world. 


Imperialism Following World War II


World War II was a truly world changing war. While the events of the battles and outcomes of those battles had a profound impact during the war, it was the relationship between the European and the colonial worlds that was fundamentally altered in the process. Throughout the war, Europeans needed their colonial counterparts. The colonies provided both resources and soldiers to the war effort. European colonial powers understood that the only way to win this war was to have their colonies helping in a very dramatic way.

The problem with this relationship was throughout the war effort, that there were promises that had been made that the colonial world was expecting to be kept. Looking back at the First World War, Europeans had made significant promises to the colonial worlds for support, in exchange for independence. The best example of this was the British promising the Indian Subcontinent independence for support in World War I. That is why World War I was the only war that Gandhi supported, because of the promise of independence. The problem was, following World War I, that the British did not honor that promise. After the war, the British kept making excuses about how independence was not something that they could support and that the Indian Subcontinent should have close to a one hundred year time line for independence. This was why there was such anti-British protests in India following World War I. That is why it was different following World War II, support from the colonies came with a specific demand that there would be independence following the war. This new direction was important, because World War II changed the relationship between the colonial and the European country. Europeans were forced to stop colonization, which meant that the long plans of decolonization were now removed. There was limited planning for how Europeans thought about leaving. This is a significant problem, because in some cases close to 150 years of European colonization and removal of resources and stripping away goods meant that regions would have significant problems in establishing governments and societies. In many ways, the European process of colonization, of pitting one group against another in the colonial world, meant that newly forming states had significant social and cultural gaps that were from European colonization. This would prove to be a significant problem for the independence movement.

The process of decolonization in many cases was very straightforward. European states promised to leave the colonial world, gave a specific date and then promptly left. While that sounds very simple, the political problems that this created had deep reverberations throughout the Cold War. In many cases, European states provided the political glue that held together many of the colonial states. With Europeans gone, the question became who would be in the government? How would the government function? With a very new economy, how would the economics of this newly independent state work? Having limited funding from the independence meant that weak states emerged, with limited infrastructure in place. All of these problems would manifest to put these newly forming states in the middle of the bigger problem of the Cold War.


The Complications of the Cold War


Not only was there an issue following World War II and the colonial/European relationship, the Cold War made matters worse. In many ways, the Cold War was a process of the United States and the Soviet Union attempting to define their own teams as a way to have political and economic power over the other. This had a deep impact, because the development of each of these teams create a world that had multiple levels. The classic description of these was the “First World, Second World.” Meaning that those friendly towards the United States were in the group known as the “First World.” Those friendly to the Soviet Union was the “Second World.” This division was important because as the Cold War engaged with the process of decolonization had significant set backs because of the tensions of the Cold War. As European states began to remove themselves from the colonial system, the question of how would these new states fit into the world order in the Cold War began quickly. Both the United States and the Soviet Union often looked at these newly emerging states as a way to gain an ally and get resources in the middle of this Cold War system.

Both sides of the Cold War saw independence as a way to gain an ally in the war. The United States had many lenders, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, that promised large loans to newly forming states in exchange for promises of being capitalistic and democratic. The Soviet Union had similar processes to promote more of a communistic government. The problem is that in the absence of a larger government in the newly forming states, that both the United States and the Soviet Union turned to guerrilla warriors as a way to achieve their agenda. This meant that both sides found paramilitary groups that were interested in overthrow of a government that had been established. The United States put weapons, money, and time into training and arming many of these paramilitary groups. This meant that in many cases, the newly independent states were often in the middle of a Civil War following independence.

The Cold War radically shaped the process of decolonization because in many cases, these newly independent states were then the sites of open war between the United States and the Soviet Union. Remember the fear of the United States and the Soviet Union going to war was that nuclear weapons would be used. If both the United States and the Soviet Union fought through various proxies around the world, this would avoid open fighting between the two states. This idea of proxy wars, which is where the United States and the Soviet Union used local fighters to do the heavy lifting of the fighting of the Cold War. Famous proxy wars include the Korean War and the Vietnam War. These proxy wars pitted not only the Cold War forces, but the newly independent countries against one another that would prove detrimental. To understand the process of decolonization, it is important to begin with key states and their relationship with the broader system of decolonization.

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