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Aleksanteri Conference







McMahon, Robert J.

Reconsidering the Cold War in the Third World

This proposed paper aims to reconsider, in light of recent scholarship and newly available documentary evidence, the role of the Third World in the Cold War.  It seeks as well to reconsider the impact of the superpower conflict on the emerging states and societies of the developing world.

This contribution, if it is accepted for the Helsinki Conference, will represent my initial effort to write, present, and receive critical feedback on an interpretive introduction for a volume of original essays that I will be editing for publication with Oxford University Press, tentatively titled The Cold War in the Third World.  The volume will include ten essays, divided between those with a regional focus and those with a thematic focus (i.e.., economic development; decolonization; cultural interchange; state-building processes; and racial solidarity and transnational linkages). 

In the broadest sense, the volume–and the paper that I would like to present in Helsinki–intends to examine the intersection between two of the seminal developments of modern international history:  the Cold War and the rise of the Third World.  More specifically, it will address two distinct but closely interrelated sets of questions.  First, how did the Third World affect the course of the Cold War and the international behavior and priorities of the two superpowers?  In other words, how did perceptions of, rivalry over, and events within the Third World shape the overall Soviet-American contest for global dominance?  And, second, what impact did the Cold War exert on the developing states and societies of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America?  What difference did it make, in short within the Third World.

The first generation of Cold War scholarship was overwhelmingly Eurocentric, concentrating on the Soviet-American confrontation in the heart of Europe while paying but cursory attention to non-Western areas.  In recent years, that imbalance has been righted.  Most scholars now recognize that the Cold War was a truly global phenomenon in which the Third World served as a critical theater and in which non-Western actors played a large and substantive role.  Yet well over ninety-five percent of the approximately twenty million who died in conflicts that raged across the globe during the Cold War era lost their lives in the Third World.  Our understanding of that crucial aspect of the Cold War remains inadequate.  My paper will attempt a fresh theoretical explanation of that critical issue.  I am conceiving this contribution as a broad-based and wide-ranging think piece.  I hope you will find it appropriate for your conference.

Friday 30 Oct, 13.45 - 15.45 SESSION 5
Panel: When the War Turned Hot: Struggles and Ideology in the Third World