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The Cold War Divides the World

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Fighting for the Third World

After World War II, the world’s nations were grouped into three worlds. The First World included the United States and its allies. The Second World consisted of Communist nations led by the Soviet Union. The Third World was composed of developing nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Many Third World nations had serious problems. These problems were often due to a long history of colonialism. Some Third World nations faced political unrest that threatened the peace. Other problems included poverty and a lack of education and technology. Some of these countries tried to stay neutral in the Cold War. They met to form what they called a third force. It consisted of nonaligned nations, or countries that did not take sides between the Soviets and Americans. Others actively sought American or Soviet aid.

How were developing nations affected by the Cold War?
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Confrontations in Latin America

In Cuba, the United States supported a dictator in the 1950s. In 1959, a young lawyer, Fidel Castro, led a successful revolt. Castro received aid from the Soviet Union. In 1962, the Soviets and Americans almost went to war over nuclear missiles that the Soviets placed in Cuba. The Soviets finally pulled the missiles out. Over time, the Cuban economy became more dependent on Soviet aid. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, this aid stopped. It was a serious blow to Cuba's economy.

The United States had also backed a dictator, Anastasio Somoza, in Nicaragua. Somoza's government fell to Communist rebels in 1979. The rebels were led by Daniel Ortega. When the new government began helping leftist rebels in nearby El Salvador, the United States struck back. It began to support Nicaraguan rebels that wanted to overthrow the Communists. The civil war in Nicaragua lasted more than a decade. Finally, the different sides agreed to hold free elections.

What happened in Latin America?
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Confrontations in the Middle East

The Middle East often saw conflict between those who wanted a more modern, Western-style society and those who wanted to follow traditional Islam. Such a struggle took place in Iran. In the 1950s, a group tried to take control of the government from Iran's ruler, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. The United States helped the Shah defeat them.

Over time, the Shah tried to weaken the influence of Islam in Iran. A Muslim leader, the Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini, led a successful revolt. In 1979, the Shah was forced to leave the country. Khomeini made Islamic law the law of the land. He followed a foreign policy that was strongly against the United States. He also led his country in a long war against its neighbor Iraq.

The Soviets gained influence in Afghanistan after 1950. In the 1970s, Islamic rebels threatened the country’s Communist government. The Soviets sent in troops to support the government. The United States felt its Middle East oil supplies were in danger and supported the rebels. In 1989, after a costly occupation, Soviet troops left Afghanistan.

What happened in Iran and Afghanistan?
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