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PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, INTERNATIONAL STUDIES ( (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2019. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 21 November 2019

Summary and Keywords

During the Cold War, bipolarity represented a systemic condition wherein two superpowers—the US and the USSR—were locked in an attitude of confrontation for over four decades. In this contest, the spatial geopolitical battles over spheres of influence were supplemented on both sides by universalist claims based on socioeconomic doctrines. As Soviet leaders sought to make the world safe for a communist revolution, and their American counterparts attempted to make the world safe for markets and democracies, the world became the stage for these rival claimants to gain adherents for their respective causes. The collapse of the USSR in December 1991 definitively ended the era of bipolarity but opened the page on a new series of unresolved questions relating to the nature and shape of the post-Cold War era world. Debates have generally clustered around three questions: the likelihood of great-power competition or cooperation; the salience of culture and identity; and the preeminence of economic imperatives in a globalizing world associated with the end of the bipolar order. The initial hopes for a new world order marked by cooperation among major powers eventually settled into a cold peace in which the United States orchestrated its global strategy and policies on the basis of issue-based coalitions predicated on a shifting cast of supporters, detractors, and challengers among other major powers.

Keywords: Cold War, bipolarity, United States, USSR, hegemony

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