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A Brief History of International Relations

The World Made Easy

Kathleen Brush

The world does not need to be complex and confusing. It can be made simpler so that the business, political, social, and economic implications of global news briefs beaming across televisions and electronic devices can be easily grasped. Key to this is knowing that a five-hundred-year competition for global supremacy between the Chinese, European, Islamic, and Russian empires only ended in 1945. When it did, the world had 57 independent nations. After all empires were dissolved in 1991, there were 193, and each nation carried histories of empires in the form of conquest, religions followed, languages practiced, diversified populations, repressive rule, and histories of discrimination. A Brief History of International Relations: The World Made Easy explores this history of global conflict to contextualize and simplify the often perplexing relations between nations and empires.

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Section II. The Era of Nation-States: Becoming Nation-States


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Becoming Nation-States


To subjugated colonials, independence seemed like the panacea. But it was not even a cure for repressive rule, let alone a remedy for the everyday hardships of life. Building a nation would challenge the most competent leaders, but the general profile of new national leaders was inexperienced, under-skilled, and misguided. Injudicious greenhorns were in charge of overseeing the complicated tasks of building the infrastructure and institutions to support a foundation for equality, peace, and prosperity. And they had to do this in an environment with some knotty empire aftermaths, like ethnically stratified, religiously diverse populations living within empire-defined borders.

The greenhorns had access to help. After WWII some IGOs were created to facilitate nation-building, including the United Nations, the IMF, the World Bank, and GATT. A combination of poor design, Cold War complications, corrupt and incompetent national leaders, and the inherent limits of IGOs to manage sovereign nations limited their effectiveness. There were other sources of assistance, but these came with extra strings attached. China, the motherlands of Europe’s former empires and later the EU, Iran, Russia/Soviet Union, Saudi Arabia, and the United States exchanged foreign aid for influence. ← 171 | 172 →

During the Cold War, foreign aid was reasonably abundant from IGOs and first- and second-world sources, but it was often squandered or used for personal purposes. The influence that accrued to nations supplying aid was...

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