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Captive Nations Week

By Kate Pais

A commemoration that is not as well known, every third week of July is Captive Nations Week. Officially signed into law by President Eisenhower and the United States in 1959, the week is meant to bring recognition to the many countries that have been oppressed by non-democratic governments. Of course in the 1950s, lawmakers had communism specifically in mind. The Cold War had widespread political ramifications, and the map and quotations (from The Cold War in the Third World, edited by Robert J. McMahon) below highlight the regions that were deeply affected by the conflict between the Soviet Union and United States.

The global effects of the Cold War
A map edited to show the reach of the Cold War across the globe. Image edited from a blank map of the world, 2005. From Roke. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Latin America
“The Latin American Cold War started in 1947 when a series of coups and conservative backlashes fueled by rising anti-Communism closed a brief but consequential continent wide democratic opening…. A number of the Cold War’s signal events took place: the CIA’s 1954 coup against Guatemalan president Jacobo Arbenz, the 1959 Cuban Revolution, the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, the following year’s missile crisis, John F. Kennedy’s intervention to prevent Cheddi Jagan from coming to power in Guyana, Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1965 invasion of the Dominican Republic, the 1973 overthrow of Chilean president Salvador Allende, and the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s.” —Greg Grandin, New York University

“The Cold War’s ideological dimensions greatly influenced the expression of anticolonial sentiment, in organizational as well as ideational terms, and subsequently also the domestic agendas of many African leaders after independence. As the Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah told an audience in New York in 1958, ‘We cannot tell our people that material benefits and growth and modern progress are not for them. If we do, they will throw us out and seek other leaders who promise more… Africa has to modernize.’” —Jeffrey James Byrne, University of British Columbia

The Middle East
“The Middle East held 60% of the world’s known oil reserves, access to which was essential to global industrial development in the postwar era. …The Cold War further polarized [this] region. In the 1950s, U.S. support for conservative states like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Iraq combined with Soviet support for Egypt and Syria to exacerbate an existing inter-Arab split. From the late 1960s on, Cold War rivalries were increasingly mapped onto the Arab-Israeli and Iranian-Iraqi disputes, intensifying each.”  —Salim Yaqub, University of California, Santa Barbara

South Asia
“Cold War aid competition in South Asia had set a pattern that would apply not just throughout South Asia’s Cold War, but across the whole Third World. South Asia had been the entry point for serious Soviet-American competition in the Third World, leading to the era of ‘competitive coexistence’ that began in the 1950s-a competition that included both economic and military assistance. By the early 1960s, China joined the race, which was again a process that began in South Asia. Events in South Asia helped precipitate the Sino-Soviet split- a long-running ideological battle that was first clarified by differences over Tibet and India.” —David C. Engerman, Brandeis University

“China’s revolutionary policies changed East Asia into a main battlefield of the Cold War. Although the Cold War’s logical emphasis should have been Europe and although America’s primary enemy was the Soviet Union, policymakers in Washington widely believed that compared with Moscow, Beijing was a more daring, and therefore, more dangerous enemy. This perception justified America’s continuous military intervention in East Asia after the Korean War, eventually leading to its involvement in the Vietnam War.” —Chen Jian, Cornell University

Southeast Asia
“The Cold War in Southeast Asia was not simply a geopolitical competition between the United States, Soviet Union, and China, but also an ideological contest rooted in divergent visions of modernity and social change, in which the direction of decolonization, development, and state building served as a key terrain of conflict. …The newly independent and decolonizing states of Southeast Asia not only had to navigate the shoals of superpower conflict, but also had to create viable states, pursue economic development, and construct postcolonial national identities.” —Brad Simpson, University of Connecticut

Kate Pais joined Oxford University Press in April 2013. She works as a marketing assistant for the history, religion and theology, and bibles lists.

The Cold War in the Third World, edited by Robert J. McMahon, provides fresh and synthetic interpretations of the Cold War’s impact on the Third World by some of the world’s leading scholars on the subject. Robert J. McMahon is the Ralph D. Mershon Distinguished Professor of History at Ohio State University. He is the author, among other works, of Cold War on the Periphery: The United States, India, and Pakistan, The Limits of Empire: The United States and Southeast Asia since World War II, and The Cold War: A Very Short Introduction.

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Recent Comments

  1. Andrew Johnson

    It takes integrity to speak in defence of captive nations, especially when you are business partners with a colonial power…

    On the map you will see a vertical line dividing the large island north of Australia in half, several hundred tribal nations with unique languages survive among the 7 million people on the eastern half, but now there are only around 200 tribes among the 1 million native survivors in the west.

    The US became interested in the Dutch colony of West New Guinea in 1962 and got Holland to present a proposal under international law asking that the United Nations members jointly accept responsibility for the colony, as is permittable by Chapter XII of the Charter of the United Nations.

    The UN Secretary General did the first of his two duties with any trusteeship proposal by adding the purposed agreement to the agenda of the General Assembly. The United Nations approved the agreement in General Assembly resolution 1752 (XVII) as is permitted by article 85 of the UN Charter.

    But for fifty one years the UN Secretary Generals have forgotten to tell the Trusteeship Council by adding notice of General Assembly resolution 1752 (XVII) to the agenda of the UN Trusteeship Council. The only reason for the hundreds of thousands of deaths and that Indonesia is still administrating West New Guinea on behalf of the UN members, is because nobody has yet sent official notice of the General Assembly decision to the Trusteeship Council.

    Under the Trusteeship Council rules of procedure any UN member is able to add items to the agenda of the Trusteeship Council. But will any of the Parliaments of the world debate whether they should exercise duty of submitting the missing agenda item to the Office of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon?

    Without doubt the agenda item in recalling General Assembly resolutions 1752 (XVII), 1514 (XV), and 171 (II) should also propose that the Trusteeship Council ask the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for an advisory opinion about West New Guinea in relation with the United Nations.

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