Expanding the Frontiers: Superpower Intervention in the Cold War

By Karen A. Feste | Go to book overview

SIX
Cold War Renewal: Civil Conflict in Africa

Africa constitutes the culminating Cold War competitive arena for political and territorial influence between the superpowers. This region has been the site of major conflicts over self-determination and expressions of nationalism; the subsequent birth pangs of instability have been experienced by many newly created states (for example, Algeria, Zimbabwe, and Zaire). Numerous countries have suffered through periods of extreme famine alongside the general conditions of poverty, low levels of social and economic development, and the lack of natural resources. From civil conflicts in Angola and South Africa to regional wars such as Ethiopia versus Somalia, the superpowers were engaged either directly, covertly, or by proxy, through military or economic intervention. The political problems facing African countries are substantial: ethnic divisions have frequently sparked domestic instability; the tradition of sovereign governance is brief; and the issues of regime legitimacy, strategies, and goals are often brought into doubt.

Throughout the 1960s and the 1970s, newly independent African nations presented the superpowers with a unique opportunity to expand their global influence. With the departure of the European colonial powers, the United States and the Soviet Union could penetrate into regions where previous possibilities for geopolitical expansion were limited or nonexistent. The incentives for superpower intervention varied: Access to mineral wealth, potential for military expansion through basing agreements, and increased political influence were among the possibilities that led to American and Soviet policy initiatives throughout the continent. There was also a powerful ideological element driving superpower activity in Africa. In the first two decades of the Cold War, much of the globe was already attached either to the United States or to the Soviet Union. Beyond this, there were only two

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