8.1 Setting the Stage for the Cold War and Decolonization

3 min readjanuary 16, 2023


Katie Moore

Jillian Holbrook

Jillian Holbrook

AP World History: Modern 🌍

577 resources
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Influences of World War I

Empires broke apart or started to fall after losses in WWI, such as Austria-Hungary, which fractured into two nations: Germany, which experienced economic devastation, and the Ottoman Empire, which dissolved entirely.
Imperialist empires began to think of independence. Fighting in WWI helped them develop a sense of nationalism as a separate entity from their imperialist controllers, as seen with the Irish and Korean Declarations of Independence. Instead of continuing to submit to often-cruel imperial authority, these countries sought self-determination—leading to decolonization.

The Impact of World War II

Although hopes for greater self-government were not entirely fulfilled by World War I, the end of World War II further increased anti-imperialist sentiment.
With respect to the Cold War, WWII hit Western Europe the hardest. Economically and physically devastated by the war, Europe had to build from scratch. Since that region used to be the world superpower, there was a vacuum to fill. The United States and USSR (Russia) filled that gap. 
Technological and economic gains experienced by these victorious nations shifted the global balance of power. As the United States was overseas and Russia was bitterly cold, both countries avoided the worst of the fighting in the war. And to engage in combat, these nations bolstered their militaries. Essentially, when the fighting ended, the United States and USSR emerged as the two dominant world powers with strong armed forces and booming economies.
Despite fighting as allies in the war, the relationship between the United States and the USSR quickly deteriorated as the nations disagreed on the future of Europe and order post-war.

WWII Results

WWII Event
Colonies fought on the side of their imperial rulers
Increased nationalism in the colonies 
Western Europe was destroyed by fighting 
Power vacuum (that U.S. and USSR would fill)
U.S. and USSR were far away from W. Europe & had a strong military from fighting the war 
Able to fill W. Europe's power vacuum and battle for control; the beginning of the Cold War 
Losing empires destroyed 
U.S. and USSR fought for control over land 

Review Exercise

How did the World Wars lead to the Cold War and Decolonization? (True or False)
  • When the losing countries saw they were going to lose, they became part of the U.S. or USSR, which led to the Cold War.
    • (F-- losing countries did not join either but were rather split up into spheres of influence after the war)
  • When the war was over, the U.S. and USSR were deeply impoverished and started fighting over the last resources, leading to the Cold War.
    • (F-- the U.S. and USSR became superpowers after the Cold War)
  • The U.S. and USSR had strong economies and militaries, which let them fill the gap of powers (T)
  • Western Europe was destroyed, which left room for the U.S. and USSR to become superpowers (T)
  • Colonies that were part of empires that lost the war got mad about their loss and demanded independence 
    • (F-- many colonies, regardless of whether the country lost or not, demanded independence after the war due to rising nationalism in the colony) 
  • Winning countries like France got to encourage the U.S./USSR rivalry because they were still in power 
    • (F-- Western Europe was largely no longer in power, leaving room for the U.S./USSR to take place as a superpower)
  • Fighting in the wars helped colonies develop a sense of nationalism and demand independence (T)
  • The empires that lost had to be divvied up, which led to the U.S. and USSR exerting influence over large parts of the world (T)

Additional Resources: 

🎥Watch: WHAP - The Cold War
🎥Watch: WHAP - Decolonization
🎥Watch: WHAP - Newly Independent States
🏆Trivia: WHAP - Cold War Review
🏆Trivia: WHAP - Decolonization Review
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🐎Unit 1 – The Global Tapestry, 1200-1450
🐫Unit 2 – Networks of Exchange, 1200-1450
🕌Unit 3 – Land-Based Empires, 1450-1750
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✊🏽Unit 5 – Revolutions, 1750-1900
🚂Unit 6 – Consequences of Industrialization, 1750-1900
💣Unit 7 – Global Conflict, 1900-Present
🥶Unit 8 – Cold War & Decolonization, 1900-Present
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