Back to the future: 1979-1989
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International relations

From a worldwide perspective, conflicts, tensions and shifting power struggles characterised the 1980s.


'Everybody wants to rule the world'

The 1980s were a time of global tension. The Cold War entered a perilous stage, with two mighty superpowers engaged in an arms race. The threat of nuclear war hung over the globe, with Europe as the likely epicentre of conflict. Elsewhere in the world, two wars ran throughout the decade: the Soviet-Afghan war (1979-1989) and the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988). 1982 saw the outbreak of the Falklands War and the Lebanon War, with civil wars and coups occurring in a number of countries throughout the decade.

The rise of political Islam and the continued influence of Western nations in Middle East and Gulf politics created the conditions for rising tensions in the 1980s, which continue to shape geopolitics today. At the same time, another major shift was occurring throughout the decade: the weakening of the Soviet Union leading to its eventual collapse, and the strengthening of Communist China by virtue of economic reform. These three key storylines from the 1980s are central to understanding the world we live in today.

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