World 2005 CE

The USA as the world’s leading power. This is a brief period of global economic growth and the spread of democracy. Grave new anxieties are emerging, however.

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World history in 2005 - a global civilisation emerges

This is the final map in a timeline of twenty maps covering all of world history, from 3500 BCE right up to 2005.


The period of world history between 1960 and 2005 saw the Cold War reach new levels of tension before ending in the fall of Communism as a major force in international politics.

With the passing of the threat of nuclear annihilation, new anxieties appeared, including the emergence Islamic terrorism, the spread of AIDS, and the issue of climate change. However, the late 20th century and early 21st century saw the wealth and well-being of billions of people dramatically improve as a truly global civilization began to take shape.

America and Russia

After 1960 the Cold War between USA and its allies on the one side, and USSR and its allies on the other, continued, and indeed intensified. The threat of nuclear war reached acute levels when tensions between the USA and the Soviet Union escalated into a tense crisis over the stationing of Soviet missiles in Cuba, little more than 100 miles from the American coast (1962).

Eastern Asia

Thankfully, tensions gradually eased as the two sides retreated from the brink. However, at about the same time a long-running conflict between Communist and anti-Communist forces in Vietnam sucked the USA into a major war, which ended only in 1975 with a Communist victory. By then a large swathe of South East Asia had been drawn in, including Laos and Cambodia.

To the north, Communist-ruled China was led by Mao Zedong. For ten years, from 1966 to 1976, Mao presided over the Cultural Revolution, a movement which saw the giant country convulsed by terrible purges of anti-Mao (including more moderate Communist) elements. It is estimated that between 1.5 and 3 million people died, and tens of millions of others had their lives uprooted.

With the death of Mao in 1976, the Communist regime in China put a stop to this mayhem. Groups which had been purged by Mao returned to power, and began moving China towards opening up its economy to Western investment. Gradually, economic expansion took hold; industry thrived, millions of peasants moved from farm to factory, and from countryside to city, greatly improving their living standards along the way. China was soon on the way to becoming the workshop of the world.

In the meantime, doctrinaire Communist regimes continued to blight parts of eastern Asia. The government of North Korea continued along an unrepentant Stalinist path – and like Stalin’s regime had done in Russia, inflicting untold suffering on its people. Following on from the Communist victory in Vietnam, the Communist Khmer Rouge party came to power in Cambodia (1975). In an effort to purify the country of “bourgeois” influences, it instituted a massacre in which nearly a quarter of the country’s population (some 2 million people) died before the regime was ousted in 1979.


Elsewhere in the world, the withdrawal of European nations from their overseas colonies continued. A host of newly independent countries appeared in Africa, South East Asia and the Pacific.

In Africa in particular, the ruling regimes were notable for their instability, authoritarianism and corruption. In some cases, as in Uganda (under Idi Amin), gruesome barbarity became the order of the day, and in the Congo (or Zaire, as it was called for a while), the most deadly warfare since World War 2 resulted in millions of deaths.

The Middle East

In the Middle East, the hostility between Arabs and Israelis, which erupted into major conflicts in 1967 and 1974, and into lesser bouts of violence at other times, poisoned politics across the entire region. The 1974 conflict was followed by an embargo on the sale of oil by the oil-producing states of the Middle East, in retaliation for the West’s support for Israel.

This action sent an economic shock-wave through the West. The worst effects of the crisis were comparatively short-lived, but oil prices never returned to previous levels, and there was a permanent realignment of economic power between oil producers and oil consumers. The phenomenon of super-rich Middle Eastern states was one of the iconic developments of the later 20th century. In the West, the long search for more energy efficiency in transport and industry began.

The Communist bloc, led by the Soviet Union, benefitted from these developments; it was the USA and its allies which were seen as the source of neo-colonialist influences which leaders of developing (or “Third World”) countries in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and South America viewed with grave suspicion. Anti-Western – and in particular, anti-US – feeling also inspired the resurgence of militant Islam, which in 1979 led to the fall of the pro-Western Shah of Iran and his replacement by a regime dominated by Islamic clerics.

The End of the Cold War

The same year saw the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. This was to last a decade and end in Soviet defeat. During these years it became increasingly evident that the Soviet Union, the leader of the Communist bloc, could no longer afford to maintain its military rivalry with the USA. In the late 1980s Soviet leadership began to crumble and from 1989 Communism in Russia and eastern Europe swiftly collapsed.

This dramatic turn of events brought an end to the Cold War.  The region which saw the most immediate benefits was Europe, where the “Iron Curtain” dividing it between Western and Communist countries vanished almost (it seemed) overnight. Elsewhere in the world, the ending of the Cold War deprived anti-Western regimes of an important source of support, whether political or ideological. As a result, the 1990s saw many authoritarian regimes in Africa, South East Asia and Latin America being replaced by more democratic ones.


The years leading up to the ending of the Cold War had seen major developments in Western Europe. Most notably, they had seen the rise of the European Community (EC) as the dominating factor in the international politics of the region. This was an alliance of nations which now included most Western European countries. The benefits of belonging to this club of nations had led to authoritarian regimes in Spain, Portugal and Greece being replaced by parliamentary democracies, and a few years later all had joined the EC.

Now, the EC (whose name was changed to the EU in 1993) acted as a magnate to the former Communist states of central Europe. These adopted parliamentary democracy as their governing principle, and in 2004 many of these joined an enlarged EU.

The notable exception to this generally improving trend in Europe was in the Balkans. In Yugoslavia, the ending of authoritarian Communist rule led to the violent fragmentation of the country as bitter feuds between Serbs, Croats and Muslims

Meanwhile, the Soviet Union fragmented into its constituent nations, with Russia by far the largest. The Russian people, and to a lesser extent the other peoples of the former Soviet Union, experienced major economic crises (Russians saw a 50% decline in their living standards). This ultimately led to a pronounced rejection of Western-style democracy by many Russians. The entrenchment of authoritarian rule is the predominant political theme in most of these countries: notably, the restoration of prosperity and stability under President Putin of Russia has been accompanied by a neutering of democratic institutions.

China, Japan, India and Pakistan

Elsewhere in the world, China has continued to experience astonishing economic growth. The ruling Communist party’s determination to give the people economic and personal freedoms but not political freedoms was shown very clearly in their violent stamping out of student demonstrations in favor of political reform in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, in 1989.

The sustained expansion of the Japanese economy, meanwhile, which had taken it to being the second largest economy in the world after the USA, came to abrupt end in 1991. It has not resumed since.

India has continued on its course as the largest parliamentary democracy in the world. Continuing tensions with Pakistan, particularly over the issue of Kashmir, has been constant factor in South Asian politics. A war with Pakistan in 1974 led to defeat for the latter the breaking away of its eastern territories to form the new nation of Bangladesh.

India’s economic rise has been unable to match that of many East Asian countries, but a relative relaxation of economic rules in the 1990s has led to some years of strong growth.

Pakistan, on the other hand, has experienced bouts of military and civilian rule. Political instability has kept its economy fragile. Nevertheless, since the late 1990s both India and Pakistan have joined the small club of nations, along with the USA, Russia, the UK, France, Israel and North Korea, with nuclear weapons.


The problems for Africa were compounded by the appearance of a deadly disease, AIDS. This led to a collapse in life-expectancy in many countries, and place additional burdens on already creaky economies as young, productive adults died en masse, leaving their millions of children as orphans.

Despite this, by the late 1990s many countries in Africa had begun to register significant progress, in political, economic and social terms. In 1980 the White minority regime in Rhodesia had been replaced by a Black-majority government, with the country being renamed Zimbabwe. Now, in 1994, constant international and internal pressure finally led to the ending of Apartheid in South Africa, and the mergence of a multi-party parliamentary democracy with votes for all.

The same year saw another major, and much darker, episode on the continent. In the small central African country of Rwanda, a program of horrific state-sponsored murder saw 20% of the population – and the great majority of the Tutsi ethnic group – perish. This terrible tragedy has been followed by a major rebuilding of Rwandan society under a competent, though increasingly authoritarian, Tutsi-led regime. In neighboring Congo, however, the warfare which has claimed so many millions of lives has continued.

The 1990s saw many other African countries begin the transition to democratic government, and with it political stability, economic growth and a better life for millions.

Latin America

The 1960s and 70s saw the rise of unsavory military regimes in some Latin American countries like Brazil, Chile and Argentina. In the 1980s and 90s, however, these gave way to democratic governments. Other Latin American countries have not been so fortunate; the Andean nations of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia, for example, have been plagued by insurgencies. Powerful drug cartels have also brought extreme levels of violence to these countries.

The same has been true for most Central American countries. Political instability and violence have kept the mass of their populations mired in poverty.

In Mexico, political stability under one-party rule spared the nation much of the suffering experienced by its smaller neighbors, but economic progress came only in first and starts, failing to benefit the great majority of the population. Since 2000, however, democracy has become much more entrenched. The economy has seen strong growth, and inequality has become less marked as a new middle class has emerged.

The Asian Tigers

The region which has seen the most spectacular economic growth is in Eastern Asia. In fact, in the 1990s a group of Asian states gained the nickname “Asian Tigers”: Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan after several decades of strong economic performance had led these previously underdeveloped countries to become commercial and industrial powerhouses. Progress was interrupted by a nasty downturn in 1997, which had the effect of showing up structural weaknesses in their economic systems. Expansion soon resumed and by 2005 the highly educated inhabitants of these states were amongst the wealthiest on the planet.

The large countries of South East Asia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, have also seen progress, but of a patchier and less dramatic kind. Nevertheless, all these countries have seen millions lifted out of poverty. The wealth of the inhabitants of the region has been boosted by a green revolution which saw scientifically-bred crops greatly increase nutritional values per hectare, and allow more people to be fed properly.

The one outstanding exception to the growth in wealth in the region has been Burma, or Myanmar as it is now called, where an authoritarian military regime has kept the country isolated from broader global developments.

One thing that has affected most of the large countries of South East Asia to a greater or lesser extent is the rise of militant Islam.

The “War on Terror”

This has been a global phenomenon, announced by a series of attacks around the world by the terrorist organization, Al-Qaeda, in the 1990s, and then, most dramatically, by the flying of two hijacked airliners into the World Trade Centre (Twin Towers) in New York, on September 11th, 2001.

In response to this threat, in 2002, the USA led an invasion of Afghanistan, which had fallen under the control of the Taliban, a militant Islamic group who had given Al-Qaeda a base from which to operate; and, in 2003, the USA and Britain conducted a highly controversial invasion of Iraq. Both invasions experienced initial success, but the Western allies have since been unable to extract themselves from long and bitter wars in those countries.

Technological and economic developments

One of the iconic features of the Cold War era was the space race between the Soviet Union and the USA. This reached its climactic moment with the USA putting a man on the moon in 1969.

After this, the space programs failed to maintain their place in the imagination of the worldwide public, and this eventually led to funds being harder to justify (especially in democratic America), and to retrenchment. After a handful of moon landings, space ambitions remained more prosaic, but arguably more valuable: a network of satellites has revolutionized communications, weather forecasting, environmental monitoring, traffic control and a host of other things.

The space race was a product of the arms race, also a feature of the Cold War; and out of this came a huge range of technological advances. The aerospace industry was an obvious beneficiary, and the advances in fighter and bomber design could soon be seen in civilian aircraft. This made possible the continued growth of air travel, especially after wide-bodied jet liners made their debut in the early 1970s. Cheaper air travel has brought mass tourism within the reach of tens of millions of people worldwide.

At least as important, but far less newsworthy, have been advances in shipping, notably in the containerization revolution which has brought a high degree of standardization to the carriage of bulk cargo around the world. This has reduced transport costs, and allowed commercial and industrial processes to be distributed much more widely around the world than would otherwise be possible. Products with their constituent parts manufactured in many different continents now routinely grace retailers’ shelves in cities and towns all over the globe.

Another element in the emergence of a new, more global economy has been the astonishing rise of the personal computer. This development was boosted by the miniaturization pioneered by the aerospace industries of the Cold War era, and has made possible a huge range of applications: the Internet and the World Wide Web, mobile phones, new levels of automation in industry, and entirely new industries like bio-engineering. It has also extended the reach of global financial centers such as New York, London and Tokyo, thus expanding the global allocation of capital.

Wealth, urbanization and challenges

This process of globalization has lifted hundreds of millions around the world out of poverty. Linked to this development has been an expansion of urbanization, with nearly half the population of the earth living in cities by the end of the 20th century. Tens of millions have thus been more closely integrated into the global market.

With all this economic growth has come problems. From the 1960s issues such as pollution, deforestation, desertification and other causes of environmental degradation became big issues. In the 1990s, the threat of climate change caused by humankind’s actions became a global anxiety. The search for alternative sources of energy sources apart from fossil fuels took on a new urgency.

A Global civilization

Culturally, the late 20th century saw a continuation of trends from earlier decades: pop groups such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys and the Mamas and the Papas, built on the earlier work of singers such as Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly to created a mass youth culture which set its face against traditional norms. It evolved through different stages and fragmented into various sub-cultures – hippies, punks, reggae, hip-hop, glam rock, and more. Some of these were largely  restricted to western societies, but they all fed into an emerging global culture in which young people from Tokyo, or Rio, or New York, or Moscow, would feel at home.

In fact, the late 20th century saw the emergence of what can only be described as a truly global civilization, participated in by the world’s masses, not just the members of a small westernized elite. Musicians tour the concert halls of the world, leading architects design buildings for cities as far apart as Beijing and Barcelona, famous football clubs have fans on all continents, global fast food brands appear in every city; people wear the same clothes, listen to the same music, play the same electronic games.

The late 20th century and early 21t century have seen vast changes, leaving very few inhabitants of this planet untouched. It has been a decisive stage in the history of a world-wide civilization. Up to the mid-20th century, this civilisation was the preserve of a small minority of the planet’s population, and of only a part of its area. The last decades of the century, however, saw the whole world join the civilisation, if not yet on equal terms, at least on terms which promised full equality in the near future. By 2005, China was already heading to be the second largest economy in the world, and was clearly on the road to becoming one of the two superpowers of the planet. Other previously undeveloped nations – Brazil, India, Indonesia – were following in its train. The leakage of economic, political and cultural power away from the West was well underway.

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European World Empires

Modern Europe

The Cold War

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