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History of Contemporary Warfare 2: from Cold War to War on Terror, 1975-2011 (Module)

Module description

  • Induction and Orientation module
  • If studying War in the Modern World you must also complete History of Contemporary Warfare 1: the early Cold War, 1945–1975 and History of Contemporary Warfare 2: from Cold War to War on Terror, 1975-2011.
  • If studying International Relations and Contemporary War, you must also complete International Relations and Contemporary War 1: Theories and Concepts and International Relations and Contemporary War 2: Problems and Issues.

Study units

  • The Sino-Soviet Split and Détente
  • The Reagan Offensive and the Afghan War
  • The End of the Cold War
  • The 'New World Order'
  • Challenges to American Hegemony


This module examines the development of contemporary warfare and changes in the global balance of power from the mid Cold War until the early 21st century. It is a key component of the overall programme and provides the foundation for the more detailed engagement with issues and concepts relating to the conduct of war in the modern world which follow in the later options modules. As well as knowledge and understanding of the key events of the years from 1975 to 2011, students will be encouraged to examine developments in strategic theory and the conduct of war.

An important focus of this module is the end game in the Cold War, as the United States finally overcame the Soviet Union and established itself as the dominant global power. The module starts off by assessing the Sino-Soviet Split, China’s rapprochement with the United States and the abortive Soviet-American détente in 1970s. The module then examines Ronald Reagan's global offensive against the USSR in the 1980s with increased American support for anti-Marxist rebels in the Developing World. In particular, we analyse the Soviet war in Afghanistan and investigate why the Soviets failed to achieve their goals there. The following unit looks at the end of the Cold War, with Mikhail Gorbachev's disengagement from the Developing World, the revolutions in Eastern Europe and the collapse of the Soviet Union. We assess why the Cold War ended and why it ended with a Soviet defeat.

The second half of the module examines the configuration of world politics in the wake of the Cold War. We consider some of the key texts that influenced the immediate post-Cold War security debates: were we witnessing the start of an American led 'New World Order' or a return to international anarchy? As part of this discussion we study the main crises and conflicts of the 1990s, such as the first Gulf War, the wars in the former Yugoslavia, the failed United States' intervention in Somalia and the genocide in Rwanda. In the final unit we analyse the challenges to American power which arose in the first decade of the 21st century and the conflicts that they caused. These challenges came from Islamist terrorism, with the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq but also from the revival of Russia and the rise of China. 

*Please note that module information is indicative and may change from year to year.

Staff information

Not applicable

Teaching pattern

One-term course, 1 x 11 weeks

Module assessment - more information

All War Studies Online modules are 20-credit modules and will be assessed by:

  • 1 x 1500-word short essay
  • 1 x 3000-word long essay
  • In addition you will be assessed on participation within the discussions

Key information

Module code 7SSWM198

Credit level 7

Assessment coursework presentation/s

Credit value 20 credits

Semester Semester 2 (spring)

Study abroad module No