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Overview of the 1970-2000 Era
Digital History ID 2926

The three decades of the 20th century were shaped by three fundamental challenges that arose in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The first was a crisis of political leadership. Public cynicism toward politicians intensified, political party discipline declined, and lobbies and special interest groups grew in power. The second challenge involved wrenching economic transformations. Economic growth slowed, productivity flagged, inflation and oil prices soared, family income stagnated, and major industries faltered in the face of foreign competition. The third challenge involved growing uncertainty over America's proper role in the world. A major challenge facing policymakers was how to preserve the nation's international prestige and influence in the face of mounting public opposition to direct overseas interventions.

The 1970s & 1980s

Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter attempted to strengthen the United States' influence in foreign affairs through d├ętente and arms control negotiations. President Reagan emphasized sharp increases in military spending and an assertive foreign policy. Reagan addressed economic stagnation and inflation through deregulation, tax cuts, reductions in government budget deficits, and the development of new computer and communication technologies. The collapse of Eastern European Communism and the Soviet Union made the United States the only superpower.

The 1990s

During the last decade of the 20th century, the United States became the world's sole superpower. It possessed the world's most productive economy and most mighty military. It dominated global trade and banking, and its popular culture was influential across much of the globe. During the 1990s, the U.S. economy grew rapidly due to a sharp fall in interest rates and the price of oil, the growth of new computer and communication technologies, globalization, and the expansion of international trade, finance, and entertainment. The end of the Cold War unleashed violent ethnic, religious, and national conflicts, especially in the Balkans, the Middle East, and Africa. The first important foreign policy crisis of the post-Cold War era involved Panama, which the United States invaded in 1989 to safeguard American lives and to protect the Canal Zone. This was followed in 1990 by Iraq's invasion and occupation of Kuwait, which was reversed by the Gulf War. The breakup of the former Yugoslavia resulted in U.S. intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo.