Looking into the past, it is more than evident that superpower intervention has most definitely failed in bringing hope for small nations across the globe. From Vietnam to Korea,
superpower intervention has only dragged along with it, on a tight leash, hounds of
destruction, chaos, suffering, and economic misfortune. But with all bad, comes, even if it’s
so insignificantly minute, some good. This essay will, therefore, examine to what extent
superpower intervention brought hope for small nations, and prove how its failures
undoubtedly outweigh its successes.
In the bipolar world of the 1950s, the evolving patterns of relationship between the
superpowers and small nations essentially divided the world into two ideologically-opposed
camps. The nature of the violent battle between the "Superpowers" - America and the USSR
- for world hegemony, was the underlying reason for the radical change in this relationship.
Each superpower’s greed to showcase its strength resulted in an era of proxy wars - an era
riddled with superpower intervention in the affairs of smaller nations in the hope to prove
their supremacy over one another.
As the Cold War intensified during the 1950s, the first case where the detrimental effects of
superpower intervention were obvious was the Korean War (1950 -1953). When the
hostilities between the communist North and anti-communist South developed into open
warfare, the mercurial Truman administration, under the Truman Doctrine that followed a
strict policy of containment, was quick to intervene to stop the spreading influence of
communism in Asia. With the support of the UN under Resolution 84, they stormed Korea
and pushed back the North within weeks. What followed was three years of bitter fighting
and sweeping destruction across Korea. Death tolls were estimated at 1.4 million by 1953,
with the majority of the fatalities being those of the “smaller nation” - almost one million
among the Koreans alone. Superpower intervention only led to three prolonged years of
terror as civilian casualties skyrocketed, and in 1953 a broken and greatly weakened Korea
was abandoned to build up its economy almost unassisted. A prime example of superpower
intervention’s selfish nature - neglecting the “hopes” of the smaller nation.
Only over a year later, history repeated itself in Vietnam. The selfish aims of the hard-line
anti-communist Americans to support corrupt and unpopular leaders like Ngo Dinh Diem -
purely for their bitterly anti-communist ideologies - prevailed over the Vietnamese hope to
live united in peace under the desired regime of communist leader Ho Chi Minh. As
communist Viet Cong support exponentially increased, unsurprisingly, the US intervened in
an effort to contain the spread of communism, again. The 20-year-long war “left deep marks
in the consciousness of both nations,” as stated by Nguyễn Cao Kỳ. The US tried its best to
keep hidden the atrocities of Vietnam, but they could not keep up the masquerade for long.
The Tet Offensive (1968) unveiled the true underlying blood-stained reality of what was
going on. Most notably, the Napalm attack of 1972 that killed over 500,000 people and the
My Lai massacre of 1968 where about 400 innocent civilians, mostly women and children,
were brutally murdered. Were the lives of over two million people justifiable simply as the
facade of superpower intervention for the USA and the USSR to fight for a more dominant
reputation? A war that reaped arguably no fruit for the “smaller nation” in question except for the noxious weeds of suffering and terror.
More recently, the hasty decision of the US to withdraw forces from Afghanistan after 20
years of intervention and the consequent Taliban uprising was certainly no coincidence. If it
wasn’t for the extensive intervention of the American “superpower”, the Taliban’s annexation
of Afghanistan earlier last year may have been ultimately avoided. On the other hand, one could argue that without superpower intervention, the predicament in Afghanistan could be far worse than what it is today.The same could be argued for the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, where the war may have been completely avoided with the help of timely superpower intervention or may have unforseeably escalated, doubling damage and fatalities. Who is to say?
In the rare case that superpower intervention does benefit a smaller nation, its benefits remain limited to short-term political stability, access to resources, and an unreliable source of economic and military support. All this at the cost of millions of innocent lives - a fair trade? I beg to differ.
In conclusion, the hope for small nations must sprout from an internal drive for change and
aid from other countries; rather than absolute superpower intervention, which, as seen in the
past, more often than not leads to incessant bloodshed, foments political unrest, and acts as
an invitation for other countries to serve their egocentric interests.
• “Vietnam: 1965 – 1975.” Mass Atrocity Endings,
• “Nguyễn Cao Kỳ Quote.” Vietnam War Quotes From Historians. QuotesGram,
• World Politics on JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/journal/worldpolitics.
• Walsh, Ben. “How Effectively Did the USA Contain the Spread of Communism? .”
Cambridge IGCSE and O Level History, Hodder Education, London, 2018.