The world is a much safer place than it was 20 years ago -- here's why, how it happened, and what it means for our future
This 1999 photo shows a Ukrainian officer walking next to the country's last SS-19 nuclear missile booster to be destroyed. Ukraine became a nuclear-free state in 1996 when the last warheads of its SS-19 and SS-24 rockets were shipped back to Russia / Reuters
This post is part of a 12-part series exploring how the U.S.-Russia relationship has shaped the world since the December 1991 end of the Soviet Union. Read the full series here.
Twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the world is a freer and more open place. From the former Soviet republics and the buffer countries of Central and Eastern Europe to Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Far East, the fall of the Soviet Union has led to a cascade of political and economic advances rarely before seen in human history.
According to Freedom House, there were 69 electoral democracies in 1990; today there are 115 -- an increase of more than 60 percent. In dozens of countries, centrally planned economies stifled innovation and entrepreneurship. Today, economic liberalization has, albeit imperfectly, created new opportunities and rising incomes that would have seemed unimaginable more than two decades ago. Yet beyond these advances, perhaps the most important development that came with the fall of the Soviet Union is frequently forgotten -- the world is today a demonstrably safer place.
To many observers, that might sound like heresy. The post-Soviet world, after all, has been marred by seemingly constant civil and global conflict -- the Gulf War in 1991, the ethnic cleansing and bloody civil war in the former Yugoslavia, the genocide in Rwanda, the unending fighting in the Congo, Sudan, and Somalia, the terrorist attacks on September 11 and the ongoing American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. American politicians repeatedly warn of the dangerous and unsafe world that we inhabit.