After every momentous event, there is usually a transition period, in which participants in the events, whether individuals or nation-states, attempt to chart their way into an unfamiliar future. In the United States in this century, there are three such transitions, each focused on America's role in the international arena. After World War I, the American people specifically rejected the global role for the United States implicit in Woodrow Wilson's strategic vision of collective security. In contrast to this "return to normalcy," after World War II the United States moved inexorably toward international leadership in response to the Soviet threat. The result was an acceptance of George Kennan's strategic vision of containing the Soviet Union on the Eurasian landmass and the subsequent bipolar confrontation of the two superpowers in a twilight war that lasted for over 40 years.
Sometime in the penultimate decade of the 20th century, the United States and its allies won the cold war. Once again in the current transition period, the primary questions revolve around the management of power and America's role in global politics. Once again there are the issues of change and continuity. In terms of change, the cold war set in train a blend of integrative and disintegrative forces and trends that are adding to the complex tensions of the current transition. The integrative force that increasingly linked global economies in the cold war, for instance, also holds out the spectral potential of global depression or, at the very least, nations more susceptible to disintegrative actions, as the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait demonstrated. In a similar manner, the advances in communications and transportation that have spread the results of medical and scientific discoveries around the world are countered by the malign transnational results of nuclear technology, the drug trade, terrorism, AIDS and global warming.