In North America, the territories of Alaska and Hawaii became the 49th and 50th states in 1959. British Honduras, Britain's last colony on the American mainland, became independent Belize in 1981. A number of Caribbean island nations have kept close social and political ties to European states.
In South America, borders remained relatively stable. British Guiana became independent as Guyana in 1966, and Dutch Guiana became Suriname in 1975. French Guiana remains under French rule.
India ended British rule in 1947, with Pakistan carved out as a separated, Muslim nation. Kashmir came under Indian rule. East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971.
Burma and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) shed British rule in 1948, as did Malaysia in 1963. The Chinese-dominated port city of Singapore split from Malaysia in 1965. The tiny oil-rich sultanate of Brunei reached full independence from Britain in 1984.
France was forced out of Indochina in 1954, leaving Laos, Cambodia, and a divided Vietnam that was united under Communist rule in 1975 after a long war involving the US.
Dutch rule of Indonesia ended in 1949, with West New Guinea (now known as Irian Jaya ) joining it in 1963. Indonesia took Portuguese East Timor in 1975. The Philippines became independent of the US in 1946. Papua New Guinea shed Australian rule in 1975. Most South Pacific islands became independent in the last two decades.
In 1946, Manchuria returned to China after Japanese, then briefly, Soviet control. In 1949, China's civil war ended after the Communists pushed the Nationalists to the island of Taiwan, where they set up a separate state. British Hong Kong and Portuguese Macao revert to China in 1997 and 1999, respectively.
After World War II and the end of Japan's 35-year rule, the Korean Peninsula was occupied by Soviet and US forces. Communist North Korea and pro-US South Korea were established in 1948.
In 1972, 20 years after the postwar US occupation of Japan ended, the small southern island of Okinawa was given back to Japan.
While the borders of Western Europe have remained stable, Central and Eastern Europe have seen dramatic changes in the postwar period.
The Germany of 1946 was an occupied country, with regions controlled by each of the victorious Allies: Britain, France, the United States, and Russia. The Russian zone evolved into the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany. The other zones combined to form the Federal Republic, or West Germany. In 1990, the year after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the two reunited as a single country.
Czechoslovakia, only just liberated from Nazi Germany in 1946, quickly fell under the domination of the Soviet Union. After the Soviet collapse, it peacefully divided along ethnic lines into the Czech Republic and Slovakia on Jan. 1, 1993.
Yugoslavia, forged by the iron hand of dictator Marshal Tito after the war, lasted until 1991, when it broke into Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, and a nation calling itself The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Serbia and Montenegro form what is now known as rump Yugoslavia.
**NEAR AND MIDDLE EAST**
Tiny Israel has been the eye of a political storm in this region for the past half-century.
Formed as a Jewish homeland from British-controlled Palestine in 1948, Israel fought wars in 1956, 1967, and 1973 with its Arab neighbors. Israel captured the Sinai Peninsula (later returned to Egypt), the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. It gained military control over southern Lebanon in 1982. Trans-Jordan changed its name to Jordan in 1949. Palestinians gained self-rule in the Gaza Strip and West Bank town of Jericho in May 1994, and are moving toward self-rule in all of the West Bank.
On the Arabian Peninsula, the British colony of Aden for a time became the Arab world's only Communist state, known as South Yemen. It merged with North Yemen in 1990 to form present-day Yemen. Formerly known as the Trucial Coast, seven emirates in the Persian Gulf all joined by 1972 to form the United Arab Emirates, the only federation of states in the Middle East.
Cyprus achieved independence from Britain in 1960. But it became two entities in 1974, divided between ethnic Greeks in the south and Turks in the north.
World War II loosened the grip of European powers on their African colonies. After the war, Libya and Somalia, Italy's colonies, came under UN control, gaining independence in 1952 and 1960, respectively.
By the late 1950s, a chain reaction of independence began. Sudan declared itself free of Anglo-Egyptian influence in 1956. In West Africa, Ghana became free of British rule in 1957. Among French colonies, Guinea led the way in 1958. In 1960, Benin, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, and Zaire joined them. In the next three decades, the rest of Africa followed.
In Islamic North Africa, Tunisia (1956) and Algeria (1962 ) became free of France. Spain and France both left Morocco in 1956. Western Sahara, once a Spanish colony, remains in dispute between Morocco and an Algerian-backed guerrilla movement.
White-ruled Rhodesia became black-ruled Zimbabwe in 1970. South Africa became an independent member of the British Commonwealth in 1934 (and dropped even that tie in 1961). It remained under white rule until 1994.
Namibia, a former German colony put under South African rule after 1920, become independent in 1990.
**FORMER SOVIET UNION**
The Soviet Union suffered about 20 million casualties fighting Nazi Germany in World War II, but emerged as a superpower. Besides its own vast territory stretching from Europe to the Pacific Ocean, it gained military and political control over a band of European countries on its western border, known as the Eastern bloc.
Eventually, its Communist government lost a long military and economic competition with the Western democracies.
In 1991, Russia and 10 other republics of the Soviet Union declared themselves independent states. The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, seized by the Soviet Union in 1940 and made into Soviet republics, also gained independence in 1991.