Taking a look at world politics is fascinating, especially when you can step back from current affairs and look at the history that has gotten us where we are today. Interested in knowing how many women leaders there have been since 1970? How about who was in power at the turn of the millennium?
This infographic and article take a look at the leaders of different countries since the 70s and shows just how far we’ve come over the past few decades.
In 1970, all of the world’s superpowers were ruled by men except India. Indira Gandhi, the third prime minister of India, was in power in 1970. Her rule ended in 1977 along with India’s state of emergency, which was a highly controversial period in India’s history that infringed on many residents’ human rights. Indira Gandhi was succeeded by Morarji Desai in 1977 but took back power in 1980.
Aside from Indira Gandhi, the only other female leader in the 70s was prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who ruled the United Kingdom (UK) from 1979 to 1990. She was the first female prime minister, after which there has only been one other.
Interestingly, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) wasn’t in existence until 1971, at which time it was under the rule of Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Zayed remained in control of the UAE for an impressive 33 years until 2004, when he was succeeded by Khalifa Al Nahyan.
All world superpowers underwent a change in leadership between 1970 and 1980 with the exception of the UAE and the Soviet Union. Leonid Brezhnev led the Soviet Union between 1970 and 1981, when he was succeeded by Yuri Andropov.
The United States saw two changes in leadership in the 80s. Ronald Reagan was elected in 1981 and held office until George H.W. Bush was elected in 1989. Reagan served two terms as president, and Bush served as acting president for a short time during his office.
During his 8 years in office, Reagan’s process of deregulation and strong democratic republic tendencies sparked economic growth like few other instances in America.
Indira Gandhi, who took back power of India in 1980, was assassinated in 1984. This was a defining moment for the country, and she was succeeded by her son, Rajiv Gandhi.
Famously, South Korea was democratized in 1987, and Roh Tae-Woo became the first leader after democratization.
Other notable events from the 1980s included the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 under the rule of Helmut Kohl, and the Tiananmen Square protests and massacre in China in the same year under the rule of Deng Xiaoping.
Perhaps the most notable change to world leadership in the 1990s came from the fall of the Soviet Union under the rule of Mikhail Gorbachev. In its place, the Russian Federation was formed, and Boris Yeltsin became its first president.
The Gulf War was another defining foreign relations moment in the 90s for world politics. The Gulf War was fueled by Iraq invading Kuwait to take control of its oil production. It was led by the United States under the leadership of George H.W. Bush, and it lasted just over a month from January of 1991 to February of the same year.
Two major assassinations of political leaders occured in the 90s as well. Rajiv Gandhi, the leader of India through most of the 80s, was assassinated in 1989 and succeeded by Vishwanath Pratap Singh. In 1995, Yitzhak Rabin, the leader of Israel from 1974 to 1977 and again from 1992 to 1995, was assassinated by religious extremists.
1994 marked the Rwandhan genocide, a major failure of the United Nations and many of the world’s superpowers.
The European Union was formed in 1993 and unified over 25 European countries.
From 2000 through 2010, the world underwent massive political change, and numerous groundbreaking shifts of power occurred.
Perhaps most notably was the first woman chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, who took control in 2005. Barack Obama, the first African American president of the United States, made similar headlines when he took office in 2009. He was later re-elected during the 2012 presidential election and served as president until 2017.
One of the most momentous events in the 2000s was the 9/11 terrorist attack on the twin towers in New York (USA), which took place in 2001. The War on Terror persisted under the control of president George W. Bush, the son of George H.W. Bush who served in the late 80s and early 90s.
From 1970 to present day, Japan has undergone the most shifts in power of all world superpowers. In the 2000s alone, the country saw six different leaders.
Many of the world superpowers saw shifts in leadership in the 2010s. Perhaps most notable were South Korea and Australia, both of which saw their first female leaders: Park Geun-Hye and Julia Gillard, respectively.
Also notable was Donald Trump’s election in the United States in 2017, which was followed by political unrest across the nation. He was elected over Hillary Clinton, who would have served as the first female president in the U.S. Trump served until 2021, when Joe Biden took office.
Famously, the UK began it’s process of exiting the European Union — referred to as “Brexit” — in 2016 under the rule of David Cameron. Negotiations continued with Theresa May and Boris Johnson, and finally concluded in 2020.
Also notable were Hong Kong protests against emerging extradition laws for criminals, taking place under the rule of Xi Jinping, and the invasion and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula under the rule of Vladimir Putin in 2014.
The year 2020 was most notable for the COVID-19 pandemic, which swept across every nation in the world. Leaders around the globe were under immense scrutiny for how they handled the response to the spreading illness.
Some world leaders — namely, Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom (UK), Norendri Modi of India, and Donald Trump of the USA — faced intense criticism for their poor management of the situation. On the other hand, Angela Merkel of Germany and Moon Jae-In of South Korea were praised for their actions.
World leadership at any given moment is fascinating, and it becomes even more enthralling when you step back and look at leadership changes as they pertain to world events. Hopefully, this infographic and article have sparked your curiosity about superpower leadership and the history that has shaped the world we live in today.