What is the Third World?

Third World countries are comprised of those nations that were former colonial subjects of the “First World” and gained independence from colonial rule in the post-war period. This was collectively referred to as the “Third World.”

With the emergence of two superpowers, the USA and the USSR (after World War II) , and a collective bloc of newly independent ex-colonial nation-states, a tripartite conception of the international political process emerged.

The first part comprises the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) nations of Western Europe and the United States, plus Japan. This was called the “First World.”

The second part comprises the Warsaw Pact nations of the Soviet Union (USSR) and Eastern Europe. This was named the “Second World.”

Definition of Third World

Due to the complex history of evolving meanings and contexts, there is no clear or agreed upon definition of the Third World.

Few Communist Bloc countries, such as Cuba, were frequently referred to as “Third World.”

The term “Third World” was often used to refer to those countries which were impoverished and underdeveloped with no industrial development. Yet, the term “Third World” is often used to describe newly industrialised countries like Brazil, India, and China.

Third World countries did not directly align with either superpower. During the cold war, they were often involved in the conflicts of the larger global powers.

During the period of the Cold War, the entire globe was divided into two military blocs,which are categorised into the NATO (Countries of the Western World) and the Warsaw Pact (Countries of the Eastern World).

At that time, newly independent countries faced many complex changes, and they did not want to lose their independence and sovereignty by joining any of those alliances.

To protect their interests, they joined the Non-Aligned movement, and these countries were often called the Third World.

Some of the European countries were historically non-aligned, and some were very prosperous, including Ireland, Sweden, Austria, Finland, and Switzerland.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War in 1990, the term “Third World” has been used interchangeably with the terms “least developed countries,” “Global South,” and “developing countries” to describe poorer countries that have struggled to achieve consistent economic development.

This terminology provided a way of broadly categorising the nations of the Earth into three groups based on social, political, economic, and cultural divisions. The Third World usually included many countries with colonial pasts in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Oceania.

It was also sometimes taken as synonymous with countries in the Non-Aligned Movement. The Third World has also been linked to the world economic division as “periphery” countries in the world system that is dominated by the “core” countries by dependency theory thinkers like Raul Prebisch, Walter Rodney, Theotonio dos Santos, and Andre Gunder Frank.

It was the French demographer, anthropologist, and historian, Alfred Sauvy. In an article published on August 14, 1952, in the French magazine L’Observateur, they coined the term “Third World” (French: Tiers Monde), referring to countries unaligned with the Communist Soviet bloc or the Capitalist NATO bloc during the Cold War.

Trotskyist position on the Cold War was that the division of the world into two camps of states was not a result of irreconcilable ideological differences between capitalism and socialism, but rather a conflict between two Imperialist powers.

His usage referenced the Third Estate, the cannoneers of France who, before and during the French Revolution, opposed the clergy and nobles, who composed the First and Second Estate, respectively.

Alfred Sauvy wrote, “This third world ignored, exploited, despised like the third estate also want to be something.” He introduced the concept of political non-alignment with either the capitalist or communist bloc.

The concept of “Third World” includes a geopolitical dimension: It refers to the nations of the world, especially in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, who share, in many cases, a common history as colonial dependents of the principal European powers.

It also includes a psychological dimension: generally oppressed people who have come to identify with the struggle of formerly colonised nations and see the anti-colonial struggles as organically linked with their attempts to improve their conditions.

By the end of the 1960s, the concept of the Third World had come to represent countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America that the West considered underdeveloped for a variety of reasons (low economic development, low life expectancy, high rates of poverty and disease, and so on).

The expression “Third World” was used at the 1955 conference of Afro-Asian countries held in Bandung, Indonesia. In 1956, a group of social scientists associated with Sauvy’s National Institute of Demographic Studies in Paris published a book called Le Tiers-Monde.

Three years later, the French economist Francois Perroux launched a new journal, on problems of underdevelopment, with the same title.

By the end of the 1950s, the term was frequently employed in the French media to refer to the underdeveloped countries of Asia, Africa, Oceania, and Latin America.

Many times, there is a clear distinction between the First and Third Worlds.

When talking about the global North and the global South, the two go hand in hand most of the time. People refer to the two as ” Third World/South” and “First World/North” because the Global North is more affluent and developed, whereas the Global South is less developed and often poorer.

While the term “Third World” is not synonymous with the term “non-aligned,” an important element of the conception of the “Third World” has always been its distinctness from the significant military and economic blocs of the east and west.

Soviet Union and the United States of America, the First World

Frequently Asked Questions

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