Third World

category of countries on socio economic base

The term "Third World" arose during the Cold War to define countries that remained non-aligned with either NATO or the Warsaw Pact. The United States, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Western European nations and their allies represented the First World, while the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and their allies represented the Second World. This terminology provided a way of broadly categorizing the nations of the Earth into three groups based on political and economic divisions. Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the term Third World has decreased in use. It is being replaced with terms such as developing countries, least developed countries or the Global South. The concept itself has become outdated as it no longer represents the current political or economic state of the world and historically poor countries have transited different income levels.

Map of Third World countries
The causes of poverty can be traced to deliberate decisions and deliberate economic and political policies designed to benefit the rich and powerful. ~ Allan Boesak


  • In the face of these figures, two patent truths apply. First, the existing system of economic relations between the industrialized countries and the countries of the Third World has been in essence an instrument for tapping the resources of the poorer nations; and, as such, is inherently bound to perpetuate underdevelopment. Second, it keeps our countries under the constant threat of financial insolvency, however much they increase their contribution of goods to the world market. Proof of this is the increasing number of countries compelled to reschedule their foreign debt. Third, this economic, financial and trade order, as prejudicial to the Third World precisely as it is so beneficial for the affluent countries, is defended by the latter with bulldog tenacity, through their economic might; through their cultural influence; and, on some occasions and by some powers, through almost irresistible forms of pressure (as well as armed intervention) which violate all commitments assumed in the United Nations Charter.
    • Salvador Allende, April 13, 1972, as quoted in Historic Documents of 1972. Washington, DC: CQ Press.
  • There was a time when people of the rich nations of the world regarded poverty as a "natural condition" for those living in the poor nations of the world. ... Today we have largely been stripped of this pseudo-innocence. We know that the poor are so poor because the rich are so rich, that the causes of poverty can be traced to deliberate decisions and deliberate economic and political policies designed to benefit the rich and powerful. We know that poverty and unemployment are not just accidents of history but deliberate, even indispensable, components of capitalism as an economic system.
  • The majority of the Third World debt has to be written off. There is no possibility that these nations can repay what they owe, but in fact they have repaid it over and over again in interest on the loans. It is not ‘aid’ that the Third World countries receive, although that is what it is called; it is really ‘usury’. Some 80 per cent of the aid given to Third World countries returns to the developed world from which it came in repayment of, and interest on, the loans — so they can never become solvent. They are having to compete, through market forces, with the developed Western countries in order to receive the aid in the first place. It would be far better if they could withstand the blandishments and refuse the aid from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Western banks who have squeezed them dry for years.
  • The former colonial world was a more promising arena for US-Soviet competition. With their large populations, crucial raw materials, and strategically important locations, Third World countries represented a prime arena to launch a global contest between capitalism and communism. Beginning in 1953 Washington and Moscow, eager to supplant European control while advertising their own anti-imperialist credentials, formulated two rival economic development models accompanied by generous military and civilian aid packages and goodwill gestures (from student scholarships to high-level government visits) to attract the elites in the colonial and semicolonial states of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. Both deployed their overseas intelligence agencies, the CIA and the KGB, to enlist allies and informants in the Third World, monitor political movements and foreign governments, and penetrate their rivals’ activities. Both sides entered this global competition with assets and liabilities, and both approached the Third World with a combination of ambition, altruism, and fear of the other’s gains. The United States, brimming with confidence over its role in rebuilding Western Europe and Japan, sought to extend its political influence by supporting the expansion of free markets and elected governments. The Soviet Union, which had revived spectacularly after World War II as a major military and industrial power, countered the West’s appeal with its call for centralized planning and a regime that promoted social and economic justice.
    • Carole C. Fink, The Cold War: An International History (2017)
  • Mr. Speaker, we know that our alliance -- if it holds firm -- cannot be defeated, but it could be outflanked. It is among the unfree and the underfed that subversion takes root. As Ethiopia demonstrated, those people get precious little help from the Soviet Union and its allies. The weapons which they pour in bring neither help nor hope to the hungry. It is the West which heard their cries; it is the West which responded massively to the heart-rending starvation in Africa; it is the West which has made a unique contribution to the uplifting of hundreds of millions of people from poverty, illiteracy and disease. But the problems of the Third World are not only those of famine. They face also a mounting burden of debt, falling prices for primary products, protectionism by the industrialized countries. Some of the remedies are in the hands of the developing countries themselves. They can open their markets to productive investment; they can pursue responsible policies of economic adjustment. We should respect the courage and resolve with which so many of them have tackled their special problems, but we also have a duty to help. How can we help? First and most important, by keeping our markets open to them. Protectionism is a danger to all our trading partnerships and for many countries trade is even more important than aid. And so, we in Britain support President Reagan 's call for a new GATT round. The current strength of the dollar, which is causing so much difficulty for some of your industries, creates obvious pressures for special cases, for new trade barriers to a free market. I am certain that your Administration is right to resist such pressures. To give in to them would betray the millions in the developing world, to say nothing of the strains on your other trading partners. The developing countries need our markets as we need theirs, and we cannot preach economic adjustment to them and refuse to practise it at home. And second, we must remember that the way in which we in the developed countries manage our economies determines whether the world's financial framework is stable; it determines the level of interest rates; it determines the amount of capital available for sound investment the world over; and it determines whether or not the poor countries can service their past loans, let alone compete for new ones. And those are the reasons why we support so strongly your efforts to reduce the budget deficit. No other country in the world can be immune from its effects -- such is the influence of the American economy on us all.
  • Third World indebtedness is more than just a humanitarian issue. The other problems... namely unemployment, global warming and drugs, are all affected by it. By taking action on debt they could effectively address four issues at the same time. At present the developing world spends $270,000 million annually on debt servicing. After deducting aid there remains a net transfer back to the industrialized nations of more than $200 billion... At the heart of the problem are the Structural Adjustment Programs imposed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank when nations get into financial difficulty. The goal of these programs is for a nation to increase its savings and earn more hard currency so that it can pay off its debt. Thus, when the debt crisis engulfed the developing world in the 1980s, government spending was slashed, state assets were privatized, and public sector employees laid off. National currencies were devalued and export earnings were increased at any cost. This called for the cashing in of natural assets such as forests and fisheries, and the conversion of land to large-scale export farming. Urban dwellers lost their jobs... peasant farmers were forced off their land, creating an exodus of people in search of a means of survival. This growing population of economic refugees stripped forests bare to make firewood and space for growing food... in addition to the rapid increase in commercial logging and clearing of land for large cattle farms... government conservation programs were cancelled.
  • The Third World's largest debtor, Brazil, also contains the largest proportion of the world's remaining tree cover, and it is busily clearing it at the rate of 50,000 square kilometers a day. Debt is clearly connected to deforestation, which in turn contributes to global warming. The debt connection also shows up in other environmental problems. Studies of 33 counties in the United States that take their drinking water from the Rio Grande river show significantly higher rates of liver and bladder cancer than the US national average. It is just one side-effect of an ecological disaster area across the Mexican border, known as the maquiladora zone. As part of its drive for export earnings, Mexico has encouraged 1,800 foreign-owned factories to be built near its northern border. Among the incentives is an almost total absence of environmental regulations, which leads to, among other things, the dumping of huge quantities of toxic wastes. This pollution is no respecter of national boundaries and soon makes its way into the US.
  • When the Third World debt crisis began in 1982, the industrialized countries were essentially faced with the same scenario that America had faced after the War. Unfortunately our leaders lacked the vision of their predecessors and the end result has been pain and misery for the whole family of nations. We can, however, reverse the effects of this terrible blunder but first we must sacrifice our complacency. In 1947 the US was facing the collapse of its export markets as a war-torn European economy ran out of the means with which to continue paying for its imports. They created the Marshall Plan and (in today's money) spent $90,000 million priming Europe's economic pump. Not only was collapse avoided but peace and prosperity were created for both donor and recipient: the global boomerang (or Law of Cause and Effect) had been wielded effectively.
  • The Cold War was born as an ideological contest in Europe and the European offshoots, Russia and the United States. In the second half of the twentieth century that contest came to interact with the processes surrounding the collapse of the European overseas empires. Europe had been predominant in international affairs for at least two centuries. But as the post–World War II re-creation of Asia had shown, this position of primacy could no longer be taken for granted. And in the 1950s and ’60s decolonization sped up, so that by 1970 the number of independent states had increased almost four times since 1945. They all wanted to have their say in how the world was run. And they were not willing to conform to the bipolar Cold War system without a struggle for their own interests. Out of this encounter between Cold War and decolonization came the Third World movement. It was so named by its protagonists in homage to the Third Estate, the rebellious underdog majority of the French Revolution of 1789. But its aims were very contemporary. Leaders of newly independent states, such as Indonesia’s Sukarno or India’s Nehru, believed that the time had come for their countries to take center stage in international affairs. Europeans, a small minority in the world, had dominated for far too long, and had not done a good job of it. Not only had they produced colonialism and two world wars, but within colonialism they had created a political and economic system that only served the interests of Europeans. The talents, opinions, cultures, and religions of the vast majority of the world’s people had been neglected. Now the time had come for the disenfranchised to take responsibility not just for their own liberated countries, but for the world as a whole.
    • Odd Arne Westad, The Cold War: A Global History (2017)
  • To Third World leaders the Cold War was an outgrowth of the colonial system. It was an attempt by Europeans to regulate and dominate the affairs of others, to tell them how to behave and what to do. Even though many in the newly independent states distrusted capitalism because it was the system their colonial masters had tried to impose on them, in most cases they were not ready to embrace Soviet-style Communism as an alternative. It seemed far too regimented, too absolutist, or simply too European for postcolonial states. Even when attempting to learn from the Soviet experience, as many did, for instance in India or Indonesia, the Third World agenda implied independence from the power blocs. As developed at the 1955 Afro-Asian Bandung Conference, this agenda stressed full economic and political sovereignty, solidarity among former colonial countries and liberation movements, and peaceful resolution of conflict, followed by nuclear disarmament. For the Superpowers this was a perturbing spectacle. The United States increasingly put its own national experience at the core of its perception of global development. As the Cold War hardened, countries that did not conform to US visions of liberty and economic growth were believed to be sliding toward a Soviet orientation. The Soviet Union, on its side, believed that any “third” position was simply a stage on the way to socialism and eventually the Soviet form of Communism. No wonder non-Europeans saw significant similarities between the two Superpowers, in spite of their ideological rivalry. Indeed, leaders such as Ahmed Ben Bella in Algeria or Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana compared the demands the Superpowers made on them to colonialism in its latter phase. The Americans and the Soviets wanted political and diplomatic control, but also sought development within the framework that the Superpowers could offer. They were thieves on the same market, even though the US bid for control was much more powerful, and therefore more pervasive, than anything the Soviets could muster.
    • Odd Arne Westad, The Cold War: A Global History (2017)

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