definitions and descriptions


Gerard Chaliand - author

The economically underdeveloped countries of Asia, Africa, Oceania, and Latin America, considered as an entity with common characteristics, such as poverty, high birthrates, and economic dependence on the advanced countries. The French demographer Alfred Sauvy coined the expression ("tiers monde" in French) in 1952 by analogy with the "third estate," the commoners of France before and during the French Revolution-as opposed to priests and nobles, comprising the first and second estates respectively. Like the third estate, wrote Sauvy, the third world is nothing, and it "wants to be something." The term therefore implies that the third world is exploited, much as the third estate was exploited, and that, like the third estate its destiny is a revolutionary one. It conveys as well a second idea, also discussed by Sauvy, that of non-alignment, for the third world belongs neither to the industrialized capitalist world nor to the industrialized Communist bloc. 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 1950's the term was frequently employed in the French media to refer to the underdeveloped countries of Asia, Africa, Oceania, and Latin America.


The underdevelopment of the third world is marked by a number of common traits; distorted and highly dependent economies devoted to producing primary products for the developed world and to provide markets for their finished goods; traditional, rural social structures; high population growth; and widespread poverty. Nevertheless, the third world is sharply differentiated, for it includes countries on various levels of economic development. And despite the poverty of the countryside and the urban shantytowns, the ruling elites of most third world countries are wealthy.

This combination of conditions in Asia, Africa, Oceania and Latin America is linked to the absorption of the third world into the international capitalist economy, by way of conquest or indirect domination. The main economic consequence of Western domination was the creation, for the first time in history, of a world market. By setting up throughout the third world sub-economies linked to the West, and by introducing other modern institutions, industrial capitalism disrupted traditional economies and, indeed, societies. This disruption led to underdevelopment.

Because the economies of underdeveloped countries have been geared to the needs of industrialized countries, they often comprise only a few modern economic activities, such as mining or the cultivation of plantation crops. Control over these activities has often remained in the hands of large foreign firms. The prices of third world products are usually determined by large buyers in the economically dominant countries of the West, and trade with the West provides almost all the third world's income. Throughout the colonial period, outright exploitation severely limited the accumulation of capital within the foreign-dominated countries. Even after decolonization (in the 1950's, 1960's, and 1970's, the economies of the third world developed slowly, or not at all, owing largely to the deterioration of the "terms of trade"-the relation between the cost of the goods a nation must import from abroad and its income from the exports it sends to foreign countries. Terms of trade are said to deteriorate when the cost of imports rises faster than income from exports. Since buyers in the industrialized countries determined the prices of most products involved in international trade, the worsening position of the third world was scarcely surprising. Only the oil-producing countries (after 1973) succeeded in escaping the effects of Western, domination of the world economy.

No study of the third world could hope to assess its future prospects without taking into account population growth. In 1980, the earth's population was estimated at 4.4 billion, 72 percent of it in the third world, and it seemed likely to reach 6.2 billion, 80 percent of it in the third world, at the close of the century. This population explosion in the third world will surely prevent any substantial improvements in living standards there as well as threaten people in stagnant economies with worsening poverty.

Role in World Politics

The Bandung conference, in 1955, was the beginning of the political emergence of the third world. Two nations whose social and economic systems were sharply opposed-China and India-played a major role in promoting that conference and in changing the relation between the third world and the industrial countries, capitalist and Communist. As a result of de-colonialization, the United Nations, at first numerically dominated by European countries and countries of European origin, was gradually transformed into something of a third world forum. With increasing urgency, the problem of underdevelopment then became the focus of a permanent, although essentially academic, debate. Despite that debate, the unity of the third world remains hypothetical, expressed mainly from the platforms of international conferences.

Economic Prospects

Foreign aid, and indeed all the efforts of existing institutions and structures, have failed to solve the problem of underdevelopment. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) held in New Delhi in 1971 suggested that one percent of the national income of industrialized countries should be devoted to aiding the third world. That figure has never been reached, or even approximated. In 1972 the Santiago (Chile) UNCTAD set a goal of a 6 percent economic growth rate in the 1970's for the underdeveloped countries. But this, too, was not achieved. The living conditions endured by the overwhelming majority of the 3 billion people who inhabit the poor countries have either not noticeably changed since 1972 or have actually deteriorated.

Whatever economic development has occurred in the third world has not been distributed fairly between nations or among population groups within nations. Most of the third world countries that have managed to achieve substantial economic growth are those that produce oil: Algeria, Gabon,

lran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Oman, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela. They had the money to do so because after 1973 the Organization of Oil producing Countries (OPEC), a cartel, succeeded in raising the price of oil drastically. Other important raw materials are also produced by underdeveloped countries, and the countries that produce them have joined in cartels similar in form to OPEC. For example, Australia, Guinea, Guyana, Jamaica, Sierra Leone, Suriname, and Yugoslavia formed the Bauxite International Association (BIA) in 1974; and Chile, Peru, Zaire, and Zambia formed a cartel of copper producing countries in 1967. But even strategic raw materials like copper and bauxite are not as essential to the industrialized countries as oil, and these cartels therefore lack OPEC's strength; while the countries that produce cocoa and coffee (and other foods) are even less able to impose their will. Indeed, among the countries that do not receive oil revenues, only Brazil, the Ivory Coast, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan have enjoyed significant economic growth. And because the underdeveloped nations are collectively so weak, the so-called "new economic order" proposed by some of them will probably remain a phrase, and no more for the foreseeable future.

Nonetheless, the relationship between the underdeveloped and the industrialized countries has improved somewhat. In 1975 the nine-nation European Economic Community (EEC) concluded an agreement, called the Lome Pact, with 46 African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) nations that exempted most ACP exports from tariffs. The Lome II Pact, signed in 1979 by the EEC and 57 ACP countries, consolidated and broadened the Lome I agreement-for example by guaranteeing income from agricultural exports.

Nonetheless, excepting only a few oil-producing countries with low populations, the economic crisis of the 1970'5 was more detrimental to the third world than to the West; and there did not seem to be much chance in the foreseeable future for any significant change in the relationship between the industrialized and underdeveloped countries. Nor did the prospects for economic development in the third world appear to be very bright: Between 1960 and 1980 half of the African countries had actually regressed. Almost the only countries to receive some of the capital needed for development were those lucky enough to have a significant amount of raw materials, especially oil, to export.

All international agencies agree that drastic action is required to improve conditions in third world countries, including urban and rural public work projects to attack joblessness and underemployment, institutional reforms essential for the redistribution of economic power, agrarian reform, tax reform, and the reform of public funding. But, in reality, political and social obstacles to reform are a part of the very nature of the international order and of most third world regimes.

From Wikipedia

Third World is a term originally used to distinguish those nations that neither aligned with the West nor with the East during the Cold War. These countries are also known as the Global South, developing countries, and least developed countries in academic circles. Development workers also call them the two-thirds world and The South. Some dislike the term developing countries as it implies that industrialisation is the only way forward, while they believe it is not necessarily the most beneficial.

Many "third world" countries are located in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. They are often nations that were colonized by another nation in the past. The populations of third world countries are generally very poor but with high birth rates. In general they are not as industrialized or technologically advanced as the first world. The majority of the countries in the world fit this classification.

The term "third world" was coined by economist Alfred Sauvy in an article in the French magazine L'Observateur of August 14, 1952. It was a deliberate reference to the "Third Estate" of the French Revolution. Tiers monde means third world in French. The term gained widespread popularity during the Cold War when many poorer nations adopted the category to describe themselves as neither being aligned with NATO or the USSR, but instead composing a non-aligned "third world" (in this context, the term "First World" was generally understood to mean the United States and its allies in the Cold War, which would have made the East bloc the "Second World" by default; however, the latter term was seldom actually used).

Leading members of this original "third world" movement were Yugoslavia, India, and Egypt. Many third world countries believed they could successfully court both the communist and capitalist nations of the world, and develop key economic partnerships without necessarily falling under their direct influence. In practice, this plan did not work out quite so well; many third world nations were exploited or undermined by the two superpowers who feared these supposedly neutral nations were in danger of falling into alignment with the enemy. After World War II, the First and Second Worlds struggled to expand their respective spheres of influence to the Third World. The militaries and intelligence services of the United States and the Soviet Union worked both secretly and overtly to influence Third World governments, with mixed success.

The dependency theory suggests that multinational corporations and organizations such as the IMF and World Bank have contributed to making third world countries dependent on first world countries for economic survival. The theory states that this dependence is self-maintaining because the economic systems tend to benefit first world countries and corporations. Scholars also question whether the idea of development is biased in favor of Western thought. They debate whether population growth is a main source of problems in the third world or if the problems are more complex and thorny than that. Policy makers disagree on how much involvement first world countries should have in the third world and whether third world debts should be canceled.

The issues are complicated by the stereotypes of what third world and first world countries are like. People in the first world, for example, often describe third world countries as underdeveloped, overpopulated, and oppressed. Third world people are sometimes portrayed as uneducated, helpless, or backwards. Modern scholarship has taken steps to make academic discourse more conscious of the differences not only between the first world and the third world, but also among the countries and people of each category.

During the Cold War there were a number of countries which did not fit comfortably into the neat definition of First, Second, and Third Worlds. These included Switzerland, Sweden, and the Republic of Ireland, which chose to be neutral. Finland was under the Soviet Union's sphere of influece but was not communist, nor was it a member of the Warsaw Pact. Austria was under the United States' sphere of influence, but in 1955, when the country again became a fully independent republic, it did so under the condition that it remained neutral. None of these countries would have been defined as third world despite their non (or marginally) aligned status.

With the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, the term Second World largely fell out of use and the meaning of First World has become has extended to include all developed countries while the term Third Word has become a neologism for the least developed countries. This can be seen in the way that the successful Asian Tiger economies and countries of former Yugoslavia-one of the founders of the Third World movement-are not classed as Third World countries.

Third World, the technologically less advanced, or developing, nations of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, generally characterized as poor, having economies distorted by their dependence on the export of primary products to the developed countries in return for finished products. These nations also tend to have high rates of illiteracy, disease, and population growth and unstable governments. The term Third World was originally intended to distinguish the nonaligned nations that gained independence from colonial rule beginning after World War II from the Western nations and from those that formed the former Eastern bloc, and sometimes more specifically from the United States and from the former Soviet Union (the first and second worlds, respectively). For the most part the term has not included China. Politically, the Third World emerged at the Bandung Conference (1955), which resulted in the establishment of the Nonaligned Movement. Numerically, the Third World dominates the United Nations, but the group is diverse culturally and increasingly economically, and its unity is only hypothetical. The oil-rich nations, such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Libya, and the newly emerged industrial states, such as Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore, have little in common with desperately poor nations, such as Haiti, Chad, and Afghanistan.

[See A. R. Kasdan, The Third World: A New Focus for Development (1973); E. Hermassi, The Third World Reassessed (1980); H. A. Reitsma and J. M. Kleinpenning, The Third World in Perspective (1985); J. Cole, Development and Underdevelopment (1987).]

The First World is the developed world - US, Canada, Western Europe, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand. The Second World was the Communist world led by the USSR. With the demise of the USSR and the communist block, there is no longer an official Second World designation, although Russia, China, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia have "communist" governments. The Third World is the underdeveloped world - agrarian, rural and poor. Many Third World countries have one or more developed cities, but the rest of the country is poor, rural and agrarian. Eastern Europe should probably be considered Third World. Russia should also be considered a Third World country with nuclear weapons. China, has always been considered part of the Third World, although it is industrializing, has nuclear weapons, and has urban centers of intense development. In general, Latin America, Mexico, Africa, and most of Asia are still considered Third World. The Asian tigers - South Korea, Malaysia, and Thailand, except for their big cities, their maquiladora-type production facilities, a small middle class and a much smaller ruling elite should probably be considered Third World countries as well, since their populations are overwhelmingly rural, agrarian and poor.

Some of the very poorest countries, especially in Africa, that have no industrialization, are almost entirely agrarian (subsistence farming), and have little or no hope of industrializing and competing in the world "marketplace", are sometimes termed the "Fourth World".

The term "Third World" is not universally accepted. Some prefer other terms such as - Global South, the South, non-industrialized countries, developing countries, underdeveloped countries, undeveloped countries, mal-developed countries, emerging nations.The term "Third World" is the one most widely used in the media today, but no one term can describe all less-developed countries accurately.

In comparison, the United States is part of : the West, the First World, the industrialized world, the developed world, the North.

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