Third World in International Relations

The Third World emerged in the post-World War II era in international relations and conditions when the world was divided into opposite ideological blocs. During those days, the process of decolonization was at its zenith, as a result of which many Asian and African countries got independence, and they joined the international community as sovereign entities.

These newly independent countries had their own political, social, and economic problems such as poverty, malnutrition, unemployment, overpopulation, economic backwardness, the danger of neo-colonialism, political instability and insecurity, keeping aloof from the cold war by adopting non aligned policy, social discrimination, illiteracy, etc.

To grapple with these issues and to achieving economic development, they decided to pursue their own path. They subscribed neither fully to the Western liberal capitalistic system nor the East bloc’s totalitarian communist system.

Thus as against the First World of industrially and economically developed Western countries and the Second World of communist countries, a Third World comprising a large population of the globe came into being. The First World was led by the United States and mainly consisted of developed countries located in Western Europe and North America, who believed in democracy, human liberty, equality, and full enterprise.

The Second World was headed by the Soviet Union and embraced Eastern Europe’s socialist countries and other areas that had authoritarian regimes. They believed in achieving socio-economic development through the proletariat party and bureaucratic central planning.

Most of these Third World countries were also non-aligned countries. They are also treated as synonymous, which is not correct because some countries belonging to the Third World were not non-aligned. The concept of the Third World, therefore, was characterized more by economic contents than political undertones.

The aspirations, problems, objectives, interests, resources,s, etc., are quite distinct from old, established, and developed nations. The genesis of this difference is the yawning gap of wealth and income between the developed rich and underdeveloped poor.

If countries of the First and Second World were developed from an industrial and economic point of view, then countries of the Third World were pretty backward in this respect and were yearning for their industrial and economic development.

In this way, Third World comprises of those underdeveloped and developing monies of Asia, Africa, and Latin America which attained ire dependence in the post-war period. Barring a few, air-nos all, these countries are non-aligned and are situated in the Southern hemisphere.

No doubt there are some exceptions also. For example, some of the nations of the Soviet bloc, such as Albania, Yugoslavia, and Cuba, also joined the Third World Countries. Similarly, some non-European nations that were never under colonial rule were also known as Third World countries.

Nature, Goals, And Role Of The Third World:

Worldwide inequality of Wealth and Income:

Kegley and Wittkopf have defined the Third World keeping in view global disparities in income and wealth. In their words, The Third World comprises the poorer, economically less developed countries of the world. So numerous are they that it is easier to say who is developed than to say who is not.

The underdeveloped countries include all of Asia and Oceania except Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, all of Africa except South Africa, and all of the Western Hemisphere except Canada and the United States. Some formulations also include a few European nations in developing economies (Portugal. Spain, Greece, Turkey, Yugoslavia, and Romania)1.

The Third World consists of about 75 percent of the World’s population. But it produces barely 20 percent of the world’s goods and services, as measured by gross national product (GNP). On a per-capita basis, this implies that the average annual income for the Third World as a whole is less than $2000 while the average income for the First and Second Worlds is well more than this amount. This shows the vast disparity in the distribution of the world’s population and the wealth owned by them.

Rejection of a World divided into Capitalism and Communism:

In the opinion of Calvocoressi, It was a Third World because it rejected the notion of a world divided into two worlds in which only the United States and the USSR counted, and everybody else had to declare for the one or the other. It feared the power of the superpowers, exemplified and magnified by nuclear weapons. It distrusted their intentions, envied their superior wealth, and rejected their insistence that in one case in democratic capitalism and the other in communism, they had discovered a way of life which others need do no more than a copy.2

Thus, Third World countries rejected both Moscow’s rigid communist dogmatism and Washington’s increasingly. Rigid anti-communism. They were obliged neither to the USA nor to the USSR for their independence from the colonial yoke, which they achieved with their own efforts and with great speed.

In short, the term Third World refers to all those poor, underdeveloped, and backward countries who are endeavoring hard for economic independence and development without aligning themselves with any of the two power blocs. They are described as Third World countries based on their economic situation rather than their political alignment, ideological orientation, and governmental structure. They are poor, unstable, new, non-white, and weak.3

North-South Conflict:

The appellation of rich and developing nations has been replaced by North and South countries. Incidentally, most of the rich and developed countries are located in the northern hemisphere, and the geographical location of most poor Third World countries is in the southern hemisphere. Consequently, the economic division of the world between rich and poor is known as the North-South divide. The struggle of the Third World countries for economic independence and justice is known as the North-South conflict. If the East-West conflict of the cold war days is over, the North-South conflict continues to persist.

Goals of the Third World:

The chief goals of the Third World countries can be listed as below:

1.Economic and technological development.

The developing nations of Asia, Africa, and Latin America have evolved a common identity and a unity of purpose. Their goal is economic and technological development. Technological dependence is the main reason that keeps developing nations at the bottom of the world development ladder. Singer and Ansari argue that if the technological gap is not overcome, the developing countries will remain dependent on the rich economies, and no form of assistance, trade concessions, grants, technical assistance, or fortuitous price rises will prove to the lasting value. International cooperation policies must be devised which serve to remove this fundamental obstacle in the path of development.4

2. New International Economic Order:

Third World countries’ policy prescriptions for dealing with the issues relating to trade and pricing mechanisms came to be known collectively in diplomatic circles during the 19705 as the demand for a New International Economic Order (NIEO), an international economic system fundamentally different from the present one. This goal was set from the relative deprivation Third World countries see in their position in the present structure of international economic relations and the continuance of nee-colonial relationship between the world’s rich and poor. Kegley and Wittkopf explain Third World nations see the current system as an instrument of their continued oppression.

They would like to be equal to the more advanced countries in the global community, in fact, not just in law. The NIEO is viewed as an alternative to the present exploitative system. If the NIEO were implemented as envisioned by the developing nations, the net effect would be a substantial redistribution of income and wealth from such nations to the poor.5

3. Political Autonomy:

The demand for equality extends beyond economics to politics. Equality of dignity and equality of influence are also their objectives. Wriggins rightly observe: Many (Third World) leaders are tired of being ignored, of never being invited to the international high table, or of pressing their views and having them regularly rebuffed. More substantially, many are hostile to the notion that the state system should be organized in its present sharply hierarchical fashion, in which a few with wealth, industrial and technological strength, and the capability to apply force regularly make decisions that so profoundly affect the conditions and well being of even distant states.

They are coming to insist upon participating in the making of decisions that affect them. Along with equality, these nations are equally interested in their autonomy and independence. Wiggins vividly explains this goal in these words, Each state, it is held, should be able to manage its own political and economic affairs without interference from outside each should be in a position to decide for itself how its resources should be utilized, what policies industrial and agricultural enterprises operating within its borders should follow, and such economic matters as interest rates for loans, rates of exchange, and export subsidies? Thus these countries are keen to save themselves from any domination.

4. Non-alignment:

To safeguard their political independence and insulate themselves from any domination, most of these nations preferred nonalignment in the world’s East-West division. During the cold war days when military alliances were being formed, these countries declined to join either: With time Nonaligned Movement (NAM) became a force to be reckoned with, and more and more Third World countries joined it. Out of about 122 Third World countries, 103 declared themselves as non-alignment. The various aspects of non-alignment have already been discussed in the previous article.

Role and Impact of Third World in International Relations:

The points discussed therein bear a close analogy to the role of the Third World in international relations. Hence the same is dealt with here in brief. The Third World countries changed the nature and scope of international relations and made them global in a true sense. They played a significant role in ending colonialism, racialism, bipolarism, military alliances, the cold war, etc.

They influenced the course of international relations by indulging in numerous regional conflicts on the one hand and by launching regional organizations of cooperation (e.g., ASEAN, O.A.U., SAARC, etc.) on the other. They evolved the concept of nonalignment and expanded it in the form of a movement (NAM). They strengthened the U.N.O and influenced its working by their sheer numerical strength. Although there were several causes for detente coming, the Third World’s contribution is no less significant.

Third World has also given several new centers of power. It also became. First, there is neocolonialism and later a crusader against this evil by initiating a North-South dialogue. The third World is playing its role by struggling for the New International Economic Order and New Communication Order to bring economic justice and equality. In this respect, the Third World’s role has mainly been an Opinion mobilizing role, the goal of which has been to legitimize the concern that they share among themselves and to explore the possibilities of an alternative emerging out of such legitimacy.7

Rise Of The Fourth World:

The main change in the Third World countries is the increased prominence of the Arab nations. The oil-producing and exporting nations of the world are still typically regarded by many scholars as members of the Third World, despite the enormous increases in income they have realized in recent years because they generally lack the indigenous industrial capability and also have relatively low standards of living as measured by nonincome indicators. As these features change, the appropriateness of the label Third World will become irrelevant.

Calvocoressi has already declared the Third World as an obsolete concept. In his words, A new group of countries had come into being whose wealth distinguished them dramatically from the world’s poor and whose solidarity enabled them to play a forceful role in international affairs.

This was the Fourth World of OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) whose members owed their wealth to oil and their political and economic clout because, although very different in geographical extent population, they were few enough and united enough to subordinate their differences to common action. In the seventies, they raised the oil price so steeply to make all their customers, rich and poor, tremble for their economic future.8

The OPEC countries no longer remained poor developing countries, but they were now rich in cash. They were rich differently, rich from selling an exhaustible resource, not rich from the inexhaustible repeatable manufacturing processes. They foresaw a fixed tenure of their years of richness. Their objectives in forcing up the price of their commodity were economic (to collect money for development, affluence, and ostentation), strategic (to pile armaments), and political (to put anti-Israeli pressure on customers, a majority of OPEC’s, thirteen members being Arab).

The rise in oil prices badly disturbed the world economy and polity as the same coincided with the intensified other unsettling economic factors: a decline in the dollar value (especially after the Vietnam war), the collapse of the Bretton Woods system, and international inflation. Many OPEC members made more money than they knew what to do within their relatively underdeveloped and underpopulated countries.

By investing their huge surpluses in an unstable industrialized world, they found themselves acquiring a property that, partly due to their own actions, was being gradually devalued while their price increases were squeezing their customers to the point where these must cut their purchases. Furthermore, the massive transfer of capital from countries that could use it productively to countries that could not arise from the industrial world to OPEC members -blocked resources and so caused a shrinkage of the world economy.9

With the rise of this so-called Fourth World, the Third World suffered a dual disadvantage. First, the price hike of oil was so exorbitant that it adversely hit their economies. Second, the prospects of getting financial accommodation from industrialized countries and their private banks became remote.

With the collapse of the socialist model and the socialist bloc and its increasing inclination towards a free market economy, Second World is fast disappearing. Under the circumstances, it does not appear pertinent to designate the Third World as such. If Second World gradually merges into the First World and oil-rich countries or the Fourth World step into its shoes, the Third World Countries would maintain their designation and nomenclature.


1. Charles W.Kegley, Jr. 5: Eugene R. Wittkopf, World Politics Trend and Transformation (New York, 1981), p 23.

2. Peter Calvocoressi, World Politics since l945 (New York, 1982) 4th ed., p. 94.

3. Quoted by J.D.B. Miller, Sisir Gupta’s View of the Third Word in MS. Ranjan and Shivaji Ganguly (Ed.), Great Power Relations, World Order and the Third World (New Delhi, 1981), p.193.

4. Hans W. Singer and Javed, A. Ansari, Rich, and Poor Countries (Baltimore, 1977).

5. Op. cit. n. 1, p.94.

6. W.Howard Wriggins, ” Third World Strategies for Change: The Political Context of North-South Interdependence” in W. Howard. Wiggins and Gunnar Adler-Karlsson. Reducing Global inequities (New York. 1978), pp. 19-117.

7. Anam Jaitly, International Politics-Major Contemporary Trends and Issues (New Delhi, 1984), p.152.

8. Op. cit. n.2, p.109.

9. Ibid. p.110.

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