Does the notion of a ”Third World” continue to have any validity in today’s world?
Author David Hiskey suggests that ‘a Third World country is not a country that simply is primitive, underdeveloped, or poor, as most people think. In fact, a third world country is actually just a country that is not considered a capitalist country (first world) and not considered a communist country (2nd world).'[2] With the communist bloc having disappeared after World War II and the world being mostly capitalist today, does the notion of a ”Third World” continue to have any validity in today’s world?
In a first part, we will be discussing why the concept of ”Third World Countries” continues to exist today.
And in a second part, we will be discussing how this notion has deviated from its origins enough to cease to be valid in our contemporary world.

The existence of the notion of a ”Third World” can be valid because it is synonym of the Global South and all it represents in the global North/South division. The notion incorporates diverse countries with similar developmental and wealth states that need to find more or less communal solutions and formulas in order to eradicate their problems. Specifically, ‘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.'[3]
The reason for the similarities between countries from Africa, Asia and Latin America is linked to colonial conquest or indirect politico-economic domination by the more developed capitalist countries. Theorists believe that the main consequence of Western domination of global economics and politics since the colonial era is the creation of organised global market systems that serve their needs before anything.
Gerard Chaliand argues that ‘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.'[3]
Some theorists believe that aside from the overexploitation of the colonies’ resources during the colonial era, even the positive outcomes of colonialism like the building of infrastructures for example, were primarily to benefit the dominant country’s economic needs. This can be plausible because it primarily resulted in cultivation of plantation crops and creation of mining activities that were usually all controlled by foreign economic powers. This created the current conditions of debatable imposed Specialization and the Division of Labour that affect Third World countries.
Also, the Dependency Theory would suggest that all Third World countries are being manipulated by Western powers, which occurs for example, through unequal trade exchange and high-interest rates on loans. In fact, ‘weak industrialization, trade deficit and foreign debt accumulation are common economic features between Third World countries.'[1]
On a brighter note, many of these ”Third World” countries are experiencing rapid economic growth especially those who produce and export oil such as Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Algeria, Libya, Nigeria, Gabon, Oman and the United Arab Emirates as well as non-oil-producing countries such as Singapore, Brazil, South Korea, Taiwan, and the Ivory Coast.
Also one of the main arguments that Western ‘developed’ countries would use to justify the concept behind the Third World is that many, if not the majority, of the group’s members sport political and social structures that are based on non-democratic, corrupt and authoritarian models. These include but are not limited to; Russia, China and most African countries according to the Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index Map of 2012.[4]
Also, some countries, namely China for example, choose to stay hidden inside this ”Third World” category in order to avoid international commitments that can be costly for and may slow down their development. These can be ecological, such as the Kyoto Protocol or social such as Human Rights commitments.
Political movements such as Maoism or Third Worldism which are ‘political, intellectual and revolutionary movement which brings a number of countries together into a unifying force. It rejects the dogmas & preconditions of the past and replaces them with new ones.’ [7] In other words, these movements fight for the cooperation of Third World countries against the influence and domination of imperialist First World countries and argue that the principle of non-interference in another country’s domestic affairs needs to be abolished. [6]
Therefore, the ‘Third World’ as a group can be seen as valid today because many of its countries share three main common conditions, economic dependency to the countries of the Global North, comparable economic growth in recent decades and deficient political structures.
However, the current widely accepted definition of the ”Third World” as a group of underdeveloped countries can be seen as irrelevant in contemporary global context because there is much disparity in terms of economic development and democratisation between the members of this group.
There is a common misconception that the ‘third world’ refers to countries that are poor and underdeveloped. In reality, there are many Third World countries that are developed, some are even amongst the wealthiest countries in the world. The reason being that during the Cold War, the Third World meant a group of non-aligned countries, many had weak economies due to a lack of industrialization, which led to it having a negative connotation.
However, there is rapidly increasing divergence in the Third World, particularly regarding economic growth where several countries from South and South-East Asia as well Mexico and Brazil and oil-producing countries like Saudi Arabia among others, have seen exceptional prosperity in the last few decades while others in Sub-Saharan Africa for example, continue to submerge in poverty and underdevelopment.
The issue with generalising the Third World and placing diverse countries in the same category is that they have to sport somewhat equal states of wealth, development and political stability.
However, a lot of disparity exists between the members of the Third World apart from their social and cultural differences. According to the CIA World Factbook, it seems almost absurd to join Libya whose real growth rate was around -5.10% between 2012 and 2013 with China whose real growth rate was 7.70% between 2012 and 2013 in a common category, the Third World. Similarly, both the Democratic Republic of Congo with a GDP per capita worth 400 US dollars in 2013 and Kuwait with a GDP per capita worth 42,100 US dollars in 2013, are Third World countries. This sort of disparity can also be seen from a developmental point of view; Chile and Chad both are considered Third World countries, however the former has a life expectancy of around 78 years in 2014 and around 3,276,000 active telephone lines while the latter has a life expectancy of around 49 years and around 29,000 telephone lines in use. [5]
It seems when taking numerous different factors including economical, social, demographic, and developmental states into consideration when judging the homogeneity of the Third Word, it seems that there is virtually none. Some Third World countries actually surpass their ‘more develped’ counterparts in terms of economic growth and death rates.
For example, the United States has a death rate of 8.15% in 2014 while a ‘Third World’ country like Kuwait had a death rate of only 2.16% in 2014. Similarly, the United States saw an annual real grwoth rate of 1.60% in 2013 while South Sudan saw an annual real growth rate of 24.70% in 2013. [5]
Development is the process by which a country betters its economic, social and political states through reforms. Reaching a state of perfect development is the unobtainable ideal, also known as an utopia. However, not even the most developed countries will ever reach that state due to human nature, which means that all countries in the world are ‘in development’. In other words, all countries are developing at a different paces.
There have also been numerous efforts put into deviating from the broad concept of the Third World by creating more narrow cooperative alliances such as the BRICS (Brasil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), G8, the Organization of the Islamic Conference or the ASEAN for example.
These arguments truly illustrate the disinterest of the Third World’s members in mainting their integrity.

To conclude, ‘the unity of the third world remains hypothetical, expressed mainly from the platforms of international conferences.'[1] While the members of the Third World share common traits such as economic depency to the ‘developed’ countries and deficient political structures, the ambitions behind the concept of the Third World seem to be unachievable because the notion has deviated enough from its original ‘non-alignement’ meaning to becoming a negatively-connoted word that refers to a group of poor and underdeveloped countries that no one wants to associate with. It attempts to generalise very distinct and diverse countries that develop at radically different paces and in different ways. Therefore, the notion of a Third World is outdated, unfair and seems to fail at helping underdeveloped countries to develop.

[6] Pithouse, Richard (2005). Report Back from the Third World Network Meeting Accra, 2005. Centre for Civil Society : 1-6.
[7] (Robert Malley, 1999)