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IR - One Definition A Day: Third World

IR - One Definition A Day

Third World

A portmanteau term for those states in Central and South America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia (excepting Japan) and the Pacific islands (excepting Australia and New Zealand) which have experienced decolonisation over the last two centuries. The term 'Third World' is an anglicized rendition of the French 'Tiers-Monde' popularized in the 1950s by writers such as Georges Balandier and Alfred Sauvy. The Third World originally stood in contradistinction to the 'First World' (of capitalist liberal democracy) and the Second World (of command economic planning), but with the collapse of communism the trichotomy has lost much of its significance. The retention of the term 'Third World' although difficult to justify in logic perhaps, is testimony to the custom and usage of thirty years and the enduring significance of the Cold War ideological debates. China was always marginalised by the idea of Third World. Possessing many of the attributes of the typical Third World state, ideology ruled China out of all identification. Also at the margin were Israel and South Africa, geographically and historically within the meaning of the term but nevertheless regarded as near pariahs on ideological grounds.

Although the Third World has shaken off the formal political control of colonialism, legacies of the past remain. Thus the actual territorial dimensions of many Third World states, notably in Africa, are the results of colonialist cartographers and political geographers. As a consequence of this arbitrary demarcation, many states in the Third World are ethically heterogeneous.Ethnic nationalism, as a centrifugal tendency working against the centripetal state nationalism, is a divisive factor in these states as a result.

Marxist-inclined analyses of international relations deny that the formal granting of independence made any substantial difference to the relative power positions of the Third World vis-à-vis the First World - wherein, according to Marxists, imperialism arose. In particular the considerable economic power of the AICs of the First World is a determining factor in these relations. Assisting First World domination are the multinational corporations (MNCs) which function as conduits for this influence. many of the examples that inform this view are taken from latin American experience, and it would appear that a comprador middle class has developed in the region to provide a linkage with the dominant economic interests in the First World. Latin America may not be typical, however, and in other parts of the Third Wolrd, notably in Asia, a more nationalist bourgeoisie has developed. In the most dynamic NICs, indeed, countervailing corporative growth can counterbalance the economic domination of First World interests.

As far as intergovernmental relations are concerned, the Third World has responded to this domination trhough organisations such as OPEC and UNCTAD by making a number of demands under the new international economic order initiative. The Third World states have also used their majority membership of organisations like the UN to call for closer control and supervision to be exerciced of MNCs. Again they have campaigned through UNCTAD for the abandonment of the Bretton Woods system of non-discrimnation in favour of trade preferences aimed at assisting their development goals.

In the military-security issue area the Third World states have often faced significant problems in managing their national security. The centrifugal ethnic tendencies referred to above have in extreme cases produced the disintegration of states (for example Pakistan) or significant and damaging civil strife. Additionally, with such notable exceptions as India affords, many Third World states lacked the habits of the heart to ensure effective governance of their states. The terms 'quasi-state' has been coined to identify this problem. The cold war environment into which these states had to conduct their foreign policies probably exacerbated these problems. From the Truman Doctrine onwards, all that Third World leaderships had to show to engage US in Military AID arrangements was the presence of an internal/external threat that could plausibly be perceived as communist. 
Interventionalist policies have not been the prerogative of the First or Second Worlds of course. States within the Third World have been prompted to intervene in a variety of military-securit issue areas. Ths Vietnam, India, Lybia, Tanzania, Cuba and Nigeria have shown a willingness towards internation in regional conflict situations. The Persian Gulf War's proximate cause was Iraqi intervention and annexation of neighbouring Kuwait, whilst Syrian intervention in the Lebanon altered the communal balance significantly. 

The end of the Cold War era in world politics has affected both the position and the policies of the Third World states. Indeed it has substantially altered the ideological assumptions that might be called 'Third Worldism'. The self destruction of the Second World has at one and the same time removed a viable alternative 'model' of national economic development and substantially reduced the intrinsic importance of the Third World in First World considerations. Market orientated approaches underpinned by a belief in economic liberalism can now be given full scope and significance.

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