SEATTLE — Many citizens in the United States would categorize the continent of Africa as being predominantly developing. But what actually makes a developing country? Without understanding the classification system of the various worlds, along with the specifications that would classify a country as developing, it is difficult to have an informed perspective on the subject.
The Term “Third World” Originates From the Cold War
Today, the term “developing” is more appropriate to refer to the economically developing nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America, instead of “Third World.” The Cold War represented a division between two industrialized powerhouses, the United States and the Soviet Union. These two distinct countries were opposing sides of a proxy war in which many countries chose not to participate. Conceptually, the “Third World” was created to describe the countries that had no stake in the Cold War. However, today, there are more descriptive factors that define what a “Third World” country is other than its neutrality during the Cold War.
The “Third World” is a Victim of Colonialism
Colonialism is the most common factor that people use to describe whether a country is part of the so-called “Third World” or not. While neutral during the Cold War, these countries did not take sides in part due to the effects of colonization. This was the case for a large portion of Africa but not only. By this standard, The Caribbean islands and many nations within East Asia and Latin America fall into the “Third World” category. The United States created the hierarchy of the previously called “First World” (U.S. and Western nations), “Second World” (U.S.S.R. and Eastern bloc nations) and “Third World” to rank nations. There was an implicit bias in this categorization, mainly due to the fact that the so-called “First World” countries represented supporters of capitalism. A racial component also appears obvious upon examining the nations categorized as “Third World” versus “First World.” The racial element of the classification system also ties into cultural views of colonized countries, which were all non-white.
Recent “World” Classifications Revamped
According to the economist and international relations specialist Parag Khanna, the “First World” represents the nations with the highest performing economies, such as the United States, the European Union and China. The “Second World” comprises developing countries that have moderately successful economies, some of which are Turkey, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Finally, the “Third World” nations are the least economically successful, a few of which are Rwanda, Honduras and Cambodia.
How to Approach These Classifications Moving Forward?
As detailed above, using the Cold War “world” classification system no longer applies to the 21st century. In terms of economic classification, a severe restructuring of the classification system is necessary. Some characteristics defining a developing country are access to healthcare, education, clean drinking water and career paths, cost of living versus inflation, infrastructure and prevalence of democracy. This brief but nuanced classification system would no longer classify countries based on race or preferred economic systems. Rather, it would focus on the detailed aspects of a country that make it “livable.” The vilification of less fortunate citizens in nations across the world would be eliminated, while also being able to predict whether a country is backsliding in each of the signifying categories above.
– Zach Margolis