Disappearing 2nd World Raises Doubts on 3rd : Global changes: ‘Developing world’ term gains favor as lines blur between entities on a geographic collision course.


First, Second, Third, Fourth worlds--are they now on a geographic collision course?

With the Communist Second World crumbling, is the Third still the Third? Will the Fourth disappear?

From the First to the Fourth, they have been--in a word--the capitalist, communist, developing and undeveloping countries, says geographer Harm J. de Blij of the University of Miami.

More specifically, they have been defined as:


* The First World of industrialized, market-economy countries, broadly the capitalist or Western World.

* The Second World of centrally planned economies, the Communist Bloc or socialist camp, including the former Soviet Union, Eastern European countries, China, Cuba and North Korea.

* The Third World of poorer countries, many of them former dependents of colonial powers, including the economically developing nations of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

* The Fourth World of hopelessly poor countries such as Haiti, Mozambique and Bangladesh or stateless peoples, among them the Kurds, Eritreans and Palestinians.


“The Second World is shrinking quickly, if it still exists,” says geographer William Wood of the U.S. State Department. “The Soviet sphere is fragmented. China, Cuba and North Korea are the only notable Communist countries left. Clearly, there’s not a First or Second World for the Third to be aligned against. These terms--ambiguous shorthand--will fall into greater disuse.”

“What do we call the Second World now, the ex-Second World, the First-and-a-half World? This raises a problem in counting,” says geographer Joseph E. Schwartzberg of the University of Minnesota. “Maybe it’s time to drop the designation ‘Third World.”’

The concept of a Third World first emerged in Europe in the early 1950s. From the French tiers monde , it was originally a political label for countries not aligned with either the Communist or the Free World.

At the 1955 Bandung (Indonesia) Conference, delegates from 29 African and Asian nations formalized the use of Third World, declaring their determination to speed the end of colonialism and to remain neutral in the Cold War.


By the early 1960s, the term took on economic characteristics and encompassed Latin America as well. Third World was preferred over more derogatory descriptions for have-not countries, but eventually it too was considered insulting to some and confusing to others.

But what’s a good substitute? “ ‘Developing world’ would seem to be the single best thing, but it’s really not adequate,” Schwartzberg says.

“Count Fourth World out now,” de Blij says. “We’ll still need general categories, but two is too few and four is too many.

“The First World will stretch from Vancouver to Vladivostok (the Euro-Atlantic community envisioned by U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III). The Second World may become countries in political transformation such as the Slovenias, Scotlands and Macedonias, and those in economic transition, the Brazils. The Third World will be those of lowest economic growth and least political influence--the Bolivias, Zaires and Nepals.”


“Third World really doesn’t fit anymore,” agrees geographer George J. Demko of Dartmouth College. “The world is too fluid. Strange as it seems, the Cold War had created relative stability. Separatist fever is spreading worldwide. It’s nationalism gone crazy: long-repressed nationalism that is very uncompromising. We haven’t seen the end of these movements yet.”

“Since Britain agreed to the independence of others in Europe, some Scots want to get a share of the pie and go their own way,” said geographer Ted Dachtera. The Scots-are-Scots-first spirit, which has stirred sporadically, has suddenly surged again, led by the Scottish National Party.

The 15 former Soviet republics have become 15 nations. Czechoslovakia, which in 1990 changed its formal name to Czech and Slovak Federal Republic, remains in danger of splitting in two. So do Somalia and Sudan. The six Yugoslav republics are already going their separate ways.

At least one of them, ethnically mixed Macedonia, may have to undergo a name change to gain international recognition as a nation. Neighboring Greece adamantly opposes the use of what it claims is a Greek name. Ancient Macedonia is divided among today’s Greece, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria.


The term Third World, which still shows up in today’s headlines, will probably die hard, Schwartzberg says, because “most people still don’t realize where it came from.”