Third World:

  • The term Third World arose during the Cold War to define countries that remained non-aligned with either NATO, or the Communist Bloc. This terminology provided a way of broadly categorizing the nations of the Earth into three groups based on social, political, cultural and economic divisions.
  • The United States, Western European nations and their allies represented the First World. The Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and their allies represented the Second World.
  • The Third World was normally seen to include many countries with colonial pasts in Africa, Latin America, Oceania and Asia. It was also sometimes taken as synonymous with countries in the Non-Aligned Movement.
  • Due to the complex history of evolving meanings and contexts, there is no clear or agreed upon definition of the Third World. Some countries in the Communist Bloc, such as Cuba, were often sometimes regarded as “Third World”. Because many Third World countries were extremely poor, and non-industrialized, it became a stereotype to refer to poor countries as “third world countries”, yet the “Third World” term is also often taken to include newly industrialized countries like Brazil. Historically, some European countries were part of the non-aligned movement and a few were and are very prosperous, including Austria, Ireland and Switzerland.

Recent use of the term ‘Third World’

  • Over the last few decades since the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the term Third World has been used interchangeably with the least developed countries, Global South and developing countries to describe poorer countries that have struggled to attain steady economic development, a term that often includes “Second World” countries like Laos and Cuba.
  • In the so-called dependency theory, the Third World has also been connected to the world economic division as “periphery” countries in the world system that is dominated by the “core” countries.

First use of the term Third World

  • French demographer and historian Alfred Sauvy, in 1952, coined the term Third World, referring to countries that were unaligned with either the Communist Soviet bloc or the Capitalist NATO bloc during the Cold War. His usage was a reference to the Third Estate, the commoners of France who, before and during the French Revolution, opposed the clergy and nobles, who composed the First Estate and Second Estate, respectively. Sauvy wrote, “This third world ignored, exploited, despised like the third estate also wants to be something.

Third World vs Three Worlds

  • The “Three Worlds Theory” developed by Mao Zedong is different from the Western theory of the Third World. For example, in the Western theory, China and India belong respectively to the second and third worlds, but in Mao’s theory both China and India are part of the Third World which he defined as consisting of exploited nations.

Third Worldism

  • Third Worldism is a political movement that argues for the unity of third-world nations against first-world influence and the principle of non-interference in other countries’ domestic affairs.
  • Groups most notable for expressing and exercising this idea are the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the G77 which provide a base for relations and diplomacy between not just the third-world countries, but between the third-world and the first and second worlds.

Diverse nature of Third World

  • Most Third World countries were former colonies. Having gained independence many of these countries, especially smaller ones, were faced with the challenges of nation and institution-building on their own for the first time. Due to this common background, many of these nations were “developing” in economic terms for most of the 20th century, and many still are.
  • The large diversity of countries considered part of the Third World—from Indonesia to Afghanistan—ranged widely from economically primitive to economically advanced and from politically non-aligned to Soviet or Western leaning.
  • The aggregate term “Third World” was challenged as misleading even during the Cold War period because it had no consistent or collective identity among the countries it supposedly encompassed.

Foreign aid and development

  • During the Cold War, unaligned countries of the Third World were seen as potential allies by both the First and Second World. Therefore, the United States and the Soviet Union went to great lengths to establish connections in these countries by offering economic and military support to gain strategically located alliances. Smaller nations would be expected to align in the face of the instability of the international environment and would inevitably lose their voice and independence of judgment in the process.
  • By the end of the 1960s, the idea of the Third World came to represent countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America that were considered underdeveloped by the West based on a variety of characteristics (low economic development, low life expectancy, high rates of poverty and disease, etc.). These countries became the targets for aid and support from governments, NGOs and individuals from wealthier nations.
  • Development would take place in 5 stages (Traditional Society; Pre-conditions for Take-off; Take-off; Drive to Maturity; Age of High Mass Consumption). Take-off was the critical stage that the Third World was missing or struggling with. Thus, foreign aid was needed to help kick start industrialization and economic growth in these countries.
  • However, despite decades of receiving aid, many Third World countries’ economies are still dependent on developed countries and are deep in debt.
  • There is now a growing debate about why Third World countries remain impoverished and underdeveloped after all this time. Many argue that current methods of aid are not working and are calling for reducing foreign aid (and therefore dependency) and utilizing different economic theories than the traditional mainstream theories from the West.
  • Some argue the problem of development amongst many third world states through socio-economic perspectives which study how individuals form organizations amongst each other for all kinds of goals such as economic matters.
  • Modern states are composed of natural states and open access order states whereby open access order states have more positive development than natural states because in these states, legally binding institutions (rules of the game, customs) allow individuals to freely form impersonal organizations that can attract a large group of people who work or compete with each other economically. The more competition, the more wealth and growth is created. Examples of open access states are many Western countries .
  • In contrast, a natural state (which compromises much of the third world) consists of political elites who try to protect their special privileges by restricting access to the ability to form organizations amongst individuals. Such a set-up not only weakens good governance (as leaders are less accountable) but also leads to weak institutions where peace is not always assured.
  • Global population growth has largely been focused in Third World countries (which often have higher birth rates than developed countries). As populations expand in poorer countries, rural people are flocking to cities in an extensive urban migration that is resulting in the creation of massive shanty towns and slums.
  • Many times there is a clear distinction between First and Third Worlds. When talking about the Global North and the Global South, the majority of the time the two go hand in hand. People refer to the two as “Third World/South” and “First World/North” because the Global North is more affluent and developed, whereas the Global South is less developed and often poorer, though after the late 1980s this started to be changed by the Great Convergence.

Non-Aligned Movement:

  • The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) is a group of states which are not formally aligned with or against any major power bloc.
  • The organization was founded in Belgrade in 1961, and was largely conceived by India’s first prime minister,Jawaharlal NehruIndonesia’s first president, Sukarno; Egypt’s second president, Gamal Abdel Nasser; Ghana’s first president Kwame Nkrumah; and Yugoslavia’s president, Josip Broz Tito. Their actions were known as The Initiative of Five‘.
  • All these leaders were prominent advocates of a middle course for states in the Developing World between the Western and Eastern blocs in the Cold War.
  • While many of the Non-Aligned Movement’s members were actually quite closely aligned with one or another of the super powers, the movement still maintained cohesion throughout the Cold War.
  • Currently, the countries of the Non-Aligned Movement, with 120 members, represent nearly two-thirds of the United Nations’s members and contain 55% of the world population. Membership is particularly concentrated in countries considered to be part of the Third World.


  • The term “non-alignment” itself was coined by V.K. Krishna Menon in 1953 remarks at the United Nations.
  • Nehru described the five pillars to be used as a guide for Sino-Indian relations called Panchsheel (five restraints), these principles would later serve as the basis of the Non-Aligned Movement. The five principles were:
  1. Mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty
  2. Mutual non-aggression
  3. Mutual non-interference in domestic affairs
  4. Equality and mutual benefit
  5. Peaceful co-existence
  • A significant milestone in the development of the Non-Aligned Movement was the 1955 Bandung Conference, a conference of Asian and African states hosted by Indonesian president Sukarno. Bringing together Sukarno, Nasser, Nehru, Tito, Nkrumah with the likes of , U Nu, Ho Chi Minh, Zhou Enlai, and Norodom Sihanouk, as well as U Thant, the conference adopted a “declaration on promotion of world peace and cooperation“, which included Nehru’s five principles, and a collective pledge to remain neutral in the Cold War.
  • Six years after Bandung, an initiative of Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito led to the first Conference of Heads of State or Government of Non-Aligned Countries, which was held in September 1961 in Belgrade.  The Non-Aligned movement was never established as a formal organization, but became the name to refer to the participants of the Conference of Heads of State or Government of Non-Aligned Countries held in Belgrade.
  • At the Lusaka Conference (third conference) in September 1970, the member nations added as aims of the movement the peaceful resolution of disputes and the abstention from the big power military alliances and pacts and opposition to stationing of military bases in foreign countries.
  • The term Non Aligned Movement appears first in the fifth conference held in Colombo in 1976, where participating countries are denoted as members of the movement.
  • In a speech given during the Havana Declaration of 1979, Fidel Castro said the purpose of the organization is to ensure “the national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of non-aligned countries” in their “struggle against imperialism,colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism, and all forms of foreign aggression, occupation, domination, interference or hegemony as well as against great power and bloc politics”.

The Contemporary Relevance of the Non-Aligned Movement (After Cold War):

  • The end of the Cold War and with it, the age of bipolarity has sparked intense debate over the continued relevance of the Non-Aligned Movement.
  • To avoid dominance of either USA or USSR,the movement was begun. Countries like India that had a large history of colonial rule to undo and remedy, and the herculean task of nation building ahead of them, could not afford to be swayed into realpolitik that was not their concern.
  • At the same time, non-alignment did not mean neutrality. It is not a negative policy or a policy of silence. Rather non-aligned nations were envisaged as being very active in world politics, but they would retain their autonomy and prerogative of deciding according to the specifics of the situation they were faced with, and in the interest of their own nation.
  • The non-aligned had their own concerns that were superior to those of the antagonists of the Cold War, which included building up fledgling economies, instilling a sense of identity among their peoples and creating a separate strategic space in the international arena.Thus, the NAM included Asian, African and Latin American nations that stood for political and economic independence in the face of intense international pressure.
  • It is argued that since the movement was conceived avoid Cold War politics, the end of the Cold War effectively removes the need for the continued existence of the movement. It can be counter-argued that the movement was initiated to combat the conditions of the Cold War which included neo-colonial pressures upon the former colonies, and many of those conditions still exist, an example of which can be seen in hegemony of the USA in international forums like the United Nations Organization. Besides, the objectives of the NAM, which were to create an international atmosphere conducive for the growth and development of newly freed nations, and to provide an independent voice in the international still exist; perhaps more than ever.
  • If the validity of the creations of the Cold War era has expired, then it can be argued that the NATO, which was designed to counter the communist revolution of the time, should not continue either.
  • Since the end of the Cold War and the formal end of colonialism, the Non-Aligned Movement has been forced to redefine itself and reinvent its purpose in the current world system.The movement has emphasised its principles of multilateralism, equality, and mutual non-aggression in attempting to become a stronger voice for the global South, and an instrument that can be utilised to promote the needs of member nations at the international level and strengthen their political leverage when negotiating with developed nations.
  • It opposes foreign occupation, interference in internal affairs, and aggressive unilateral measures, but it has also shifted to focus on the socio-economic challenges facing member states, especially the inequalities manifested by globalization and the implications of neo-liberal policies. The Non-Aligned Movement has identified economic underdevelopment, poverty, and social injustices as growing threats to peace and security.
  • The twentieth century saw the end of colonialism, but the twenty-first has witnessed neo-colonialism by the same perpetrators, in the face of which the NAM and complementary alliances like the G-77, which unites developing nations on matters of trade and development, provides an effective buffer and defense. The NAM ensures that world organizations like the United Nations still have place for the concerns of the third world and are not steered by the permanent five unopposed.
  • The USA protested the hosting of the 16th NAM Summit in 2012 by Iran, and called for a boycott of the Summit. The Summit was attended by nearly all of the 120 members and even the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, who faced immense pressure to avoid it. This direct dismissal of the protests makes a powerful statement about the confidence of the non-aligned and would perhaps not be possible in the absence of the movement.
  • The NAM could be highly relevant for one particular reason: during the Cold War we had essentially two power blocs – a situation which led to the paralysis of the United Nations because the Security Council could not take action due to the veto of the United States and the Soviet Union. Now we have a situation not of bipolarity but unipolarity, with the US as the one dominant global player, and in this situation smaller and medium-sized countries have even less possibility to take action independently so they should use a structure such as that of the NAM to coordinate their policies as not to be so dependent on the dominant global player.
  • While it is true that multi-alignment is increasingly becoming the norm , with member nations participating in multiple forums like BRICS, BASIC, IBSA, G-20 and the like, creating a complex web of associations and fidelities, the importance and prevalence of the NAM does not get extinguished entirely.
  • However while NAM was born out of the principled response to, and indeed rejection of the bipolar, ideology-based rivalry of the Cold War, it has continued to thrive despite the end of the Soviet-US military confrontation and could yet enjoy a resurgent role in the international arena. Thus, while the movement has suffered setbacks in the past years since its inception, it remains a crucial and irreplaceable part of the developing world’s existence. The need of the hour is a reinvention of the movement through initiative on the part of members.
  • The need for peaceful coexistence and better North-South and South-South relations makes the need for NAM even more urgent with its visionary blend of idealism and realism

Criticism of NAM

  • NAM has grown in size and can potentially be very influential but it has been unable to fulfill its lofty objectives and thus stands discredited. Most of the member states, which are a part of it, do not use the NAM platform to resolve disputes nor do they contribute much effort to making it more effective.
  • NAM has failed to help promote peace and many of its members have been involved in bloody internal and external violence (for example the civil war in Cambodia, or the war between Iran and Iraq). NAM has also been unable to bear on lingering disputes like the ME conflict and the problems in Kashmir causing tensions between Pakistan and India and in the Cyprus which is resulting in tensions between Turkey and Greece.
  • There is a dichotomy between what NAM leaders preach and practice; often they have adopted stances in the UN at variance with consensus developed in NAM
  • In its efforts to advance Southern interests, the movement has stressed the importance of cooperation and unity amongst member states, but as in the past, cohesion remains a problem since the size of the organisation and the divergence of agendas and allegiances present the ongoing potential for fragmentation. While agreement on basic principles has been smooth, taking definitive action vis-à-vis particular international issues has been rare, with the movement preferring to assert its criticism or support rather than pass hard-line resolutions.
  • The movement fractured from its own internal contradictions when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. While the Soviet allies supported the invasion, other members of the movement (particularly predominantly Muslim states) condemned it.
  • In changes international situation after Cold War, many countries lost interest in NAM. In 2004, Malta and Cyprus ceased to be members and joined the European Union. Belarus remains the sole member of the Movement in Europe.
  • Some believe that the membership criteria, which have not changed in the 20 years since the Cold War ended, points to an organization frozen in time.

Organizational structure and membership:

  • The movement stems from a desire not to be aligned within a geopolitical/military structure and therefore itself does not have a very strict organizational structure. Some organizational basics were defined at the 1996 Cartagena Document on Methodology.
  • The Summit Conference of Heads of State or Government of Non-Aligned States is “the highest decision making authority”. The chairmanship rotates between countries and changes at every summit of heads of state or government to the country organizing the summit.
  • Requirements for membership of the Non-Aligned Movement coincide with the key beliefs of the United Nations. The current requirements are that the candidate country has displayed practices in accordance with the ten “Bandung principles” of 1955:
  1. Respect for fundamental human rights and for the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
  2. Respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations.
  3. Recognition of the movements for national independence.
  4. Recognition of the equality of all races and of the equality of all nations, large and small.
  5. Abstention from intervention or interference in the internal affairs of another country.
  6. Respect for the right of each nation to defend itself singly or collectively, in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations.
  7. Refraining from acts or threats of aggression or the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any country.
  8. Settlement of all international disputes by peaceful means, in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations.
  9. Promotion of mutual interests and co-operation.
  10. Respect for justice and international obligations.

Policies and ideology:

  • Secretaries General of the NAM had included such diverse figures as Suharto, an authoritarian anti-communist, and Nelson Mandela, a democratic socialist. Consisting of many governments with vastly different ideologies, the Non-Aligned Movement is unified by its commitment to world peace and security.
  • At the seventh summit held in New Delhi in March 1983, the movement described itself as “history’s biggest peace movement“.
  • The movement places equal emphasis on disarmament. NAM’s commitment to peace pre-dates its formal institutionalisation in 1961.The Brioni meeting between heads of governments of India, Egypt and Yugoslavia in 1956 recognized that there exists a vital link between struggle for peace and endeavours for disarmament.
  • During the 1970s and early 1980s, the NAM also sponsored campaigns for restructuring commercial relations between developed and developing nations, namely the New International Economic Order (NIEO), and its cultural offspring, the New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO).


  • The successes the NAM has had with multilateral agreements tend to be ignored by the larger, western and developed nation dominated UN. African concerns about apartheid were linked with Arab-Asian concerns about Palestine and multilateral cooperation in these areas has enjoyed moderate success. The Non-Aligned Movement has played a major role in various ideological conflicts throughout its existence, including extreme opposition to apartheid governments and support of guerrilla movements in various locations, including Rhodesia and South Africa.
  • The organization has criticized certain aspects of US foreign policy as attempts to run roughshod over the sovereignty of smaller nations
  • Since 1961, the organization has supported the discussion of the case of Puerto Rico’s self-determination before the United Nations.
  • Since 1973, the group has supported the discussion of the case of Western Sahara’s self-determination before the United Nations.
  • The movement is publicly committed to the tenets of sustainable development and the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals, but it believes that the international community has not created conditions conducive to development and has infringed upon the right to sovereign development by each member state. Issues such as globalization, the debt burden, unfair trade practices, the decline in foreign aid, donor conditionality, and the lack of democracy in international financial decision-making are cited as factors inhibiting development.
  • Reforms of the UN: The movement has criticised the current UN structures and power dynamics, stating that the organisation has been utilised by powerful states in ways that violate the movement’s principles. It has made a number of recommendations that it says would strengthen the representation and power of “non-aligned” states and improve the transparency and democracy of UN decision-making. The UN Security Council is the element it considers the most distorted, undemocratic, and in need of reshaping.
  • South-South cooperation: The movement has collaborated with other organisations of the developing world – primarily the Group of 77 – forming a number of joint committees and releasing statements and documents representing the shared interests of both groups.
  • Cultural diversity and human rights: The movement accepts the universality of human rights and social justice, but fiercely resists cultural homogenisation. In line with its views on sovereignty, the organisation appeals for the protection of cultural diversity, and the tolerance of the religious, socio-cultural, and historical particularities that define human rights in a specific region.


  • The conference of Heads of State, often referred to as Non-Aligned Movement Summit is the main meeting within the movement.
  1. 1st 1–6 September 1961 Yugoslavia Belgrade
  2. 2nd 5–10 October 1964 United Arab Republic Cairo
  3. 3rd 8–10 September 1970 Zambia Lusaka
  4. 4th 5–9 September 1973 Algeria Algiers
  5. 5th 16–19 August 1976 Sri Lanka Colombo
  6. 6th 3–9 September 1979 Cuba Havana
  7. 7th 7–12 March 1983 India New Delhi
  8. 8th 1–6 September 1986 Zimbabwe Harare
  9. 9th 4–7 September 1989 Yugoslavia Belgrade
  10. 10th 1–6 September 1992 Indonesia Jakarta
  11. 11th 18–20 October 1995 Colombia Cartagena de Indias
  12. 12th 2–3 September 1998 South Africa Durban
  13. 13th 20–25 February 2003 Malaysia Kuala Lumpur
  14. 14th 15–16 September 2006 Cuba Havana
  15. 15th 11–16 July 2009 Egypt Sharm El Sheikh
  16. 16th 26–31 August 2012 Iran Tehran
  • A variety of ministerial meetings are held between the summit meetings. Some are specialist, such as the meeting on “Inter-Faith Dialogue and Co-operation for Peace”. There is a general Conference of Foreign Ministers every three years.
  • Between summits, the Non-Aligned Movement is run by the Chairperson elected at last summit meeting. The Coordinating Bureau, also based at the UN, is the main instrument for directing the work of the movement’s task forces, committees and working groups.
  • Guests: There is no permanent guest status, but often several non-member countries are represented as guests at conferences. In addition, a large number of organisations, both from within the UN system and from outside, are always invited as guests.

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