The terms First World, Second World, and Third World were used to divide the nations of Earth into three broad categories. The three terms did not arise simultaneously. After World War II it became common to speak of the capitalist and Communist countries as two major blocs, often using such terms as the "free world" as compared to the "communist bloc". The two "worlds" were not numbered. It was eventually pointed out that there were a great many countries that fit into neither category, and in the 1950s this latter group came to be called the Third World. It then began to seem that there ought to be a "First World" and a "Second World." These latter terms were always much less common.
In the context of the Cold War:
First World referred to nations that were within the Western European and United States' sphere of influence — e.g., the NATO countries of North America and Western Europe, Japan, and some of the former British colonies such as Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
There were a number of countries which did not fit comfortably into this neat definition of partition, including Switzerland, Sweden, and the Republic of Ireland, which chose to be neutral. Finland was under the Soviet Union's sphere of influence but was not communist, nor was it a member of the Warsaw Pact. Austria was under the United States' sphere of influence, but in 1955, when the country again became a fully independent republic, it did so under the condition that it remained neutral.
With the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, the term Second World largely fell out of use and the meaning of First World has become has extended to include all developed countries.
Last updated: 02-06-2005 18:22:54
Last updated: 04-25-2005 03:06:01