What were all the countries of the First, Second and Third Worlds, when WWII ended?

That is, using the World terms in their Cold War formulation.

The term Third World arose during the Cold War to define countries that remained non-aligned with either NATO, or the Communist Bloc. The United States, Western European nations and their allies represented the First World, while the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and their allies represented the Second World.

The First World was all the capitalists

USA, Canada, Britain... Japan...

The Second World was all the communists

Russia, China,

The Third World was all the neutrals.

Switzerland, South Africa...

What I'm wanting is a list of all countries under their World numeration, as they would have been evaluated immediately after WWII.

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    Maybe a word on the ambiguity of the term "third world" would be helpful. – nvoigt Jun 16 '16 at 15:46
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    @nvoigt - In the original model, the "worlds" described alliances and neutrals were "third world". – T.E.D. Jun 16 '16 at 16:06
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    Kind of interesting to see a question closed as "trivial", when the answer was a surprise to me, and at least some of the commenters. – T.E.D. Jun 20 '16 at 13:29

The phrase "Third World" was first coined in 1952 by Alfred Sauvy, so asking "what were the countries in each 'world' at the end of WWII" is a bit of an anachronism. It's also a bit fraught to ask whether Poland or East Germany should have been viewed as communist countries immediately after WWII, before the Soviet-backed communist parties in each country had fully consolidated their power. (It sure seems like we should in hindsight, but this was not as obvious at the time.) And, of course, most countries in Africa were not independent at this time. Despite these difficulties, though, we press on.

Sauvy's original article, a bit surprisingly, does not appear to be available online in English; but it is available in French. He doesn't carefully define what he means by "First World" or "Second World", since his focus is on the "Third World". Here are some pertinent excerpts (bolding mine):

Nous parlons volontiers des deux mondes en présence, de leur guerre possible, de leur coexistence, etc., oubliant trop souvent qu’il en existe un troisième, le plus important, et en somme, le premier dans la chronologie. C’est l’ensemble de ceux que l’on appelle, en style Nations Unies, les pays sous-développés. ...

Ce qui importe à chacun des deux mondes, c’est de conquérir le troisième ou du moins de l’avoir de son côté. Et de là viennent tous les troubles de la coexistence.

Le capitalisme d’Occident et le communisme oriental prennent appui l’un sur l’autre. Si l’un d’eux disparaissait, l’autre subirait une crise sans précédent. La coexistence des deux devraient être une marche vers quelque régime commun aussi lointain que discret.

which translates roughly as:

We talk freely of two worlds in existence, of their possible war, of their coexistence, etc., forgetting too often that there exists a third world, the largest, and really the first chronologically. This is the group of those countries that the United Nations calls underdeveloped. ...

What matters to each of the two worlds is to conquer the third, or at least to have it on its side. And from there comes all the problems of coexistence.

The capitalism of the West and the communism of the East bear on each other. If one of them disappeared, the other would suffer an unprecedented crisis. The coexistence of the two should be a step towards some common regime as distant as it is unclear.

From this it would seem that the three worlds are defined as:

  • First World: Any country that has a capitalist system of government, and was not viewed by the UN as underdeveloped.
  • Second World: Any country that has a communist system of government, and was not viewed by the UN as underdeveloped.
  • Third World: Underdeveloped countries.

In particular, I strongly suspect that Sauvy would have viewed Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, Finland, and Austria as "First World" countries, even though they were not part of NATO. I also suspect that he might have viewed China as "Third World", even though it had a communist regime, since it was not at all industrially developed in 1952.


Those are very vague terms.

The original Three World Model appears to have come from a demographer in the 1950's. In his mind, it was essentially 1 - NATO, 2 - Soviet Block, 3 - Everyone else.

The end of the Cold War removed almost the entire "Second World" from existence. So today I believe most people instead use the terms to separate developed nations from less developed nations. But there's no "authority" anywhere that could give you an official ruling on the membership of countries like Turkey or India that could be argued either way.

If you want a full list of who was what when the concept was first coined, that would be the memberships of NATO (and probably other US alliances like ANZAC), the Warsaw Pact countries, with everyone else technically being "third world".

Here's a map showing the first two at their contact point in Europe. To backdate it to the end of WWII, you'd probably want to add Yugoslavia and Austria to the 2nd World. Outside of this map, the 1st World needs the USA and Canada from North America, and Japan, Korea, Australia, and New Zealand from the Pacific area. The 2nd should (arguably) add China and eventually North Korea and Cuba.

enter image description here

  • Oh, so First World was a synonym for NATO? ... 'Cause I'm finding it strangely difficult to find things that go like First World: USA, Canada, Japan... Second World: Soviet Union, China, Cuba, ... Third World: Everywhere else... ... I didn't think that there could be places where the World couldn't be effectively defined. – Malady Jun 16 '16 at 16:31
  • @Malandy - Well, the guy who came up with it was French, so essentially yes. But of course from the perspective of the USA and the USSR there were lots of non-European countries involved in their various alliance systems. – T.E.D. Jun 16 '16 at 16:38
  • To further complicate this question and answer, India tried to establish itself as a leader of the non aligned bloc ... which some considered equivalent to the Third World. – KorvinStarmast Jun 16 '16 at 16:44
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    ...and some considered junior members of the Soviet sphere, as I recall. – T.E.D. Jun 16 '16 at 18:03
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    @Malandy - I was actually pretty surprised to find this out when I researched it as well. Having grown up in the last 2 decades of the Cold War, I can vouch that the modern understanding of these terms was in force already by then. – T.E.D. Jun 16 '16 at 18:13

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