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First World Countries

The concept of the First World first originated during the Cold War, where it was used to describe countries that were aligned with the United Statesmarker. These countries were democratic and capitalistic. After the fall of the Soviet Unionmarker and the end of the Cold War, the term "First World" took on a new meaning that was more applicable to the times. Since its original definition, the term First World has come to be largely synonymous with developed and/or highly developed countries (depending on which definition is being used).

First World countries in general have very advanced economies and very high Human Development indices. On the other hand, the United Nations defined the First World on the wealth of the nation's Gross National Product (GNP). The definition of the First World is now less concrete than during the Cold War.

Global dynamics between the First World and the other Worlds were essentially split into two. Relationships with the Second World were competitive, ideological and hostile. Relationships with Third World countries were normally positive in theory, while some were quite negative in practice (e.g. wars). Present inter-world relationships are not so rigid, although there is a disparity in terms of the First World having more influence, wealth, information and advancements than the other worlds. The First World continues to leave its mark globally through its resource consumption; over-consumption and global warming have sparked global negotiations on the environment.

Globalization is a increasingly important phenomena which has been fueled largely by the First World and its connections with the other worlds. A example of globalization within the First World is the European Union which has brought much cooperation and integration to the region. Multinational corporations also provide examples of the First World's impact on globalization, as they have brought economic, political and social integration in many countries. With the rise of the multinational corporation, the problem of outsourcing has risen in many First World countries. As jobs are shipped off shore, First World citizens are scrambling for employment.


After World War II the world split into two large geopolitical blocs, separating into spheres of communism and capitalism. This led to the Cold War, during which the term First World was highly used because of its political, social, and economic relevance. The term itself was first introduced in in the late 1940s by the United Nations. Today, the First World is slightly outdated and has no official definition, however it is generally thought of as the capitalist, industrial, developed countries who aligned with the United States after World War II. This definition included mostly the countries of North America, Western Europe, Australia and Japanmarker. In today's society the First World is viewed as countries who have the most advanced economies, the greatest influence, the highest standards of living, and the greatest technology. After the Cold War these countries of the First World included member states of NATOmarker, US aligned states, neutral countries who were developed and industrialized, and former British colonies. Countries were also placed into the First World based on how civilized the country was. According to Nations Online the member countries of NATO after the Cold War included: The US aligned countries included: The neutral countries included: And the former British Colonies also included in the First World were:

Human Development Index

[[File:UN Human Development Report 2009.PNG|thumb|right|350px|Global Human Development Indices

The Human Development Index is a worldwide organization where different indicators are used to classify countries based on their developmental status. Statistics like GDP, GNP, literacy, and education are combined to form a list of countries ranging from very high human development to low human development. The countries with very high human development ratings are said to be the most developed and industrialized countries in the world. If the classification of the First World is based on the definition above, the Human Development Index is a good indicator in identifying First World countries. Hence, according to the Human Development Index, thirty eight countries are ranked as having very high human development. Most of the countries on this list coincide with the data on countries listed in Nations Online. The countries that are on the Human Development Index but not on the NATO list above include

Variations in definitions

Since the end of the Cold War, the original definition of First World is no longer necessarily applicable. There are varying definitions of the First World, however they follow the same idea. John D. Daniels, past president of the Academy of International Business, defines the First World to be consisting of "high-income industrial countries." Scholar and Professor George J. Bryjak defines the First World to be the "modern, industrial, capitalist countries of North America and Europe." L. Robert Kohls, former director of training for the U.S. Information Agency and the Meridian International Center in Washington, uses First World and "fully developed" as synonyms.

Other Indicators

Varying definitions of the term First World and the uncertainty of the term in today's world leads to different indicators of First World status. In 1945, the United Nations (UN) used the terms first, second, third, and fourth worlds to define the relative wealth of nations (although popular use of the term fourth world did not come about until later). They were defined in terms of Gross National Product (GNP), measured in U.S. dollars, along with other socio-political factors. The first world included the large industrialized, democratic (free elections, etc.) nations. The second world included modern, wealthy, industrialized nations, but they were all under communist control. Most of the rest of the world was deemed part of the third world, while the fourth world was considered to be those nations whose people were living on less than US$100 annually. If we use the term to mean high income industrialized economies, then the World Bank classifies countries according to their GNI or gross national income per capita. The World Bank separates countries into four categories: high-income, upper-middle-income, lower-middle-income, and low-income economies. The First World is considered to be countries with high-income economies. The high-income economies are equated to mean developed and industrialized countries. According to the World Bank the countries with the top GNP include:

Three World Model

NATO Countries
The terms First World, Second World, and Third World were used originally to divide the world's nations into three categories. The model did not emerge to its end state all at once. The complete overthrow of the status quo post-World War II, known as the Cold War, left two superpowers (the United States and Soviet Union) vying for ultimate global supremacy. They created two camps, known as blocs. These blocs formed the basis of the concepts of the First and Second Worlds.

Early in the Cold War era, NATO and the Warsaw Pact were created by the United States and The Soviet Union, respectively. They were also referred to as the Western Blocmarker and the Eastern Bloc. The circumstances of these two blocks were so different that they were essentially two worlds, however they were not numbered first and second. The onset of the Cold War is famously marked by Winston Churchill's famous "Iron Curtain" speech. In this speech, Churchill describes the division of the West and East to be so solid that it could be called an iron curtain.

In 1952, the French demographer Alfred Sauvy coined the term Third World in reference to the three estates in pre-revolutionary France. The first two estates being the nobility and clergy and everybody else comprising the third estate. He compared the capitalist world (i.e. First World) to the nobility and the communist world (i.e. Second World) to the clergy. Just as the third estate comprised of everybody else, Sauvy called the Third World all the countries that were not in this Cold War division, i.e. the unaligned and uninvolved states in the "East-West Conflict." With the coining of the term Third World directly, the first two groups came to be known as the "First World" and "Second World," respectively. Here the three world system emerged.

However, Shuswap Chief George Manuel believes the Three World Model to be outdated. In his 1974 book The Fourth World: An Indian Reality, he describes the emergence of the Fourth World while coining the term. The fourth world refers to "nations," e.g. cultural entities and ethnic groups, of indigenous people who do not compose states in the traditional sense. Rather, they live within or across state boundaries (see First Nations). One example are the American Indians of North America, Central America, and the Caribbean.

Post Cold War

With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Eastern Bloc ceased to exist; with it, so did all applicability of the term Second World. The definitions of the First World and Third World changed slightly, yet generally described the same concepts.

Relationships with the other worlds

In the Past

During the Cold War Era, the relationships between the First World and the Second World and the First World and the Third World were very rigid. The First World and Second World were at constant odds with one another via the tensions between their two cores, the United States and the Soviet Union, respectively. The Cold War, by virtue of its name, was a primarily ideological struggle between the First and Second Worlds, or more specifically the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Multiple doctrines and plans dominated Cold War dynamics including the Truman Doctrine, Marshall Plan (from the U.S) and the Molotov Plan (from the Soviet Union). The extent of the odds between the two worlds is evident in Berlinmarker - which was then split into East and West. In order to stop their citizens in East Berlin from having too much exposure to Western and Capitalistic wealth and happiness, the Soviet Union put up the Berlin Wallmarker within the actual city.

The relationship between the First World and the Third World is characterized by the very definition of the Third World. Because countries of the Third World were noncommittal and non-aligned with both the First World and the Second World, they were targets for recruitment. In the quest for expanding their sphere of influence, the United States (core of the First World) tried to establish democracy and capitalism in the Third World. In addition, because the Soviet Union (core of the Second World) also wanted to expand, the Third World often became a site for proxy wars.
The Domino Theory
examples include Vietnammarker and Koreamarker. Success lay with the First World if at the end of the War the country became capitalistic and democratic, and with the Second World if the country became communist. While Vietnam as a whole was eventually communized, only the northern half of Korea remained to be communist. The Domino Theory largely governed United States policy regarding the Third World and their rivalry with the Second World. In light of the Domino Theory, the U.S. saw winning the proxy wars in the Third World as a measure of the "credibility of US commitments all over the world."


The movement of people and information largely characterizes the inter-world relationships in the present day. A majority of breakthroughs and innovation originate in Western Europe and the U.S. and later their effects permeate globally. As judged by the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, most of the Top 30 Innovations of the Last 30 Years were from former First World countries (e.g. the U.S. and countries in Western Europe).

Global distribution of Malaria risk.
The disparity between knowledge in the First World as compared to the Third World is evident in healthcare and medical advancements. Deaths from water-related illnesses have largely been eliminated in "wealthier nations," while they are still a "major concern in the developing world." Widely treatable diseases in the developed countries of the First World, malaria and tuberculosis needlessly claim many lives in the developing countries of the Third World. 900,000 people die from malaria each year and combating malaria accounts for 40% of health spending in many African countries. Malaria as well as other diseases already conquered in the First World, wreak havoc in the Third World, trapping "communities in a downward spiral of poverty." However, many First World countries are making plans to help Third World countries gain access to information and advancements. U.S. President Barack Obama has pledged to "end deaths by malaria by 2015" by achieving "universal access to proven, low-cost malaria treatment and prevention efforts."

The International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) recently announced that the first Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) will be available as soon as the summer of 2010. These include non-Latin domains such as Chinese, Arabic, and Russian. This is one way that the flow of information between the First and Third Worlds may become more even.

The movement of information and technology from the First World to various Third World countries has created a general "aspir(ation) to First World living standards." The Third World has lower living standards as compared to the First World. Information about the comparatively higher living standards of the First World come through television, commercial advertisements and foreign visitors to their countries. This exposure causes two changes: a) living standards in some Third World countries rises and b) this exposure creates hopes and many from Third World countries immigrate - both legally and illegally - to these First World countries in hopes to attain that living standard and prosperity. In fact, this immigration is the "main contributor to the increasing populations of U.S. and Europe." While these immigrations have greatly contributed to globalization, they have also precipitated trends like brain drain and problems with repatriation. They have also created immigration and governmental burden problems for the countries (i.e. First World) to which people are immigrating to.

Environmental Impact

CO2 emissions per capita
It has been argued that the most important human population problem for the world is not the high rate of population increase in certain Third World countries, but rather the "increase in total human impact." The per-capita impact - the resources consumed and the wastes created by each person - is varied globally; the highest being in the First World and the lowest in the Third World: inhabitants of the U.S., Western Europe and Japan consume 32 times as much resources and put out 32 times as much waste than those in the Third World. Also, for example, first world countries, such as America, Australia, Japan, Canada are producing the most CO2 in the world, contributing to the greenhouse gas emissions in a massive way. These first world countries use natural resources until near depletion occurs; this happens because the country has the wealth to buy these products. There are the exceptions, first world countries like Norwaymarker, Swedenmarker, and Germanymarker have worked with the environment and benefited economically from being environmentally sustainable.

As large consumers of fossil fuels, First World countries drew attention to environmental pollution. The Kyoto Protocol is a treaty that is based on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was finalized in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio. It proposed to place the burden of protecting the climate on the United States and other First World countries. Countries that were considered to be developing, such as China and India, were not required to approve the treaty because they were more concerned that restricting emissions would further restrain their development.

International Relations

Until the recent past, little attention was paid to the interests of Third World countries. This is because most international relations scholars have come from the industrialized, First World nations. As more countries have continued to become more developed, the interests of the world have slowly started to shift. However, First World nations still have many more universities, professors, journals, and conferences, which has made it very difficult for Third World countries to gain legitimacy and respect with their new ideas and methods of looking at the world.

Development Theory

During the Cold War, the modernization theory and development theory developed in the West as a result of their economic, political, social, and cultural response to the management of former colonial territories. Western scholars and practitioners of international politics hoped to theorize ideas and then create policies based on those ideas that would cause newly independent colonies to change into politically developed sovereign nation-states. However, most of the theorists were from the United States, and they were not interested in Third World countries achieving development by any model. They wanted those countries to develop through liberal processes of politics, economics, and socialization; that is to say, they wanted them to follow the Western liberal capitalist example of a so-called "First World state." Therefore, the modernization and development tradition consciously originated as a Western (mostly U.S.) alternative to the Marxist and neo-Marxist strategies promoted by the "Second World states" like the Soviet Union. It was used to explain how developing Third World states would naturally evolve into developed First World States, and it was partially grounded in liberal economic theory and a form of Talcott Parsons' sociological theory.


The United Nations's ESCWA has written that globalization "is a widely-used term that can be defined in a number of different ways." Joyce Osland from San Jose State Universitymarker wrote, "Globalization has become an increasingly controversial topic, and the growing number of protests around the world has focused more attention on the basic assumptions of globalization and its effects." "Globalization is not new, though. For thousands of years, people—and, later, corporations—have been buying from and selling to each other in lands at great distances, such as through the famed Silk Road across Central Asia that connected China and Europe during the Middle Ages. Likewise, for centuries, people and corporations have invested in enterprises in other countries. In fact, many of the features of the current wave of globalization are similar to those prevailing before the outbreak of the First World War in 1914."

World Trade Organization

As defined by its website, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is "is the only global international organization dealing with the rules of trade between nations." Established not long ago in 1995, it's predecessor was the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). This organization focuses on economic growth and development in regards to negotiations amongst international trading.

117 of the 153 countries belonging to the WTO are considered developing countries like the United States, and the European Union. Countries like China, Brazil, India and South Africa are considered some of the most influential members within the WTO. Developing countries are said to receive special treatment and provisions according to certain agreements held by the WTO. This special treatment could be defined as: "including longer time periods to implement agreements and commitments, measures to increase their trading opportunities and support to help them build the infrastructure for WTO work, handle disputes, and implement technical standards." The use (or misuse) of these privileges can be, and ofen are, questioned and challenged by other members. Amongst these developing countries are smaller, more intricate groups a.k.a. alliances. The Cairns group of seventeen is composed of developed and developing nations, and has existed since the mid-1980's. While this alliance has seemed to disappear over the years, another group of twenty or "G-20" has risen; made up of countries like India, China Egypt, Argentina and South Africa. Various groups continues to develop to handle such issues as development, membership, and regional trade.

The European Union

The most prominent example of globalization in the first world is the European Union (EU). The European Union is an agreement in which countries voluntarily decide to build common governmental institutions to which they delegate some individual national sovereignty so that decisions can be made democratically on a higher level of common interest for Europe as a whole. The result is a union of 27 Member States covering with roughly half a billion people. In total, the European Union produces almost a third of the world’s gross national product and the member states speak more than 23 languages. All of the European Union countries are joined together by a hope to promote and extend peace, democracy, cooperativeness, stability, prosperity, and the rule of law. In a 2007 speech, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European Commissioner for External Relations, said herself, "The future of the EU is linked to globalization...the EU has a crucial role to play in making globalization work properly...".

Just as the concept of the First World came about as a result of World War II, so did the European Union. In 1951 the beginnings of the EU were founded with the creation of European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). From the beginning of its inception, countries in the EU were judged by many standards, including economic ones. This is where the relation between globalization, the EU, and First World Countries arises. Especially during the 1990s when the EU focused on economic policies such as the creation and circulation of the Euro, the creation of the European Monetary Institute, and the opening of the European Central Bankmarker.

In 1993, at the Copenhagen European Council, the European Union took a decisive step towards expanding the EU, what they called the Fifth Enlargement, agreeing that “the associated countries in Central and Eastern Europe that so desire shall become members of the European Union.” Thus, enlargement was no longer a question of if, but when and how.

The European Council stated that accession could occur when the prospective country is able to assume the obligations of membership, that is that all the economic and political conditions required are attained.

Furthermore, it defined the membership criteria, which are regarded as the Copenhagen criteria, as follows:

  • stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities
  • the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union
  • the ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic & monetary union

It is clear that all these criteria are characteristics of developed countries. Therefore, there is a direct link between globalization, developed nations, and the European Union.

Multinational Corporations

A majority of Multinational Corporations find their origins in First World countries. After the fall of communism, Multinational Corporations proliferated as more countries focused on global trade. The series of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and later the World Trade Organization (WTO) essentially ended the protectionist measures that were dissuading global trade. The eradication of these protectionist measures, while creating avenues for economic interconnection, mostly benefited developed countries, who by using their power at GATT summits, forced developing and underdeveloped countries to open their economies to Western goods.

As the world starts to globalize, it is accompanied by criticism of the current forms of globalization, which are feared to be overly corporate-led. As corporations become larger and multinational, their influence and interests go further accordingly. Being able to influence and own most media companies, it is hard to be able to publicly debate the notions and ideals that corporations pursue. Some choices that corporations take to make profits can affect people all over the world. Sometimes fatally.

The third industrial revolution is spreading from the developed world to some, but not all, parts of the developing world. To participate in this new global economy, developing countries must be seen as attractive offshore production bases for multinational corporations. To be such bases, developing countries must provide relatively well-educated workforces, good infrastructure (electricity, telecommunications, transportation), political stability, and a willingness to play by market rules.

If these conditions are in place, multinational corporations will transfer via their offshore subsidiaries or to their offshore suppliers the specific production technologies and market linkages necessary to participate in the global economy. By themselves, developing countries, even if well educated, cannot produce at the quality levels demanded in high-value-added industries and cannot market what they produce even in low-value-added industries such as textiles or shoes. Put bluntly, multinational companies possess a variety of factors that developing countries must have if they are to participate in the global economy.


Outsourcing is very controversial and affects every part of business from manufacturing through to design, software development, financial control, logistics management, customer support and sales. Outsourcing has been praised as cost-effective, efficient, productive and strategic - but also condemned as evil, money-grabbing, destructive, ruthless, exploiting the poor. Outsourcing involves the shift from domestic to foreign production of the intermediate input. As a consequence of outsourcing, the skill-intensity of production rises within sectors of the economy.

Most outsourcing is by large companies, yet small companies provide most jobs in America and Europe, and most of the economic growth. Big companies create headlines but the greatest impact is elsewhere and almost invisible. The UK has 3.3 million companies. If each one takes on just one more person on average, the result would be more than 3 million new jobs, and that is what has happened in the last few years, with unemployment at very low levels despite several million people added to the labor force. Yet 6,000 redundancies at a factory is mistakenly seen as a national crisis.

Research shows that some of the new economic activity generated in developing countries by outsourcing will generate new demand for goods and services in the country where the jobs have moved from (e.g., America). McKinsey Global Institute estimates that for every dollar US corporations spend on outsourcing to India, 33c gets 33c and the US economy benefits by $1.14. This is based on several assumptions: that 69% of displaced service workers will find new jobs within a year, and will end up earning 96% of their previous wages - backed up by 1979-1999 data. However older workers may be out of work for a long time, especially if their education is poor.

See also


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