What Is a Second World Country?

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Have you ever heard of the term Second World country? It can actually refer to more than one thing. This lesson explains its historic and modern usage.

The Nations of The World

We can split up the nations of the world in many ways. It all depends on your perspective. We can split them into rich and poor, by dominant language, by dominant religion, by the type of government. We can go on forever here. One of the ways the world was once split up, in a theoretical sense of the term, was by being divided into first, second, and third world countries.

This lesson focuses on explaining the concept of a Second World country through first a historical and then a more modern lens.

The Original Second World Countries

Not too long ago, there existed an incredibly large and quite powerful nation called the Soviet Union (USSR). It consisted of what is now Russia as its core member, with the capital of the Soviet Union being Moscow, Russia. The rest of the Soviet Union included member states that are now independent countries called:

  • Armenia
  • Azerbaijan
  • Belarus
  • Estonia
  • Georgia
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Moldova
  • Tajikistan
  • Turkmenistan
  • Ukraine
  • Uzbekistan

The Soviet Union was founded in 1922 and fully dissolved in 1991. During its existence, the Soviet Union was far and away the most powerful and influential communist nation on Earth. At the time, the Western democracies decided to label the Soviet Union and other communist nations of the world as Second World countries. Meaning, the original term of a Second World country had a more geopolitical ring to it. Other communist nations at the time were:

  • Poland
  • Albania
  • Yugoslavia
  • Czechoslovakia
  • Romania
  • Bulgaria
  • Hungary
  • East Germany
  • Angola
  • Benin
  • Congo-Brazzaville
  • Ethiopia
  • Mozambique
  • Somalia
  • Afghanistan
  • Cambodia
  • Mongolia
  • North Vietnam
  • South Yemen
  • China
  • North Korea
  • Vietnam
  • Laos
  • Cuba

All but the last 5 nations are no longer communist, having dissolved or overthrown their communist regimes right around the time the Soviet Union, their main benefactor (or oppressor), collapsed as well.

This map shows the historical Second World countries in red.
second world country

Modern Parlance

In modern parlance, the term Second World is used far more loosely. Today it is sometimes used by people to refer to countries with developing economies that are not quite as advanced as Western nations like the U.S. but definitely not as far behind as many developing nations, such as some of those in found in Africa. But the delineation between these nations is very subjective and can be based on many other factors.

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