Third World States: Building political institutions on a different ground

Author:Valentin Quintus Nicolescu

Valentin Quintus Nicolescu. “Nicolae Titulescu” Univerity; PhD Candidate with National School of Political Studies and Public Administration (NSPSPA), beneficiary of the project “Doctoral scholarships supporting research: Competitiveness, quality, and cooperation in the European Higher Education Area”, co-funded by the European Union through the European Social Fund, Sectorial Operational Programme Human Resources Development 2007-2013; (e-mail:

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In this paper I try to explore the main theoretical approaches concerning third world state problems, following the two traditional discourses: one originated in political economy and the other in comparative politics. I argue that both of these theories have limited explanative power, due to several causes. One of those causes is to be found in the assumption that western models (economic, political, historical, etc) are not only superior, but that they must represent a desirable standard to be achieved by third world societies. As a result, by relying on such standards, the analysis of those societies itself becomes biased, by assuming implicitly the existence of a set of goals for the third world countries, thus failing to produce valid explanations to the variety of issues present in the third world. The relevance of such an inquiry is to be found especially in the fact that, although after September 11 2001 the main fronts of the war on terror are in third world countries (as is the case of Afghanistan, Iraq or Pakistan), the western efforts to deepen our knowledge of third world societies in order to improve the political outputs towards (e.g.) democratization of those countries is minimal. In my paper I suggest that knowing more about the history of these societies (especially about certain aspects related to their political history) may provide not only researchers with a better understanding of the political processes taking place in the third world, but also may offer politicians the necessary tools so badly needed in elaborating policies regarding these countries.

My approach is methodologically traditionalist and theoretically critical. I intend to look critically at third world state edification from both theoretical and historical perspective, in order to mark the limits of current theoretical explanation and to identify those characteristics which are seemingly left out. Finally, I try to introduce a new criterion in third world states analysis – a political-historical one.

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I Defining the problem

The concept of “Third World” appears in 1952, created by the demographer Alfred Sauvy, who was thereby comparing the global situation of the ex-colonies to that of the “third estate” from during the French Revolution: just as the “third estate”, the Third World is nothing but “wants to be something”1. Sauvy separates the main characteristics specific with the Third World according to three criteria: the demographic, the economical and the civil-political criteria. As such, Sauvy listed a set of ten criteria by which the underdeveloped countries can be identified: high mortality rate, high reproduction rate (without drawbacks during maternity); physiologically insufficient alimentation; rudimentary hygiene; inferior condition of the women; use of children labor; poor development of the education system; preeminent assignment of the work able to the agrarian sector; poorly developed middle class; lack of free universal voting2. The researcher is faced from the very beginning with a vast field of research, marked by various issues, which only illustrate the huge heterogeneity of the Third World states. In fact, three years later, the political reality has confirmed, with the Bandung Convention, the unsurpassable divergences resulting from the political and cultural diversity and the conflict of interests still characteristic to the Third World states3. In fact, the only point on which all the attendants seemed to agree was the “rejection of any form of colonialism”, phrase that each of the delegates interpreted in his/her own way4. In effect, the only heading on which the Third World states seemed to come to terms during this initial period was the desire to safeguard their independence5.

As of 1961, after the Cairo and Belgrade Conferences the Third World becomes associated with the concept of nonalignment, referring to the political and military positioning of these states outside of the areas of influence of the two blocks of superpowers involved in the Cold War6. After the Cairo Conference of the states in the Nonalignment Movement (June, 1961), the purposes of the movement could be traced on four different directions: 1. preserving international peace and security; 2. real and effective international cooperation; 3. peoples’ independence; 4. the peoples of the ex-colonies claim their right to a development able to insure them a happier, better future7. In fact, all along this period the Third World represents the actual battleground for the two superpowers, as here are directed the political efforts for the counteracting of the spreading of thePage 397 influence of one, or the other of the two blocks8, and the “by proxy” wars, a defining element of the Cold War9.

At the same time, the UN becomes the main platform and political assertion ground for the Third World countries. As such, in 1960, the General Assembly votes the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, that, on article 6, condemns any attempt at the partial or total destruction of the national unity and territorial integrity of a Third World state, qualifying such actions as incompatible with the principles of the Chart of the United Nations10.

After the end of the Cold War, the concept of Third World was replaced, in the specialized literature, by the phrase “Countries under development”, this area representing, up to the present, the area with the highest conflict risk and instability rate on world level. After 10.11.2001 this characteristic becomes very apparent, the military operation stages of the war against terrorism being located entirely in the Third World11.

The main common characteristics of the third world states: dysfunctional, dependent economies, relying on the production of raw materials for the developed countries and operating as commodity markets for their processed products; traditional societies, mostly rural; a high rate of population growth and generalized poverty; absence or poor development of the democratic political institutions and of a pluralist political culture resulted in the creation of an apparently coherent image, at least with respect to the main problems that the Third World faces. At the same time, the generalizations regarding it suggest a non-existing unity: including the majority of the world states and a huge number of different peoples and countries, the third world is characterized by an astounding economical, political, social and cultural diversity that practically defies generalization.

II State development and building in Thirld World states- from the economical to the political

Despite their specific diversity, Third World states seem to have as common feature the underdevelopment12, but also the massive failure in eliminating it. The end of the Cold War generated a massive wave of optimism, which can be summed up by the conviction that, politically, Third World states will be able to solve their problems by adopting a development course towards a liberal-democratic future. This new course was supposed to bring about a set ofPage 398 reforms for the adoption of the market economy, the dispensing with the socialists views, which were typical until then to this area (and mostly ideologically inspired by the Chinese model), the creation of some effective representative political institutions13. However, this special situation at the end of the Cold War, as it was subsequently proven, did not save the Third World from all the avatars entailed by their dependency state (not only economical14, but political as well; more than once did the ex-colony states, on international level, appeal to the military support by the former imperial metropolises.) One could say that the contemporary times, fundamentally dominated by the globalization phenomenon and its effects15, seems to only have sharpened the inequalities on international level, thereby adding new dimensions to the economical, political and cultural subordination16. In this context, the theoretical answers the states of the Third World must provide to the challenges they face are multiple, but mostly addressing the same two old dimensions- economical and political. More precisely, a development gap between the Third World countries and the great economical powers of the world is found and then explanations and solutions for the surpassing of this development gap are sought.

The most employed and therefore widespread explanations with respect to the development issues, originate with the liberal and the Marxist theories, the latter being seen as a reaction to the former.17

Perhaps the most influential liberal theory is the one formulated by Walt Whitman Rostow at the beginning of the 60’s (20th century) in his work, The Stages of Economic Growth, proposing solutions based on the economic growth founded on the principles of the 19th century economic liberalism, solutions that subsequently reflected in international institutions, such as the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund. In Rostow’s Europe-centered perspective the only real way of overcoming the development problems of the Third World...

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