Second World

Countries that were under the rule of the Soviet Union.

Author: Rohan Arora
Rohan Arora
Rohan Arora
Investment Banking | Private Equity

Mr. Arora is an experienced private equity investment professional, with experience working across multiple markets. Rohan has a focus in particular on consumer and business services transactions and operational growth. Rohan has also worked at Evercore, where he also spent time in private equity advisory.

Rohan holds a BA (Hons., Scholar) in Economics and Management from Oxford University.

Reviewed By: Christy Grimste
Christy Grimste
Christy Grimste
Real Estate | Investment Property Sales

Christy currently works as a senior associate for EdR Trust, a publicly traded multi-family REIT. Prior to joining EdR Trust, Christy works for CBRE in investment property sales. Before completing her MBA and breaking into finance, Christy founded and education startup in which she actively pursued for seven years and works as an internal auditor for the U.S. Department of State and CIA.

Christy has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Maryland and a Master of Business Administrations from the University of London.

Last Updated:September 15, 2022

The obsolete term "second world" referred to countries that were under the rule of the Soviet Union. Here, the economies were centrally-planned and one-party regimes. 

Notably, the term refers to the Soviet Union that went out of favor in the early 1990s, just after the Cold War ended.

However, the phrase has also been applied to countries more secure and industrialized than the derogatory label "third-world" countries but less secure and developed than first-world countries. 

By this classification, practically all Latin and South America, Thailand, Turkey, South Africa, and many others are considered second-world nations. 

Investors frequently refer to these countries that look to be on their way to becoming first-world countries as "emerging markets." The phrase emerged during the Cold War and was used to identify nations that allied with the Warsaw Pact.

The Warsaw Pact was founded in 1955 in reaction to the United States and its allies' formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949 — NATO member nations and those affiliated with the faction were classed as "First World." 

The nations of the Warsaw Pact comprised the Soviet Union, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Albania, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria.

Warsaw Pact

The Warsaw Pact was a pact of collective defense signed by the Soviet Union and seven other Soviet satellite republics in Central and Eastern Europe.

The Warsaw Pact, formally known as the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance, was established on May 14, 1955, immediately following West Germany's entrance to the Alliance. 

It supplemented the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, established in January 1949 by the Soviet Union for the communist governments of Central and Eastern Europe.

The Warsaw Pact represented the Eastern bloc, whereas NATO and its allied nations represented the Western bloc.

NATO and the Warsaw Pact were opposed and developed their defenses over time, sparking an arms race that lasted for the duration of the Cold War. 

The Warsaw Pact ended on February 25, 1991, and Czechoslovakian President Vaclav Havel publicly declared it dissolved on July 1, 1991. Along with other measures, Gorbachev's policy of openness (Glasnost) and reform (Perestroika) paved the stage for popular upheavals.

In November 1989, the Berlin Wall collapsed, and communist governments in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Romania, and Bulgaria began to crumble.

The Soviet Union's dissolution quickly followed the Warsaw Pact's breakdown in December 1991.

Understanding the second world

According to the first definition, it includes, among others, Bulgaria, China, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Poland, and Russia.

According to geo-strategist and London School of Economics doctoral student Parag Khanna, there are around 100 nations that are neither first world (OECD) nor third world (least-developed, or LDC). 

Khanna underlines that a combination of two different worlds' qualities can coexist within the same nation. 

For example, a country's big urban centers may have first-world features, whereas its rural sections may exhibit third-world ones. For example, China's riches are prominent in Shanghai and Beijing, though many semi-rural and rural areas are considered developing.

The second world was then amended to refer to nations that fell between the first and third worlds regarding development status and economic indices.

Essential Criteria for World Segregations

Unemployment figures, child mortality and life expectancy rates, living standards, and income distribution may all be used to define a country's status.

Even in the United States, some believe that, while the majority of the country is fully developed, many areas are stagnant in their progress, even regressing to a condition more like that of a developing country.

According to MIT economist Peter Temin, the United States has even returned to developing nation status. However, Temin argues that about 80% of the US population works in a low-wage sector burdened by debt and has limited growth opportunities.

Classification based on income distribution

The income distribution is based on the Atlas technique, which calculates national income per person, or Gross National Product per capita. 

The inaugural World Development Report in 1978 featured classifications of "low-income" and "middle-income" nations, with a $250 per capita income barrier separating the groups.

The "medium-income group" was divided into "lower-middle" and "upper-middle" categories in the 1983 WDR, and a "high-income" nation definition was added in 1989.

Since then, the levels used to differentiate between income categories have been changed to account for price changes over time. As of July 1, 2019, low-income economies have a GNP per capita of $1,025 or less in 2018, calculated using the World Bank Atlas method.

Lower middle-income economies are those with a GNP per capita between $1,026 and $3,995; middle-upper economies are those with a GNP between $3,996 and $12,375, and high-income economies are those with a GNP per capita of $12,376 or more.

The original second-world countries

The original phrase refers to the ex-communist, industrial republics, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics' territory and sphere of influence (Soviet Union).

The primary component of the USSR was what is now Russia, with Moscow and Russia serving as the Soviet Union's capital.

Communist Yugoslavia was the only country in Eastern Europe that was not allied with the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union was created in 1922 and dissolved entirely in 1991. Throughout its existence, the Soviet Union was the most prominent and essential communist nation.

Western democracies agreed to classify the Soviet Union and other communist countries as Second World countries at the time. In other words, the original designation for a country had a more geopolitical ring.

Second World country list
Country Formerly part of Region
Albania   Southern Europe
Armenia Soviet Union Western Asia
Azerbaijan Soviet Union Western Asia
Belarus Soviet Union Eastern Europe
Bosnia and Herzegovina Yugoslavia Southern Europe
Bulgaria   Eastern Europe
Croatia Yugoslavia Southern Europe
Czech Republic Czechoslovakia Eastern Europe
Estonia annexed by the Soviet Union Northern Europe
Georgia Soviet Union Western Asia
East Germany   Western Europe
Hungary   Eastern Europe
Kazakhstan Soviet Union South-Central Asia
Kyrgystan Soviet Union South-Central Asia
Latvia annexed by the Soviet Union Northern Europe
Lithuania annexed by the Soviet Union Northern Europe
Macedonia, Rep. of Yugoslavia Southern Europe
Moldova Soviet Union Eastern Europe
Montenegro Yugoslavia  
Poland   Eastern Europe
Romania   Eastern Europe
Russia Soviet Union Northern Europe/Asia
Serbia Yugoslavia Southern Europe
Slovakia Czechoslovakia Eastern Europe
Slovenia Yugoslavia Southern Europe
Tajikistan Soviet Union South-Central Asia
Turkmenistan Soviet Union South-Central Asia
Ukraine Soviet Union Eastern Europe
Uzbekistan Soviet Union South-Central Asia

Key Points

  • Albania broke away from Soviet hegemony in the 1960s and allied with China.
  • The Soviet Union's violent annexation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in 1940 were considered unlawful by the US and other Western European democracies. The three republics were de jure, not recognized components of the Soviet Union.
  • Most states are no longer communist, having disintegrated or destroyed their communist regimes just as the Soviet Union, their primary benefactor (or oppressor), fell. The only countries that are still communist are China, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and Cuba.

Classification of the world

Following the events of World War II, the globe was divided into two enormous geopolitical blocs and areas of influence, each with opposing perspectives on governance and politically correct society:

1. The "First World" is a grouping of democratic-industrial countries inside the area of American influence.

2. The "Second World," or the Eastern bloc of communist-socialist republics.

3. The remaining three-quarters of the world's population, states that were not affiliated with either bloc, were referred to as the "Third World."

4. "Fourth World," created in the early 1970s by Shuswap Chief George Manuel, refers to indigenous peoples, "First Nations," who live within or across national state lines.

First World

The phrase "First World" refers to so-called developed, capitalist, industrial countries, approximately a bloc of countries associated with the US after World War II, with more or less similar economic and political interests. 

Countries like Canada, Western Europe, Japan, and Australia are part of the First World.

Second World

The term refers to the former communist-socialist industrial states (previously the Eastern bloc, the area and sphere of influence of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) that exist today: Russia, Eastern Europe, certain Turk republics, and China.

Third World

The term "Third World" refers to all other nations and is commonly used to refer to the developing countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

The phrase Third World encompasses both capitalist (e.g., Venezuela) and communist (e.g., North Korea) countries, as well as wealthy (e.g., Saudi Arabia) and extremely impoverished (e.g., Mali) countries.

Fourth World

The phrase "Fourth World" first appeared in print in 1974, with the release of Shuswap Chief George Manuel's The Fourth World: An Indian Reality

The word refers to indigenous peoples' countries (cultural groupings, ethnic groups) existing within or outside state lines (nation-states).


The countries of the First, Second and Third Worlds result from the Three-World model, which divides the world's countries into three categories.

This classification of nations was initially based on political ideology affiliation, with First World countries designated as countries aligned with the United States and Second World countries labeled as countries affiliated with the Soviet Union. 

Third-world countries did not support either the Soviet Union or the United States.


According to the notion, most of these countries had either a social democratic or a communist political system. 

Germany was remarkable for its division into two halves, with East Germany designated as a Second World Country and West Germany designated as a First World Country. 

The nation's capital, Berlin, was divided by a fortified wall erected through it to separate the two countries. The Soviet Union was at the center of World War II and impacted international politics among member countries.

As demonstrated in the Molotov Plan in the 1940s, the Soviet Union offered help to its ally nations as an alternative to American aid and aided other countries.

The second world concept after the Cold War

This concept was judged obsolete with the fall of the Eastern Bloc in the late twentieth century, as the collapse also heralded the end of the Cold War.

While the concept is still used (albeit infrequently), it is only used to characterize former communist nations with emerging economies. It is utilized from an economic standpoint, not as a political doctrine.


Researched and authored by Shannon Fernandes | LinkedIn

Reviewed and Edited by Parul Gupta | LinkedIn

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