Why the Third World Matters1

  • Steven R. David
Part of the Issues in International Security book series (IIS)


The Third World has been and will remain central to U.S. interests.2 The risks of superpower confrontation, the use of nuclear weapons, and American (and Soviet) soldiers engaging in combat are all greater in the Third World than in Europe or Japan. Economic disaster to the United States and its allies is more likely to arise from developments in the Third World than anywhere else. It is in the Third World that the broader receptivity to American goals and values will be determined. In short, the instability and ferment characteristic of the Third World will continue to engage American interests with an urgency and unpredictability unmatched by its so-called vital allies.


Nuclear Weapon World Country World State European Economic Community Gross National Product 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    An earlier version of this chapter appeared in International Security 14 (Summer 1989), pp. 50-85.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    I have defined the Third World in general conformity with the categorization used by the United Nations to include all countries except the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the European states, and the Communist states of Asia.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    The school of thought that this article addresses is derived principally from the following pieces of work: Robert H. Johnson, “Exaggerating America’s Stakes in Third World Conflicts,” International Security 10 (Winter 1985–1986), pp. 326–68; Richard E. Feinberg and Kenneth A. Oye, After the Fall: U.S. Policy toward Radical Regimes, World Policy Journal 1 (Fall 1983), pp. 201–15; Jerome Slater, Dominos in Central America: Will They Fall? Does It Matter? International Security 12 (Fall 1987), pp. 105–34; Barry Posen and Stephen Van Evera, Reagan Administration Defense Policy: Departure from Containment, in Kenneth A. Oye, Robert J. Lieber, Donald Rothchild, eds., Eagle Resurgent? The Reagan Era in American Foreign Policy (Boston: Little, Brown, 1987), pp. 75–114; Stephen M. Walt, The Origins of Alliances (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987); and Richard E. Feinberg,The Intemperate Zone: The Third World Challenge to U.S. Foreign Policy (New York: Norton, 1983). For a concise statement of the hyper-realist position, see Stephen Van Evera, American Strategic Interests: Why Europe Matters, Why the Third World Doesnt, testimony prepared for hearings before the Panel on Defense Burdensharing, Committee on Armed Services, U.S. House of Representatives, March 2, 1988.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    The term hyper-realists was chosen because of the strong adherence of these authors to the realist school of international politics, especially as practiced by George Kennan, Walter Lippmann, and, to a lesser extent, Hans Morgenthau. The hyper prefix stems from their taking the emphasis of Kennan and others on material, objective factors (as compared to other factors such as ideology) to its illogical extreme. I am indebted to Aaron Friedberg for the use of the termhyper- realists to describe this school of thought.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Posen and Van Evera, Reagan Administration Defense Policy, p. 97.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Quote is from Slater, Dominos in Central America, p. 124.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Feinberg, The Intemperate Zone, p. 109.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Feinberg, The Intemperate Zone, p. 240.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Walt,The Origins of Alliances , see especially p. 282.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Michael C. Desch, Turning the Caribbean Flank: Sea Lane Vulnerability during a European War, Survival 29 (November-December 1987), p. 524CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Desch believes that Soviet use of Nicaragua to interdict American shipping would double the threat posed by Cuba.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Michael MccGwire, Military Objectives in Soviet Foreign Policy (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1987), pp. 48–49, 213–31.Google Scholar
  13. Walt, The Origins of Alliances, pp. 173, 175.Google Scholar
  14. 13.
    See lists by Aaron Karp, Ballistic Missiles in the Third World, International Security 9 (Winter 1984–1985), p. 176; W. Seth Cams, Missiles in the Middle East: A New Threat to Stability, Policy Focus, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, no. 6, June 1988; and Supporting U.S. Strategy for Third World Conflict (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Defense, June 1988), p. 13.Google Scholar
  15. 14.
    Newsweek, September 19, 1988, p. 30. The list includes Iraq, which is confirmed to have chemical weapons, and Egypt, Syria, Libya, Israel, Ethiopia, Burma, Thailand, North Korea, Cuba, Iran, Vietnam, Taiwan, and South Korea, which are believed to have them. The Peoples Republic of China and South Africa (not usually categorized as Third World states) are also included on the list of countries suspected of having chemical weapons.Google Scholar
  16. 15.
    Percentages are based on figures from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, National Foreign Assessment Center, Handbook of Economic Statistics, 1981 (Washington, D.C.: USGPO, 1981), Table 9. Percentages calculated by Kenneth A. Oye and can be found in Kenneth A. Oye, Constrained Confidence and the Evolution of Reagan Foreign Policy, in Kenneth A. Oye et al., Eagle Resurgent?, p. 10.Google Scholar
  17. 16.
    Tucker does not, however, believe that it is necessary for the United States to spread its values to the Third World. See, for example, The Purposes of American Power, Foreign Affairs 59 (Winter 1980–1981), pp. 241–74.Google Scholar
  18. 17.
    Report of the Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy, Discriminate Deterrence (Washington, D.C.: USGPO, January 1988), p. 16.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steven R. David
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceThe Johns Hopkins UniversityBaltimoreUSA

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