The tension between the three world orders after World War II (1939–1945) manifested itself in territorial, economic, military, ideological, national, and political disputes during the Cold War. The First World, led by the United States, included Canada, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. The Second World was led by the Soviet Union and included Eastern Europe and China. The Third World, a more amorphous bloc, comprised numerous nations in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. During the Cold War, the First and Second Worlds competed for influence over the Third World, which was the weakest of the blocs.
One early conflict was over the Korean peninsula. The area was divided between the United States and the Soviet Union after WWII. The Americans created a government for South Korea, while the Soviets created one for North Korea. The dispute was territorial in that both sides sought to rule the entire Korean peninsula; the contest was also ideological between, communism and capitalism. The Korean War (1950–1953) ended in a bloody stalemate, and the peninsula remained divided.
In Korea and elsewhere, the First World implemented a policy of containment. The idea was to contain or limit the spread of communism. Containment included economic, political, and military dimensions. The Korean War was military containment.
After the end of the Korean conflict, the Cold War shifted to Southeast Asia. Vietnam—like Korea before it—was divided into a communist North and a pro-American South. The United States created the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (1955), a military alliance to contain communism.
Many Third World countries refused to join SEATO. These included India and Indonesia. They wanted to stay out of the conflict between the US and the USSR.
Point Four, launched during the presidency of Harry Truman, was an American program of economic aid to impoverished Third World countries. The idea was to spread freedom and peace and encourage emerging nations to decide against communism. Recipients of American aid were visited by American technicians, and thousands of their students went to the United States to study.
Another area of competition was Latin America. The US had claimed hegemony over this region since the Monroe Doctrine (1823). Cuba became a battleground. First, Fidel Castro overthrew a corrupt, pro-American dictator in 1959. By 1962, the US and the USSR nearly went to war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Alliance for Progress, like Point Four, was an economic assistance program—with a Latin American focus. The US often supported anti-communist dictators during the Cold War, and this was evident in Latin America. In 1973, the US backed a coup in Chile, and a brutal dictatorial regime took over that nation. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan's administration backed repressive regimes in Central America.
The Middle East and Africa were also areas of intense competition between the First and Second Worlds.
This era of world history ended when the USSR collapsed in 1991. The US proclaimed victory in the Cold War. But the real loser in the struggle was the Third World. Third World nations were used as pawns in a great struggle that did little to benefit their poor nations.