Western countries (or sometimes the West) is a somewhat imprecisely-defined term which is now used to refer to wealthy, industrialised, countries. Depending on context, it may be restricted to the United States of America, Canada, and the parts of Europe that were members of NATO (excluding Turkey) during the Cold War - a broader definition extends to some or all of Australia, New Zealand, some of the more prosperous Warsaw Pact nations or their descendants, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and even Israel. Latin America is sometimes considered part of the West and sometimes not part of the West. Mainland China, the Middle East, India, and Russia are generally not considered part of the West.
Western countries have in common a high standard of living for most citizens compared to the rest of the world, democratic, mostly secular governments, high levels of education amongst the general populace, and share much of each other's popular culture. Militarily and diplomatically, they have generally been allied with each other to a greater or lesser extent in most conflicts since World War Two. In fact, some would argue that this is the definition of the West and explains why Japan is usually considered Western while Ecuador is not.
However the notion of the the West also has a time component. Japan in 1950 would be considered by most to be part of the West while Japan in 1750 would not. Similarly, North America in 1850 would be considered part of the West while it would not be in 1450.
There are ideals that some associate with the West, and there are many who consider Western values to be universally superior. The author Frances Fujikyama argues that Western values are destined to triumph over the entire world.
However, there are many who question the meaning of the notion of Western values and point out that societies such as Japan and the United States are very different. Furthermore, they point out that advocates of Western values are selective in what they include as Western usually include for example the concept of freedom and democracy but not Communism and Nazism, both of which existed in the West. Therefore by selecting what values are part of Western values one can tautologically show that they are superior since any inferior values by defintion are Western.
A different attack on the concept of Western values is advocated by those who advocate Islamic values or Asian values. In this view, there are a coherent set of traits that define the West, but those traits are inferior and are usually associated with moral decline, greed, and decadence.
Historically, one of the interesting questions is how did the societies associated with "the West" come to dominate the world between 1750 and 1950.
"The West" also refers to the Western United States, expecially during the period of settlement, see The Western Frontier
Compare OECD, G7 countries, Eastern bloc, Third World, Pacific Rim countries