In 2016, instead of Prime Minister, the seventeenth NAM Summit was attended by the Vice-President of India. Since then NAM has been the centre of debate in India, with important scholars and leaders scrutinizing its relevance in the hastily changing global norms. Dr. S. Jaishankar recently said that NAM was an idea born in a particular temporality, and believes that India, taking the concept of independence of action from NAM, should move beyond it to respond efficiently to contemporary developments.
One need not introduce the NAM, a movement born out of the cold war and represented one of the most important factors of the changing international scene. The main objective of the NAM was to keep the newly independent third-world countries out of the non-necessary issues that might suck them in if they chose either of the blocs. Maintaining this line of thought many scholars argue that since the cold war has ended the purpose of NAM no more exists, so even the NAM should cease to exist. Yet, another set of scholars believe that the NAM is more necessary today as the gulf between the rich and the poor widens on a global scale.
The case for a redundant NAM
Prof. Hans Koechler, a leading expert on NAM says, “NAM is not relevant today, it was relevant only during the cold war era Bi-polar world. Now there is only one dominant global power (the U.S.) and in this unipolar world, NAM has lost its relevance. NAM has emerged more of a moral influence” adds Koechler. “It is not about the specific measures. It is about the principles of Sovereignty, Independence, non-interference, peaceful settlement of disputes and North-South relations and economic relations between member states”. Koechler also adds that most of the NAM countries are heavily dependent on the US which does not really leave them non-aligned.
The most significant case against NAM is that the cold war has ended and so has NAM’s raison d’etre. There is no more fear of two military blocs possibly destroying the world in the heat of the moment. The military blocs like Seato and Cento and Warsaw have become redundant and tumbled down. moreover, Military bases have become a thing of the past owing to advances in science and technology and its use for military purposes. The most crucial part of NAM’s agenda was that of pushing for the decolonization of all the colonized countries. As this task has been achieved there seems no reason to continue with the NAM.
Today the NAM is not in a position to act even as a forum for displaying solidarity. The NAM has no charter and there are no strict rules on whether the member countries have to defend each other’s actions. Today, the NAM competes with similar international organisations like the G-7, ASEAN, and the Commonwealth. However, due to the fact that they focus on business and trade, other organisations are more productive. This is not something the NAM does, nor does it engage in any diplomatic activity.
NAM has no actual issues either. Along with other social and economic challenges, it may have shown some leadership in the areas of nuclear nonproliferation, child labour, poverty, and terrorism. To be able to continue to have an impact on global politics, NAM urgently needs fresh topics and themes to concentrate on. If not, it will be yet another pointless conference. NAM has failed to make any progress even on issues where there is general agreement, like the drug trade, international terrorism, and non-proliferation.
According to Jagat S. Mehta, a former Indian Foreign Secretary; NAM was started to advocate for the independent rights of nations and that has been achieved, hence, the mission should be declared accomplished and NAM should be discontinued.
Is NAM really redundant?
Even with all these loopholes, NAM has maintained its regular schedule of summit meetings since its formation. Moreover, the steadily growing memberships of NAM eliminate all doubts as to the relevance of the NAM.
But this increasing number is also a bane to the organisation as it is turning NAM into a club where one can discuss and debate international issues rather than resolve them. The summit declarations don’t include anything particular that suggests the movement is really grappling with the problems caused by a unipolar strategy intended to retain the North’s hegemony over the South. Most importantly, the NAM’s progress towards its two primary and consistent goals, development and the eradication of poverty, continues to lag behind.
Despite the fact that the bipolar world has ended, Washington should not become the political Mecca for individuals who had shied away from aligning themselves with either of the two blocs. It is clear that the assertion that “NAM is dead” is being actively promoted by some Western commentators is nothing less than a canard (unfound rumour/story). A severely Euro-Center-centric international political landscape characterises the current unipolar world and is becoming increasingly featureless. The NAM, which saw the transition of the world from bipolar to unipolar and now a multipolar one, is possibly more important now than it has ever been in the history of international relations and development.
Today, more than ever, NAM has a plethora of work to do. It has to set up a new international order through the UN, restructure and democratize the UN; enhance South-South cooperation and coordination with the G-77; foster cooperation in the areas of food cooperation, population, trade and investment; ensure equitable international flow of trade and transfer of technology; and oppose interventionism and imposition of economic conditions on developing countries. Given that more than half of the world still suffers from the issues relevant to NAM, it is pointless to question the relevance of the same. As diplomat N. Krishnan reminds us, “dynamics of globalization have produced a whole set of new problems which the Non-Alignment Movement must take note of.”
The repetitive question of the time is non-alignment with whom? The answer is non-alignment with the hegemony of great powers. It may be difficult to practice it in a unipolar world but the policy as such does not cease to be pertinent (relevant).
India and the NAM
India is a founding member of the NAM. And since its birth NAM has been playing a very active role in fostering cooperation among nations, particularly among developing countries. India has felt it useful to continue to support and actively engage with the movement because it has provided a high profile and strong voice to India in international fora and affairs.
Especially, after the Covid-19 pandemic, India and most third-world countries have realised the need for solidarity against powerful institutions to avail even the basic necessities like healthcare. India’s Prime Minister, Mr Modi, also participated in the virtual NAM summit in 2020 and called NAM ‘the moral voice’ of the world. Moreover, in the emerging cold war between the US and China, it will be in favour of India to hold the leadership position in the Global South.
If India has the ambition to play a major role in the global economy and it must necessarily think of taking the leadership of the Non-aligned while taking into account the norms of international relations.
The time is ripe to evaluate the past and formulate future policies for the Non-aligned countries to change the existing international order. None of the NAM countries or groups of countries, however, big or rich they may be, can face these new realities alone. Hence, the countries of NAM must continue to stay and act together for common thought and action.
This means that the uni-dimensional and uni-polar version of the new international system needs to be contested by the NAM as a whole. Unity and solidarity among the Non-aligned countries are all the more necessary in the present crisis in international relations.
The realities of current politics make non-alignment equally relevant today for the developing countries of the world as it was during the cold war period. In the words of former Indian Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, “Nonalignment basically consists of the espousal of the right of nations to independence and development, regardless of the bloc phenomenon. Whether there is one bloc or more at a given moment, the urge for a nonaligned country would continue to be to maintain its independence, to take decisions according to its light, not tagging along itself, in advance to others.”