Non-Alignment Movement (NAM) was the movement of third-world countries that emerged after the 2nd WW. The movement primarily focused on preserving the newly earned freedom and sovereignty of these countries. During the early days, its actions were key factors in the process of decolonization. And it has played an important role in preserving world peace and security.
According to Prof. T V Paul, McGill University, the Non-Alignment Movement is an example of ‘soft balancing’ by weaker states towards great powers. As these countries had little material ability to constrain superpower conflict and arms race, they adopted the method of soft balancing through normative power. Normative power denotes a new set of values like peace, disarmament, development, autonomy of choice and the new world order.
History and Evolution of NAM (Non-Alignment Movement)
Bandung Asian-African conference in 1955 is considered as most immediate antecedent to the creation of NAM. The meeting was attended by 29 Heads of states belonging to the first post-colonial generation. The objective was to identify and assess world issues and pursue joint policies in international relations. However, there was also another important reason. These countries had newly attained independence. Development and increasing standard of living was the main concern for them. Thus, they did not want to be part of either the Western or Eastern block and get dragged into the cold war.
The ‘Ten Principles of Bandung’ were proclaimed at the conference. Such principles were later adopted as the main goals and objectives of NAM.
Six years after Bandung, the Movement of Non-Aligned countries was founded at the First Summit Conference of Belgrade, on Sep 1-6, 1961. The conference was attended by members of 25 countries from Asia, Africa Europe, and Latin America (Cuba). The newly created grouping, NAM was declared as a ‘movement’ and not an organization to avoid the bureaucratic implications of the latter. Further, the word ‘movement’ denotes the dynamism and the ever-evolving agenda in response to the global world order. The NAM was conceived to play an active role in international politics and to have its own stand on international matters. Which will reflect the interest of its members.
At present, the membership of NAM includes 120 member states and 20 observer states along with the participation of 10 international organisations. The below map shows the members and observer states of NAM.
Since its inception, the NAM meetings have been held every three years. The latest Summits being the 2016 Venezuela Summit and 2019 Azerbaijan (Baku) Summit. The 2022 NAM summit has been postponed and is scheduled in January 2024, in Uganda. Meanwhile, a virtual NAM summit was held online on 4 May 2020 titled “United Against COVID-19”.
Early Objectives and Achievements of NAM
The Primary objective of NAM focused on the support of self-determination, national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of states, opposition to apartheid, non-adherence to multilateral military pacts, struggle against imperialism and colonialism, racism, foreign occupation etc. Strengthening of United Nations, democratization of International Relations, socio-economic development as well as international cooperation on equal footing.
In the 1950s the movement played an important role in support of nations struggling for independence and against colonization. Third World showed great solidarity under the leadership of NAM and the movement gained considerable diplomatic prestige.
In the 1960s and 70s, the movement expanded to include nearly all Asian and African countries. The issues raised by the movement also evolved. It now included the struggle for the respect of economic and political rights of third-world countries. The Algiers conference in 1973 launched the concept of the ‘New International Economic Order’ (NIEO). The new order was proposed in the context of neo-colonialism, the drain of wealth from peripheries to the core (dependency theory).
Thus, the agenda of NAM was to
- Impose responsibilities on MNCs.
- Better valuation of the goods exported by developing countries, and
- Pressurising Western countries to transfer funds and technology.
Unfortunately, there was no outcome. There was a lack of solidarity among third-world countries. Western countries were successful in creating geopolitical conflicts among third-world countries. Further, the proposals were also utopian. It was not possible to get equal value to the raw materials and manufactured goods. It was an attempt to apply socialism in international trade. Although inspired by the Oil diplomacy of OPEC countries, the NAM didn’t have similar bargaining power, nor could it get the OPEC countries on board with its agenda.
By end of 1980s, the world observed the end of Cold War and collapse of the Socialist Block. It was assumed that the bipolar world order was the prime reason for NAM, and therefore scholars started asking questions about the relevance of movement. Some of the member countries like Egypt proposed the dissolution of NAM. Yugoslavia, one of the founding member, disintegrated and NAM countries played no role in handling the crisis. Further, NAM countries had no position on the issue of the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, both of whom were NAM members. Thus, it is said that since the end of Cold War, NAM has been in search of the agenda.
The Case for a Redundant NAM
Prof. Hans Koechler, a leading expert on NAM suggests that “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. Further, since most of the NAM countries are heavily dependent on the US, it 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, 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.
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.
According to C Rajamohan, an Indian academic and foreign policy analyst, the end of Cold War was the best time for a graceful exit from a platform that had no achievement in the past and no prospects in future. It was the best time as the NAM issue had taken the credit of ending the Cold War. NAM countries should have declared the ‘mission accomplished’, and disbanded it. Now, the movement is in a comma. NAM was irrelevant even before the end of the Cold War. After the Cold War, it was put into a coma because countries were not ready for its burial. They prefer to maintain the triennial rituals.
According to Prof. T V Paul, NAM never got the credit it deserved. There has been an intellectual bias against NAM. Despite all criticism, NAM acted as a limited soft-balancing mechanism. It has used ‘naming and shaming’ tools against great powers. The intellectual bias against NAM, a coalition of weaker states is as natural and expected as there is a bias against the subaltern class movements among upper classes and upper castes in hierarchical societies.
Is NAM Really Redundant?
While it is easy to dismiss the NAM as redundant, it is also important to note that it is the biggest organization exclusively of third-world countries. In the dynamics of international relations, it is not possible to predict when the need will arise to revive it. Since its formation, NAM has maintained its regular schedule of summits. Moreover, the steadily growing memberships of NAM have eliminated all doubts as to the relevance of the NAM.
However, 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, the development of the third world 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”, actively promoted by some Western commentators is nothing less than a canard. 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.
The end of one block has not done away with the problems of the world. New issues like terrorism and climate change have emerged which necessitate global coordination.
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.”
According to T V Paul, there is a space for the resurrection of the old movement as a soft balancing mechanism against powerful states. As great powers are once again in the arms race, militarization of oceans and territorial expansions, there is a need for weaker countries to come together to delegitimize imperial ventures. If third-world countries do not act as cushioning forces, international order will spiral into a hot war. Great powers always need to be restrained and balanced. Soft balancing by smaller states has a key role to play because military conflicts will ultimately bring suffering to them. There is a need to revive the ‘Bandug’ spirit. There is no hope from China and India to revive the movement because they are in the race of superstardom. The onus is on smaller countries.
Relevance of NAM for India
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.
After the disintegration of USSR, the then Indian PM PV Narasimha Rao had laid out the vision for NAM. In his words, “the main concern of NAM is not related to superpower rivalry, rather it is to give voice and address concerns of third world countries.”
If India has the ambition to play a major role in the global economy, it must necessarily think of taking the leadership of the Non-aligned while taking into account the norms of international relations. NAM provides a basis to build India’s soft power and even at present India needs third world solidarity.
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.
According to T P Srinivasan, NAM did benefit India because it allowed to promote our national interest as per our preferences, NAM has allowed India to manage through the situation of bipolarity. The movement is still relevant for India and India has stakes in the integrity of NAM. India has to seek partnerships with the countries so that it is able to exercise its freedom of thought and action, away from the influence of great powers like the US, Russia and China.
Martand Jha suggests that whether NAM is relevant for India or not depends on the prism through which we look at NAM. It would be a mistake if we just see NAM as a rejection of block politics. NAM was a policy for autonomy, to establish peace and security, and to contain the superpower’s hegemonic ambitions. Thus NAM needs to be reinvented. It is the biggest platform for developing countries outside United Nations. It provides a platform for the natural leadership of India. However, India needs to provide a concrete program of action, goals and leadership.
C Rajamohan, as quoted earlier, suggests that NAM was never relevant for India. NAM countries never supported India e.g. In the 1962 war, countries like Indonesia, and Ghana took a pro-China approach. NAM countries gave Colombo proposals that were favourable to China. In the 1965 war, NAM countries like Indonesia not only supported Pakistan but even supplied weapons to Pakistan. 1971 war, NAM countries of West Asia, South Asia, and South East Asia fiercely supported Pakistan and Sri Lanka provided re-fuelling to the Pakistani aircraft.
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 unidimensional and unipolar 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.”
The movement has succeeded in creating a strong front representing countries of the third world. Current challenges for NAM include protecting international law, eliminating weapons of mass destruction, making the United Nations more effective, defending human rights, security, stability and justice in the international economic system. The long-standing goals of peace, development, and economic cooperation, remain to be realized. Thus we can expect the movement to play an even bigger role in coming times.