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Mainstream, VOL L, No 37, September 1, 2012

Nam’s Relevance in the Emerging Multipolar World and India

Sunday 2 September 2012, by Arun Mohanty

The 16th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) has kick-started at Tehran amid an intense debate about the Movement‘s relevance after the end of the Cold War and bipolar world. The media and public discourse about the NAM’s utility and relevance has intensified in the backdrop of stiff US opposition to the Movement as a whole and questioning Tehran’s right to host it in particular.

When you look back at the more than five-decade-old history of the NAM, you will find that the US was always opposed to the Movement which stood in the forefront of the fight against manifestations of neo-colonial and imperial designs of that country. While the former socialist countries lauded the objectives of the Movement and extended moral-political support to it, the US treated it as its foe saying “those who are not with us are against us”. When the NAM stood for political and economic independence of the newly-liberated countries, its member-states across the globe—be it in Asia, Africa or Latin America—were thoroughly destabilised in the most brazen manner, of course with US connivance.

The NAM was conceived as a grouping of countries that did not wish to be aligned with any of the two major military blocs—the NATO and Warsaw Pact—that emerged in the post–War world. People who question the relevance and utility of the NAM should ponder over the justification and relevance of the continuity of the NATO, which was set up to allegedly prevent export of communist revolution, while its rival, the Warsw Pact, has long disappeared from the global scene. The relevance and utility of the NAM is rightly justified by the neo-colonial policies manifested in the form of regime change across continents by the NATO headed by the arrogant sole superpower, the US.

The NATO’s unilateral military intervention in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and now its possible military action against Syria should not leave anybody in doubt that sovereign independent countries would be destabilised further if they do not fall in line with the US policy. If the 20th century would be remembered in history as the century that witnessed national liberation from colonial yoke, the 21st century is fraught with the danger of establishment of neo-colonial rule by the same old colonial powers headed by Britain, France and the US unless they are stopped on their tracks.

The NATO’s unilateral military interventions, gunboat diplomacy, blackmail and arms-twisting policies cannot be stopped unless a powerful movement stands up to halt it. The NAM has that potential though it has been weakened over the years. This is precisely the reason why the US is so irritated with the Movement. Washington questioned the right of Tehran to host the NAM Summit, and asked UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon not to attend it. It is commendable that the UN-Secretary General, using his independence of mind, is participating in the Tehran Summit. This is a double slap on the US’ face. The Summit is being attended by 35 heads of state and government, and Minister-level delegations from almost 80 countries. The only countries which are absent at the Summit are the US puppet regimes of the Gulf monarchies.

While the rationale of the existence of the NAM was called into question after the end of the bipolar world, many member-states, including India, a founder-member of the Movement, very judiciously argued against disbanding the organisation and pleaded in favour of continuing with the Movement.

The term non-alignment was coined by our first Prime Minister, Pandit Nehru, in his speech in 1954 at the Colombo conference, which became a milestone event toward building the Non-Aligned Movement in subsequent years. Nehru’s concept of non-alignment brought this country significant international prestige, particularly among newly independent states, that shared India’s concern about military confrontation between the two superpowers and enhanced our position in global affairs. New Delhi effectively used non-alignment to ensure a major role for itself as a leader of the newly independent world in multilateral international bodies such as the UNO and NAM.

Non-alignment presupposes participation in international politics by countries having no bloc affiliation. At the same time it does not mean passive neutrality or equidistance from the military blocs. It is neither a policy of silence for fear of the big brothers nor a policy of isolation from world affairs. But it is rather a strategy to take judicious decisions on all important issues according to one’s own independent judgement of right and wrong. In this connection it is worth recalling Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s words at the Seventh NAM Summit held in Delhi in 1983. Mrs Gandhi emphatically said: “Non-alignment is not negative, not neutral; and we cannot risk any shadow on our freedom of judgement and action. We have no quarrel with any group of nations, But we speak out against injustice.” India under Indira Gandhi attempted to reassert its prominent role in the NAM by focussing on the relationship between disarmament and economic develop-ment. By addressing the developmental issues of developing countries, Indira Gandhi and her successors exercised a moderating influence on the NAM, by diverting it from some vexed Cold War issues.

Fiftyone years after the NAM’s foundation in Belgrade, the world may have survived the spectre of mutually assured destruction of the Cold War period. But in the unipolar world that has since emerged and is led by the sole super-power, the US, what we witness is a grotesque rebirth of neo-colonial wars, aggression, regime changes through use of brute force, destabilisa-tion of sovereign, independent nations, return to arms-twisting, gunboat diplomacy, black-mailing tactics and, ironically, a renewed threat of nuclear war—the very causes of malevolence that had motivated the formation of the NAM in the early 1960s. Neo-colonialism and neo-imperialism, manifest in the brazen interven-tions of the US and its NATO allies, have started hitting the sovereign countries where it hurts the most.

International laws, all benign international organisations, including the UN and its Security Council, have fallen victim to US hegemony and unilateralism.
The post-Cold War era has seen more brazen interventions in the internal affairs of sovereign countries than before. And these have happened in the name of humanitarian interference, defence of democracy and human rights. It has seen more wars, more aggressions, more intimidations, more violence than in the bi-polar world of the Cold War era. The NAM may have lost some of its lustre, strength and momentum over the years but certainly not its purpose, goals and relevance. It still remains the largest world body (with 120 members and 17 observers)—the “biggest peace movement” in the global arena, to use Indira Gandhi’s words—after the UN General Assembly. It represents nearly 55 per cent of the world’s population and two-thirds of the UN body. Of course, a new lease of life has to be breathed into the Movement through a strong leadership and a new vision but surely the Movement should not be disbanded or thrown into the dustbin by using the bogey of ‘lost relevance and outlived utility’.

The NAM is not just the brainchild of India along with some other states, it stands for principles which India since independence has always espoused and pursued in international affairs: sovereign equality of states, respect for territorial integrity, a just, democratic, equitable world order and progress of the developing countries through accelerated socio-economic development. As a founding member of the NAM India has relentlessly and consistently worked to ensure that the Movement moves forward on the basis of cooperation and constru-ctive engagement rather than confrontation. India’s broad approach to the Movement in general and to the Tehran summit in particular should be oriented towards channelling the NAM’s energy to concentrate on issues that unite rather than divide its diverse and disparate membership so that the Movement can continue to serve as an effective mechanism for addressing the genuine concerns of the developing countries.

India’s foreign policy with non-alignment as its cornerstone, shaped by Jawaharlal Nehru, has been diluted to some extent over the years. India’s autonomy in foreign policy-making has been eroded during the last several years, which is reflected in numerous cases starting from our vote in favour of taking Iran’s nuke issue to the UNO, the abandonment of the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project under US pressure to its voting pattern in the UN Security Council on a host of issues. India is tailoring its policy taking the possible US reaction into account and under its close watch. It is sacrificing the cardinal principles of our foreign policy in the name of ‘pragmatism and realism’. Our first Prime Minister and the architect of independent India’s foreign policy, Jawaharlal Nehru, once spoke with clarity on the issue as far back as in 1946 when he emphatically said: “I am not prepared even as an individual, much less as the Foreign Minister of this country, to give up my right of independent judgement to anybody else in other countries. That is the essence of our policy.“ India needs to do some introspection on the issue of making independent judgement in matters related to foreign policy articulation without the fear of the big brother or global hegemon.

We should no doubt strengthen our ties with the US. But this should not happen at the cost of our relations with other states, more so at the cost of Iran—our declared strategic partner. We need this strategic partnership with Iran for meeting our energy requirements; for resolving important issues concerning Afghanistan, Pakistan; for getting easy access to Afghanistan, Central Asia and other countries of the CIS and Middle East. We can ill-afford to spoil this strategic partnership for the sake of our relations with some other country, howsoever important it might be.
In this connection it is worth mentioning the well-argued document prepared by some eminent foreign policy experts under the title “Non-alignment 2-0: A Foreign and Strategy Policy for India in the Twentyfirst Century”. The document rightly stresses that the core objectives non-alignment were to ensure that India did not define its national interests or approach to world politics in terms of ideologies and goals that had been set elsewhere, that India retained maximum strategic autonomy to pursue its own development goals and that India worked to build national power as the foundation for creating a more just and equitable global order. The document further says that our objective should be to enhance India’s strategic space and capacity for independent policy-making which will create maximum options for our own internal development. This should be taken note of seriously by our foreign policy-making experts and officials.

The US has been publicly urging India to leave the NAM. In this backdrop it is welcome that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is attending the Tehran NAM Summit, which gives us an opportunity to reassert our position in the Movement and impart new guidelines and a fresh vision as well as renewed momentum to the NAM while reinventing our strategic partnership with Iran.

Dr Arun Mohanty is a Professor at the Centre for Russian and Central Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He is also the Director of the Eurasian Foundation.

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