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Non Alignment Movement and its significance

Read more on:  Non Alignment Movement, NAM, Iran, Ban Ki moon

13:37 09/10/2012

Non Alignment Movement (NAM) has been described as the largest politically-oriented body in the world. Today, NAM has redefined itself as a movement for countries that are not aligned with any major powers. Gradually NAM is becoming increasingly vocal about resisting the hegemony of the sole superpower, the US, and is asserting the independence of its members from the dominance of the West. NAM was an influential force in world politics during the Cold War period. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the significance of the movement diluted to a certain extent. A book on The Soviet Union and the Strategy of Non-Alignment in the Third World by Roy Allison mentioned that the official Soviet encouragement for the policy of non-alignment and Soviet support for the program of the Non-Aligned Movement in the 1960s and 1970s have been a part of a broad Soviet strategy aimed at weakening and ultimately supplanting Western military and political ties with the Third World Countries. He argued in his book that during that period the Soviet officials have been reluctant to view neutrality, neutralism or non-alignment as concepts or policies which denote an intermediate status between the blocs.

Today, most of NAM members are UN members as well and issues explored by NAM have been and are on the UN agenda too. The NAM, with 120 countries as its full members and 17 observer members, includes many countries and governments of the world. This is a group whose voices cannot be ignored. India as the founder member of the Non Alignment Movement tries to engage proactively on number of issues significant to the Movement. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, was one among the five leaders who initiated this movement. During last two-day Summit in Tehran India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has lead the Indian delegation.

Amidst Western efforts to isolate Iran over its nuclear program, the 16th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement took place in Tehran. Syrian crisis and Palestine statehood dominated among  the Summit agenda issues. The Summit opened in Tehran with Iran assuming the Chair from Egypt for the next three years period. For Iran the last NAM summit was of grave significance. Many NAM members appear to agree on Tehran’s argument that it is pursuing peaceful nuclear energy, as permitted under the NPT (Non-proliferation Treaty). Iran is already a nuclear powered state, with its first reactor started its operation in Busher, in 2011. Many suspects Iranian nuclear weapons ambitions, but at the same time, are not willing to accept Western double standard that sanctions Iran while ignoring Israel’s nuclear program.

Iran showed last NAM Summit as evidence that despite the best efforts by the United States and the West it has not been isolated diplomatically. The Summit had sessions which devoted to topics ranging from nuclear disarmament to UN reform, sustainable development, human rights, and opposition to unilateral sanctions. Both the United States and Israel have criticized the decision by UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon to attend Tehran’s summit, arguing that his presence would increase the propaganda of the Iranian regime and reduce the perception of Iran’s diplomatic isolation. However, if Ban Ki-moon would have declined to attend the Summit, he would have reinforced widespread perceptions that he is a tool of the West. But in choosing to attend, Ban Ki-moon showed his obligation to hold the Iranian government to account for its behavior, by pointedly condemning Iran’s atrocious human rights record and its failure to cooperate with the IAEA and come clean about its clandestine nuclear weapons program. Though the UN Secretary-General’s presence in the NAM summit has caused uneasy rumbles, but Ban Ki-moon's decision to attend the sixteenth summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran followed the precedent set by his predecessors and reaffirmed the interlinked relationship between the UN and NAM. By attending the Summit he also confirmed the universality of the Secretary-General's role, and its independence from bilateral disputes. Ban-Ki moon showed that by attending NAM summit he took seriously his responsibility and that of the UN to pursue diplomatic engagement with all member states for peacefully addressing vital matters of international security.While US has asked countries and few leaders not to attend the NAM Summit due to its venue, Iran has projected the presence of world's leaders as a big diplomatic win and this also showed Iran’s good ties with many countries of the world.

West downplayed the significance of such a large gathering in Iran. They have not perceived NAM as an ideological forum for discussing international issues. Nonetheless, the summit became more significant than West predicted. Now NAM has showed that it has potential of becoming significant group moving away from West. Even Russia and China’s representatives attended the Summit. China has the status of observers in the NAM and Russia which was not been part of the NAM, has been invited as Iran’s special guests and was represented by Konstantin Shuvalov as envoy of Russia’s President. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has sent warm greetings to the nonaligned summit in Tehran vowing to step-up cooperation with the movement. Mr. Putin also mentioned that Russia is ready to cooperate with the Nonaligned Movement in the interests of peace and prosperity.

Of course, the West will continue to ignore and play down the growth of this movement, like they did with the last Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit which took place in Beijing, China, from June 6-7, 2012. During NAM summit proposals were made for expansion of commerce and trade between member states. However, till date it did not provide much economic or social benefit to the member states. NAM needs to be better equipped to take on economic and social challenges too along with the political issues & concerns. Though it is clear that today NAM has gained its relevance and there is no question that Iran would try to make NAM more relevant during its tenure as the Chair of the movement. Last NAM Summit has provided Iran important diplomatic support in its nuclear dispute with the Atlanticists. Iran has increased its negotiation powers with NAM countries after the Summit.

NAM still holds high symbolic significance. Of course, NAM is also facing challenges while having its own weaknesses. NAM has its own strengths and their importance should not be downplayed. The movement puts the emphasis on the principle of cooperation among nations and continues its support for maintaining peace. It encourages disarmament, insists on the nations’ right to self-determination, emphasizes on the need for structural changes in the United Nations, especially the Security Council, in order to encourage optimal participation of the international community in international processes related to the fate of humanity, insists on the adoption and implementation of multilateral policies as well as focuses strongly on unanimity on issues such as human rights and cultural pluralism.

Nivedita Das Kundu, Ph.D., is Foreign Policy Analyst, Assistant Director, Indian Council  of Social Science Research, New Delhi, India.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.

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