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Updated: September 26, 2012 00:36 IST

Still relevant after all these years

K. N. Hari Kumar
Comment (15)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
The Hindu

India needs non-alignment not just to preserve its “strategic autonomy” but to mobilise developing countries on the basis of common interests

What was most significant about the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit that was held in Tehran recently was that almost all of its 120 members gathered there in the face of U.S., allied western nations and Israeli attempts to pressure and isolate Iran to abandon parts of its nuclear programme. Great pressure was even brought on United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon by Washington and Tel Aviv not to attend, but the mild and generally pliant Ban could not bring himself to abandon the precedent set by his predecessors and skip the event.

Confidence booster

The attempt to isolate Iran failed completely. Hosting the summit was a great confidence booster for Tehran which was able to present its case to the largest international organisation of developing nations. It showcased the lethal attacks on its scientists, suspected to be by Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad. In its final declaration the Summit unanimously supported Iran’s right to develop all aspects of its nuclear programme for peaceful purposes within the framework of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and criticised attempts to isolate Iran and punish it with unilateral sanctions. Even though NAM may not have the political, economic or military strength to successfully resist those powerful nations, it cannot be doubted that its support undermines the legitimacy of sanctions, especially those outside the U.N. framework, as well as diverse forms of undercover sabotage and killings by Israel with or without U.S. involvement, including any military attack if it were to take place.

It is in this context that the decision of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to resist U.S. pressure and attend the Summit himself has to be seen. Even though he made no mention of the Iran nuclear issue at the Summit, his very presence was seen as expressing the Indian government’s support for Iran and for NAM more generally. Further, there was considerable warmth in his meeting with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Besides, the Indian Foreign Minister met his Iranian counterpart ahead of the Summit to develop bilateral economic ties.

On the other issue on the international agenda, the Prime Minister spoke out forthrightly against “external intervention” in the Syrian crisis, which, he said, would “exacerbate the suffering of ordinary citizens.” He added that “NAM should urge all parties to recommit themselves to resolving the crisis peacefully through a Syrian-led inclusive political process.” This was directly in opposition to the U.S. stand and actions on the issue. But NAM could not come out with a clear stand because of many internal differences, especially among the Arab and Islamic nations, and the final declaration made no mention of the issue. This showed some of the limitations of NAM in areas involving conflicts between and within its member nations.

Is NAM still relevant in the post-Cold War world, in an era where the U.S. and its allies are politically, economically and strategically more dominant than ever? NAM is routinely derided by the western media and policymakers as an irrelevant “relic of the Cold War.” U.S. policymakers have explicitly stated that they would like to see India out of NAM altogether and even abandon the concept of non-alignment in its foreign policy thinking. Alternatively, they would like India to join their alliance of democracies against non-democracies, which in their opinion is the defining agenda in the present global scenario. Another idea is “multi-alignment” — participation in diverse international groupings of nations like G 20, G 77, IBSA, RIC, Brics, Basic, among others, for promoting different interests.

The reasons are not far to seek. Even from its pre-origins in the Bandung Conference of former colonial nations in 1955, NAM has meant much more than not being aligned with the two Cold War blocs. It was also conceived as the voice of the former colonies and poor nations in a world overwhelmingly dominated by the rich western nations. The G 77 which takes up the cause of the developing countries in international fora on economic and development issues was complementary to NAM. Solidarity within NAM provides strength to its member nations. Hence, NAM has that flavour of anti-imperialism associated with its origin and history which the rich and powerful nations would like to see forgotten.

In such a context what should NAM’s role be in Indian foreign policy? The Prime Minister in his address reaffirmed the continuing relevance of NAM. And he emphasised that NAM was important “to preserve our strategic space.” A recent policy perspective document developed by the a panel of “independent thinkers,” some closely linked to the Indian Government, titled Non-Alignment 2.0: A Foreign and Strategic Policy for India in the Twenty First Century, argues that the objective of non-alignment is to preserve and enhance the nation’s “strategic autonomy.”

Interestingly, the phrases “Non-Aligned Movement” and “G 77” do not find any place in it. Non-alignment has been redefined in exclusively Indian national terms to enhance its independence or sovereignty and provide room for manoeuvre amidst diverse pressures to promote its ambitions and interests.

What has been decisively abandoned is India’s solidarity with the developing countries and the aim of mobilising them on the basis of common interests and agenda. This perspective has become more influential in Indian policy circles especially after the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the initiation domestically of radical economic private sector oriented reforms at the start of the 1990s. However, the founding fathers of NAM saw the two objectives — national independence and the solidarity of developing countries — as profoundly interdependent for the former colonies which were embarking on the path of development in a deeply unequal world. Can they be separated in an age when there is no communist bloc to provide a countervailing force to the almost complete dominance of the rich and powerful nations?

In recent decades, the Indian government seems to have more faith in the U.N. as a forum to protect its independence and interests. But after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its communist allies, that institution has almost completely been dominated by the powerful nations. The U.S., long hostile to many of its associated organisations, has been openly sceptical if not downright contemptuous of it, even though its West European allies are keener to work within its framework. Whether in the context of lack of solidarity among the developing nations, the U.N. will be able to provide a check on those powerful nations is doubtful.

Change in perspective

This change over the last quarter century in the Indian perspective on NAM has to be seen in the context of its revised foreign policy agenda being almost exclusively focused on transforming the nation into a great power. The way towards this objective, it is felt, is to start thinking big, join the rich man’s club and enter into friendly relations with the rich and powerful nations for economic, hi-tech and military benefits and a place at the high table where the great powers decide the fate of humankind. Hence, one of its chief priorities is to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. Another, to be allowed hegemony in the South Asian region. To advance this agenda, friendship with the most technologically and economically advanced and militarily powerful nation, the United States, is seen as the most promising path.

But India wants to also maintain its “strategic autonomy,” “to preserve our strategic space.” Hence, the continuing ambivalence and shifting stands. India voted against Tehran earlier but has since resisted additional sanctions by the U.S.-led western nations. Also, it tried to resist attempts to restrict its oil purchases from Iran, before ultimately succumbing to U.S. pressure. It has also actively tried to increase its bilateral trade and economic ties and maintain more friendly political relations with Iran.

Even if building better relations with the rich and powerful nations has benefited India in recent decades, abandoning the solidarity with other developing nations within NAM may well end up adversely affecting the nation’s economic, political and strategic interests.

(The author is a former editor of the Deccan Herald newspaper.)

More In: Lead | Opinion

India made the very correct decision to attend NAM and support the
sovereign nation of Iran in its right to the development of peaceful
nuclear power. The blatant and lopsided imbalance that has prevailed
in the post-Cold War world with Western nations and their pet state
Israel getting away with war crimes in the lies preceding the Iraqi
invasion, the continuous killing of innocent civilians in collateral
damage and the massacre in Gaza (1600 Palestinian civilians were
slaughtered using WMD, tanks, planes and heavy artillery) has made it
essential for there to be an organization that can be an impartial
arbiter of international human rights. Next to the global but
ineffectual UN, NAM is the next largest organization that can represent
and insist on one set of standards for all nations.

from:  Bart Namboodhiri
Posted on: Sep 27, 2012 at 15:37 IST

In my opinion joining NAM at Teheran, India did the rightest thing for to oust NAM (
No American Manouevre ) from its Foreign Policy...

Cheers!

from:  Rupam mondal
Posted on: Sep 26, 2012 at 22:59 IST

India made the very correct decision to attend NAM and support the
sovereign nation of Iran in its right to the development of peaceful
nuclear power. The blatant and lopsided imbalance that has prevailed
in the post-Cold War world with Western nations and their pet state
Israel getting away with war crimes in the lies preceding the Iraqi
invasion, the continuous killing of innocent civilians in collateral
damage and the massacre in Gaza (1600 Palestinian civilians were
slaughtered using WMD, tanks, planes and heavy artillery) has made it
essential for there to be an organization that can be an impartial
arbiter of international human rights. Next to the global but
ineffectual UN, NAM is the next largest organization that can represent
and insist on one set of standards for all nations.

from:  Bart Namboodhiri
Posted on: Sep 26, 2012 at 20:17 IST

To my mind, NAM is more relevant today than ever, more useful to India
than being a puppet-member of a rich-man's club. The desperation of
the US policymakers to lure India comes from their financial
bankruptcy. Politically, the US domination and veto power in the UNSC
make it immune against any measures by the world today, that's
probably the way of an original arrangement structured especially by
the neo-"Anglo-American Empire" with a goal to have a situation where
the IMF and NATO rule the world.
India has the reputation of not only being corrupt, it is also thought
as being tactical only on short term "wishy-washy" basis, generally
acting only in the interest of those in the government rather than its
people. To prove it otherwise, India should get pro-active with
emerging economies that are largely independent as well.

from:  Rajan Mahadevan
Posted on: Sep 26, 2012 at 16:23 IST

In response to several comments about India's closeness to the erstwhile Soviet Union, Pls remember if the Soviet Union had not vetoed various US-sponsored resolutions in the UN Security Council on Kashmir and supported India on the issue, India would have been forced to kiss Kashmir good bye long ago!! And now, the same US is masquerading as India's friend to milk its market.

from:  murty
Posted on: Sep 26, 2012 at 10:28 IST

The Non-aligned Movement was born in dubious circumstances during the Cold War, having been formed by four Dictators, Nasser of Egypt, Nkrumah of Ghana, Sukarno of Indonesia, Tito of Yugo-Slavia, and one Autocrat, Nehru of India, to further their own ends. It failed because of its dishonesty and hypocrisy. India shamelessly supported the Soviet Union while pretending to be non-aligned. Only one country in the whole Movement was truly non-aligned, and that was Burma.

from:  Navi
Posted on: Sep 26, 2012 at 00:22 IST

Fiftyone years after the NAM's foundation in Belgrade, the world may have survived the specter 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, destabilization 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 interventions of the US and its NATO allies, have started hitting the sovereign countries where it hurts the most.

from:  Akhil Kumar Batra
Posted on: Sep 25, 2012 at 22:14 IST

The title itself rendered that how effective NAM is for the countries not been there in rich man's club. Although for India at this stage handshaking with powerful and rich nation is to protect its citizen interest is relevant, but still NAM has proved to be a powerful weapon for countries like India. I would like to say forthrightly that U.S's hegemony among all nations bumpy ride is most powerful. So at the same time we must develop to maintain strategic partnership with all nations so that it can find a place at high table where it can support and being supported by its partner, 'NAM' is symbol which India must preserve to take ride a long journey.

from:  Prasannajeet Mohanty
Posted on: Sep 25, 2012 at 20:55 IST

I don't see such bold messages in Indian media. It is first of its kind. It is correct that US foreign policies have only their own benefits. A country like India which has got freedom from western colony should not loose its value again by kneeling before Western Powers.

from:  Sadiq
Posted on: Sep 25, 2012 at 18:51 IST

NAM was never relevant. It is still irrelevant. The nations in it have been misaligned.

from:  T S Raman
Posted on: Sep 25, 2012 at 18:02 IST

A very good article. In my views India has done the right thing by supporting Iran at a time when the US is trying to isolate it. Iran is very important for India to achieve energy security. The USA will always want India to give up its NAM policy. The very essence of the foundation of India's foreign policy is NAM. The support of developing countries is necessary for India to secure a permanent seat in the UN security council and this support could be received by following the policy of non alignment.

from:  Divya Prakash
Posted on: Sep 25, 2012 at 13:59 IST

Very good article.

The ambivalence which India faces when deciding whether to colloborate with the rich and developed countries for getting similar progress for its people or to stand with NAM so as to maintain a strategic autonomy has been very well explained.

from:  Abhishek Singh
Posted on: Sep 25, 2012 at 13:02 IST

The trouble with NAM is that no member country is willing to commit the manpower and resources required to make NAM effective. Just meeting once in a while and making "motherhood and apple pie" statments don't work. Indian PM grandly resolves Syria would work out its problems peacefully. Yeah, right! We ALL know that. Obviously peaceful negotiations haven't worked out, that's why there is violence. Saying bland empty statements like "peaceful negotiations" etc doesn't advance the issue, it shows lack of a grasp of reality. The fact that there is a crisis means that peaceful means have failed. So what is NAM's solution? And are they willing to put their money where their mouth is? How much money and manpower will India personally commit to see the Syrian conflict resolved? How much will NAM countries as a whole commit? If the answer is zero, then NAM is irrelevent, no matter how much they talk.

from:  Bob
Posted on: Sep 25, 2012 at 06:25 IST

The first para gives away the hidden agenda of the author. His statement
..."What was most significant about the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)
Summit that was held in Tehran recently was that almost all of its 120
members gathered there in the face of U.S., allied western nations and
Israeli attempts..." means one has to be anti-U.S and the west (but be
pro-China pro-Russia) to be truly non-aligned. This is what GOI did for
five decades.

from:  Jay Ravi
Posted on: Sep 25, 2012 at 03:59 IST

NAM is more of symbolic use than anything else. But this symbolism is also of great value to India. Its a perfect way to send signals to US that US has a long way to go before she can completely woo India's heart and mind. And this is important that we just don't throw ourselves to US just to be in its favorite list.

Look at Pakistan. It degenerated in spite of being a top ally of US. Look at China. It is performing astonishingly well in spite of nowhere being in the US camp.
ofcourse, there are other allies of US who have performed well. But in general US has a tendency to make its allies completely dependent on her.
Whether, we want to be such ally or not is a different thing, but another important fact is that US must come forward to a far greater extent before anticipating India's faith.

US must offer India a big long lasting price and until that price is paid, NAM is the best teaser India can use to instigate US.

Long Live India.

from:  Prashant Kaushik
Posted on: Sep 25, 2012 at 03:14 IST
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