Is it time to take a call on NAM?

Ajay Vaishnav / Zee Research Group

As the world watches with varying interest the outcome of the deliberations at the ongoing Non-Aligned Movement Summit (NAM) meet in Tehran, the idea behind the movement itself has come up for review as never before.

This reality is known to the champions of the Non-Aligned Movement but they dare not yet admit it in the public. That is why the utterances this time too are on expected lines. Not surprisingly, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asserted the multilateral forum’s relevance in today’s largely multi-polar world.

The PM in his speech reiterated, “Our (NAM’s) shared objectives of working together to preserve our strategic space, ensure our social and economic development and strive for a more just and equitable world order remain as true and relevant today as they were in the past.” But, somewhere deep down within Singh knows that’s not true. He himself has in the recent past happily trumpeted the virtues of parallel exclusive clubs: from G 8 to Brics, Singh is all over, and nobody is complaining!

While the ongoing Tehran summit has garnered rave interest in the Western think-tanks and capitals, particularly Washington DC, it would be erroneous to assume that the group carries any weight in the world affairs, its two leading members – India and South Africa included. In fact, time is ripe for serious introspection and reorientation among its member states including India about the goals and objectives of the movement. That’s because the group’s objectives have long become redundant in a world increasingly characterised by multiple centres of power – political and economic.

In the early post-Cold War period, NAM’s case was still defensible as the developing countries needed a rallying point against the US’ (read Western) political and economic hegemony. However, the world today is vastly different from the early 1990s. The US, despite its pre-eminence in military, is no longer seen as a natural world leader. The last imperialist power has ceded considerable economic space to China, a unified Europe under German leadership, India and other Asian tigers, and emerging economies like Brazil, Mexico, South Africa. Aims like anti-colonialism, anti-apartheid et al have lost their lustre in a world which is increasingly becoming globalised and localised in economic terms.

Agreed, NAM could take up issues such as economic dependency, terrorism, human rights, tackling poverty and food security, technology transfer, global warming, nuclear and other arms race, human rights, the problem of Palestine as they remain key challenges before today’s world. But, the movement is not the suitable forum to gear and work towards these as it is laden with contradictions. Neither rhetoric nor triennial resolutions expecting to evoke conscience of defaulter nations will make any tangible progress on the ground. Take for instance, terrorism. The group and its member states may denounce terrorism in the best possible couched terms. But can the group show the political will to actually debar states like Pakistan for sponsoring and harbouring terrorists on its soil?

On human rights, many participating Afro-Asian and Gulf nations including the host will fail to get even pass marks. India too won’t escape from violating human rights despite bearing the brunt of foreign-sponsored terrorism. Despite its interest in Iran’s oil and natural gas resources, New Delhi shares western position on Iranian nuclear programme (we have voted thrice against Tehran at the International Atomic Energy Agency). To sum up in former junior external affairs minister Shashi Tharoor’s words, “NAM members are too hopelessly divided to forge a common position...” on any issue.

In his speech, the PM also referred to “the deficit in global governance”, particularly in the sphere of international peace and security. He asserted that “current structures for global governance remain driven by the power equations of the past.” True, the US-led Western nations retain dominance in global affairs, both within the United Nations organisations and outside through NATO. But, NAM cannot overlook the fact that American unilateralism, exhibited most crudely in Iraq, would be increasingly difficult to repeat.

Not only it will incur unmanageable war costs, the US authorities cannot get away without accounting to the people who are better connected to other parts of the world through the worldwide web.

Moreover, by merely targeting the US, the NAM runs the risk of carrying forward its Cold War legacy of anti-Americanism. During the bipolar world order, the group and many of its members invariably adopted anti-US and Israel stance while comfortably overlooking Soviet follies. With growing Chinese belligerence in our world, it is expected that NAM would care to not repeat similar mistakes. India with its close ties with the US has a greater responsibility in this regard.

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