Non-Aligned Movement : Has it lost its relevance?

Many top leaders of developing countries gathered in Havana recently for the summit of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). However, this assembly did not receive world attention as in the past decades, though quite a few important leaders of the Third World attended it. One wonders why world opinion has developed apathy towards such a big assembly of nations. Has the movement lost its relevance?

Let’s re-read the nomenclature of the assembly held in Cuba. The moot question was, with which power the states assembled in Havana did not like to align themselves. In 1960, Nehru, Nasser and Tito initiated a conference of the newly-independent countries. Leaders were trying to build a world free from war to divert their energies towards building their economies to make their nations more prosperous by fulfilling the people’s basic needs. They were committed to saving the world from another scourge of war, which loomed large because of the growing clash of the superpowers and their allies — between the US-led Western nations and the USSR-led nations. The Cold War was at its zenith with a high possibility of the conflict spreading to other parts of the world. NAM was founded to prevent the escalation of conflict between the superpowers into another world war. Hence the countries that had not aligned themselves with either of the superpowers entered into a bond to promote world peace and disarmament.

We live in a completely different world. With the end of Cold War, there is little cha-nce of any conflict escalating into a murderous crisis. The conflicts have been limited to the areas where new nations, including NAM members, which have been fighting with each other or are gripped by terrorist activities born out of new ideologies.

NAM’s prime objective remains unach-ieved. Nuclear arms race has not stopped and the issue of universal and complete disarmament seems to have lost appeal. Billions are deprived of food, safe drinking water, clothes and shelter. Health services and primary education are still inaccessible to billions. Definitely, there is the need to focus on ensuring education, good healthcare and provisions to meet everyone’s basic needs. There is the need for an alignment of nations to free the world from hunger, insanitation, disease and ignorance. We need an alignment to achieve the common goals set by the UN charter.

The UN objectives should be broadened to enhance its role in every sphere — political, economic and cultural. The leaders have to address new threats that are likely to create civil disorder and insecurity. Terrorism is a bigger threat than inter-state wars. At least one can devise a mechanism to protect a nation from the threat of another nation but it seems impossible to protect people from the threat of instant annihilation. So the issue of terrorism, its causes and remedies are among the main agendas of mankind. The UN has to be strengthened by reforming its charter, thereby making it more democratic and deliberative.

Nuclear and conventional disarmament and strengthening of collective security have to be given due prominence. The curtailment of arms manufacture and their restricted use have to be discussed seriously.

In the absence of two or several rival nations that could escalate general warfare, the old nomenclature of Non-Alignment has become obsolete. Instead of coming together for a tri-annual gathering of a few nations, the UN member states should devote more time to the general assembly and the summit-level meetings. The gatherings of UN General Assembly sho-uld be organised more often. Though we cannot underestimate NAM’s past role, its relevance in the present world should be examined earnestly.

Even after the end of the Cold War, the expansion of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has continued. Recent times have seen the establishment of organisations like the EU, the ASEAN, the SAARC and many regional bodies. This trend has to be supported and expanded. Out of this will emerge a collective security apparatus not hostile to any regional group.

The NAM member states must take pride in helping bring change in the old imperialist mentality and in strengthening democracy throughout the world. But we must also free ourselves from the past bondage and address the present needs of society. In this respect, Indian PM Dr Manmohan Singh’s remark to the press on September 15 on board a special aircraft bound for Havana from Brassilia is relevant. He said: “Non alignment was a state of mind which enabled a country to think independently about its development choices.” (The Hindustan Times, Sept. 16). He added: “The aim of NAM was not to divide the world further but to adopt approaches which will further human civilisation.” NAM member states, which number more than half of the UN membership, have to focus on the measures aimed at achieving a better “human civilisation”. The movement needs a new name to make it more relevant today.

Upadhyay is a former foreign minister