The Non-Aligned Movement Goes On

The meeting of the heads of States or Governments of the Non-Aligned Movement that was concluded in the second week of March in New Delhi, India was one more in the three-yearly summit meetings that take place in some part of the third world. The Movement has come a long way since 1961 when 25 countries met in Belgrade under the aegis of Tito of Yugoslavia, Nasser of Egypt, and Nehru of India. It was significant that what brought these 25 countries together was the intense “cold war” that was at its height between the Superpowers. Considerations of power were set aside and in the name of humanity appeals were made to the Superpowers to desist from the nuclear race — in fact, the only woman Head of Government attending that first meeting in Belgrade appealed to the leaders of the Superpowers as a woman and a mother to spare the children and the unborn generations to come the horrors of nuclear warfare.

The 25 countries represented there had emerged from colonial tutelage or had known the rigors of foreign invasion and occupation. The small numbers and the memories of a foreign yoke ensured the laying down of the cardinal principle of the non-aligned movement: the members did not belong to any superpower pact and did not permit foreign bases on their land. Although this principle was to be argued about and stretched almost to the point of breaking in subsequent years when the membership expanded and is now well over 100, the essential criterion still remains, whether Vietnam, and Cuba at one end of the scale and Egypt and Singapore at the other end are truly non-aligned continues to be debated. So also is the fine distinction between membership in a pact and signing of treaties of friendship with one of the superpowers. In the final analysis, what matters is that the movement holds together despite the different viewpoints, the acrimonious disputes among members, including the “hot war” between Iraq and Iran.

In the sixties when the prime concern of the Non- Aligned Movement was the defusing of the potentially explosive situation between the superpowers and the ushering in of a climate of political detente, non-alignment to both the superpowers was, to say the least, an irritant appealing to idealistic and noble sentiments. The fact that its voice became louder with the increasing number of members made it imperative that it be heard. The strident anti-colonial tones (which made it appear partial towards the Soviet Union) soon became a part of yet another pressing problem in the 1970’s: The Algerian Summit in 1973 marked the evolution of yet another voice protesting against the chaotic economic conditions that pressed hard on the majority of non-aligned countries. In all future summits the Economic Declaration became as much a part and as important as the Political Declaration. Even in this respect it appeared in the 1970’s that the declarations were weighted against the West, and by implication, spared or even excused the Socialist bloc, thus somehow giving the impression that the movement was partial towards the Socialist bloc.

It was, therefore, no surprise that when Cuba hosted the Summit in 1979, it should have made the attempt to tilt the balance still more in favour of the Soviet Union. The phrase “natural allies” began to be used to denote that the policies of the non-aligned and the Soviet Union had so much in common, thus committing the movement to one side of the superpower balance. The outcome of this move speaks for the resilience of the movement and provides the validity for its continued existence despite the numerous differences in outlook and political and economic systems of its members. The undefinable spirit of the movement both at the Summit in Havana, at its Foreign Ministers’ meetings and other special meetings has consistently rejected the theory of the “natural allies”. Of course, this was assisted by the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan which finally put paid to this theory.

It is interesting that in recent years the heads of State of both the superpowers have been exhibiting quite openly their own interest in ensuring that the non-aligned are “truly non-aligned”. How ironic that a movement that sprang out of the need not to belong to either power bloc and to exert their influence in preventing nuclear warfare should, in turn, be wooed by both superpowers! Perhaps, the reasoning is that if the movement cannot be won over to one side, then it is best to ensure that it does not lend its support to the other side. As Mrs. Gandhi, the chairman of the New Delhi Summit pointed out, the non-aligned movement is as it is and there is no such concept as being “truly non-aligned”.

What defies definition is that spirit or substance that brings together over 100 (two thirds of the membership of the United Nations) nations and liberation movements some of which are as different from each other as chalk is from cheese: What, one may reasonably ask, is there in common between the oil rich Saudi or Kuwaiti and the tottering below-subsistence Bangladeshi, or Sudanese, or between the urbane, sophisticated Algerian and the poor Maldivian or Pacific Islander, or between the peace-loving Nepalese and the actual combatants in the Iran-Iraq War? Still for all, how could one explain the fact that all these disparate elements were represented in New Delhi, spent almost the entire 24 hours of the day for four days in constant argument and pleadings and yet produced a consensus document, well over the deadline for the conclusion of the Summit, yet within 24 hours of the expiration of the deadline?

Could this be described as the charisma of the Non-Aligned Movement? By all accounts it should not exist and yet it exists, warts and all, contradiction followed by consensus and, • where this is not possible, the simple expedient of buying time. How else can one explain that the Kampuchean seat is kept vacant from the Havana Summit to this day? Not that protagonists of either side were not successful in carrying their case but simply because both sides can hope for success some day in the future.

Yet, again, it can be argued that the entire movement was held at ransom by the stubborn stand of one member. Iran successfully prevented the naming of Iraq definitely as the host of the next summit. Consensus was such that under normal circumstances it would have been a decision of the Summit. But, no, Iran was adamant. Hence the conclusion that a great majority of the participants appreciated Iraq’s offer to host the next summit and a decision as to the acceptance of this offer would be made no later than the Foreign Ministers’ meeting in 1985. It is the evolution of one such mechanism that ensures that the non-aligned movement goes on.

The Declaration issued at the end of the New Delhi Summit, both political and economic, contained what one may call the “hardy annuals” — as in the UN, the subjects of de-colonization, disarmament, apartheid, the Middle East situation, the Indian Ocean, etc. were dealt with in the usual manner. What irks the American policy makers is that the USA is mentioned by name in 10 or 12 places in the document while any condemnation of the Soviet Union is only by implication in the reference to Afghanistan. This could not be helped as subjects like apartheid and Israel are those that are very close to the non-aligned heart and, if at all there are differences among the non-aligned on these two subjects, they are more of nuances than of substance. And these have been dealt with in the same manner as in previous summits. But what should not go unnoticed is that the subject of Diego Garcia was dissociated from the Indian Ocean Peace Zone concept and moved to a different level, thereby implying equal apportionment of blame to the two superpowers for failure to move towards a Conference that will declare that concept. Moreover, in the economic section the grouse is not about the “developed” nations alone as hitherto. It is now changed to “industrialized” nations, thus involving both camps. These subtle changes are going on all the time and the non-aligned movement thus keeps going. Perhaps a remark made by one of the heads of state at the Summit in New Delhi is futuristic: what does it matter to poverty stricken nations to argue about Afghanistan and Kampuchea? What we need is the economic upliftment of the teeming millions of Latin America, Africa and Asia!


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