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NAM as ‘New Age Movement’

We just had the 16th three-yearly NAM Summit held in Tehran attended by leaders of 120 states but no one even heard of what it decided.

The event was no different from the earlier 15 summits in terms of heavy agenda, high-sounding rhetoric and voluminous documentation with little readable substance. Nothing earth-shaking came out from the Tehran Summit to change the political or socio-economic scene of the developing world. The final outcome was only a rehash of the earlier declarations reiterating the traditional and somewhat archaic NAM positions on a vast array of global issues with no relevance to the new global dynamics.

We live in a world of perceptions, and perceptions are seldom real. They are embedded in our minds to make us see things the way we like to see them. They also represent misnomers.  We call the region ‘Middle East’ not because it is in the middle of the east but only because historically we started perceiving it as such. Likewise, the term ‘Third World’ is also a misnomer coined during the 1950s as a label for the group of nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America emerging from the protracted colonial rule.

As the world got mired in the Cold War dynamics, this label was applied to denote those ‘mastless’ nations which considered themselves aligned neither with the West nor with the East but as a ‘third bloc’ in a bi-polar world. Group of 77 or G-77 as it is familiarly known established in 1964 representing seventy-seven Third World countries is itself a misnomer now as over the years its membership has almost doubled but it is still called G-77.

Another prominent misnomer today is an organisation called Non-Aligned Movement or NAM as it is more familiarly known which is no longer non-aligned and yet it insists to call itself NAM. The Movement, now comprising 120 members, represents over 60 percent of world’s population and nearly two-thirds of UN’s membership, was launched in 1961 as a movement professing ‘neutrality’ between the two blocs in that intensely bipolar world and its members vowed to pursue independent policies based on common approach in international relations.

Through the Cold War years, NAM did play a visible role in championing the Third World causes, particularly in the eradication of colonial remnants and strengthening of liberation struggles and right of self-determination. It became a convenient platform for developing countries to assert free of superpowers’ influence their own identity and ‘independent’ common position on the whole range of global political and economic issues. All these years, it also sought an international economic environment that would promote a genuine global partnership for combating poverty and promoting development.

The numerical strength of NAM provided it a clout as the largest voting ‘bloc’ in global decision-making at the UN. But this clout remained inconsequential because of the unbridgeable gap between the ‘power to decide’ and the ‘power to implement’ global decisions. This grim reality was evident from the fate of NAM’s initiatives in the inconclusive North-South dialogue and successive ‘development decades’ culminating in unimplemented outcomes of successive major UN conferences and summits held since 1990s on various aspects of the global development agenda.

The Cold War has ended. East-West rivalry is no longer there but NAM continues to exist as a major group with common negotiated position on global issues. It has been espousing sovereign equality of states inherent in UN’s one-state-one-vote principle and calling for an end to privilege-based anachronisms in its decision-making processes. It opposes expansion of veto-wielding permanent seats in the UN Security Council and wants increase only in non-permanent category to make it more representative of the current UN membership.

Despite all the contributions that G-77 and NAM have made through their negotiating skills on all these issues, there is no perceptible change on the global horizon. The overwhelming majority of developing countries remains deprived of the benefits of economic growth. Today, poor countries are poorer and rich- richer. With rare exceptions, the developing countries have in fact had no belle epoque to signify their better times. They have had no industrial revolution, no economic miracle, no educational upsurge, no social renaissance and no political emancipation.

 Despite all the contributions that G-77 and NAM have made through their negotiating skills on all these issues, there is no perceptible change on the global horizon.
 Yes, NAM does include some of the world’s most dynamic economies, like Chile, India, Malaysia, and Singapore, not to mention South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and again India for being part of global economic governance forums including prestigious Group of 20. The problem with Third World countries is their deficiency in capacity, will and resources for development. They lack impulse for change. The majority of NAM members also suffer serious governance and rule of law problems rooted in their authoritarian and non-representative political culture. Democracy is distorted and misused. In fact, very few of them are genuine democracies. India tops this paltry list with singular distinction.

Both G-77 and NAM had neither the means to change the political and economic systems of the developing countries, nor can they redress the global economic inequalities by enabling the resource-rich countries among them to capitalise on their natural wealth for their own well-being. They are vulnerable to external forces. Most of NAM member-states do not even have nominal control over their wealth and resources which are being exploited by the industrial countries.

With limited role in major global issues, G-77 and NAM can only maintain group discipline in expressing common declaratory positions on major global issues.
Today, with few exceptions, poor countries are poorer and rich richer. The overwhelming majority of developing countries remains deprived of the benefits of economic growth. More than a billion people, one in every six human beings, live on less than a dollar a day. The developing world has in fact had no belle epoque to signify its better times, if any. It has had no industrial revolution, no economic miracle, no educational upsurge, no social renaissance, no political emancipation, and no worker’s movement.

Today’s unipolarity has created a situation with very little space or sustainability for the concept of non-alignment. With its chequered personality, NAM is constantly struggling for coherence and cohesion. It is no more than a global bagpipes orchestra with lot of wind but no music. It is a paralysed force with no gesture or motion. Indeed, it is a global jamboree that meets every three years with lot of rattling but no consequentiality. Some of the stalwarts and founding fathers of the movement are now totally aligned with the unrivalled ‘pole of power’ and have become its closest allies and obeisant partners.

Most of NAM member-states do not even have nominal control over their wealth and resources which are being exploited by the industrial countries.
 We just had the 16th three-yearly NAM Summit held in Tehran attended by leaders of 120 states but no one even heard of what it decided.  The event was no different from the earlier 15 summits in terms of heavy agenda, high-sounding rhetoric and voluminous documentation with little readable substance. Nothing earth-shaking came out from the Tehran Summit to change the political or socio-economic scene of the developing world. The final outcome was only a rehash of the earlier declarations reiterating the traditional and somewhat archaic NAM positions on a vast array of global issues with no relevance to the new global dynamics.
An Indian journalist in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s exclusive entourage summed up the Tehran Summit as a gathering of world’s ‘despots, dictators, autocrats and leaders of banana republics’ where in her words, her prime minister ‘seated on the podium looked out of place.’ She did admit that as founding NAM member India had been a beneficiary of the movement’s relevance in the past but today it felt embarrassed being part of NAM while sitting at the high table of G-20 and aspiring to be permanent member of the UN Security Council. This sums up the dismal NAM reality of today.

With the East and West no longer being strategic rivals, the notion of non-alignment has become more or less anachronistic. The relevance of NAM as a movement is being questioned from both within and outside its membership. Neutrality and non-alignment are no longer the defining features of NAM which must now rearticulate its raison d’tre and redefine its role to be able to cope with the common challenges of the post-Cold War world.

The role of NAM as a movement and as an organisation now acquires even greater importance. Instead of indulging in meaningless debates and sterile drafting exercises at the UN, it must focus more on becoming a major player in UN’s actual decision-making, especially on issues of global peace and development. Its’ biggest challenge lies in charting a new course for itself in the changed global environment.

As largest group at the UN, the NAM must take the lead in correcting the course and conduct of global events. It must prepare itself as a balancing factor in the unipolar world and help promote a new system of international relations based on peace, justice, equality, democracy and development.  This would require an independent and non-partisan approach among its members in international relations and their own adherence to democratic norms and peaceful co-existence. It is time for NAM to become world’s ‘awakened’ conscience.

Also important is the need for NAM to remove the conspicuous anomaly of its name by using, for credibility sake, its historic acronym NAM for ‘New Age Movement’ which will be more consistent with its new role and in keeping with its changed rationale.

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