NAM in the contemporary world order

Born half a century ago in the middle of a world riven by antagonism between the USA and the USSR and the alliances they led, Nam had been the vehicle for developing world to assert their independence from the competing claims of the two superpowers.

Recently, the Prime Minister of India hosted a video conference that addresses a summit of the Non-aligned nations. This is in concurrence of India’s efforts of promoting global cooperation in combating the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the domain of foreign policy, this meeting assumes great significance, given the fact that Indian Prime Minister has skipped the last two NAM summits, at Venezuela in 2016 and Azerbaijan in 2019.

It is argued that the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM) was the product of certain circumstances which have undergone a sea change and thus, have become irrelevant.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic and India renewed interest in NAM, have earmarked the relevance of Non-Alignment Movement (NAM) to pursue effective work programmes at the international level.

NAM is criticized because

The Non-Aligned Movement was formed during the Cold War as an organization of States that did not seek to formally align themselves with either the superpowers: the United States or the Soviet Union but sought to remain independent or neutral. It also stands united for the decolonization of European colonies in Asia and Africa.

The somewhat old-fashioned sound of the term revives charges that the movement is out of date.

However, the world order has changed significantly in 21st-century, which has rendered the utility of the NAM doubtful:

  • The cold war has ended with the disintegration of USSR in 1991 and subsequently:
    • The bi-polar world is non-existent.
    • The collapse of communism and the communist bloc and thereby ending the ideological rivalry between capitalism vs communism.
    • Since the US emerged as the sole world power following the collapse of the Soviet Union, many non-aligned countries left the NAM.
    • Shifting of global politics narrative from the balance of power to economic interdependence.
  • Decolonisation project has become redundant, as almost all major colonies have been decolonised.
  • It is argued that NAM today competes with groups like the Commonwealth. The other groups are more effective, as they deal with economic and trade issues.
    • NAM does not do that, nor does it take up any diplomatic initiative.
    • It has no position even on issues like human rights, child exploitation and gender issues. Also, most of the members of NAM are developing.
    • As a result, its members have to follow the Western dictates in this regard.

Relevance of NAM

The 21st-century world order is significantly different from that of the 20th-century. Though the world has changed, the problems have remained almost the same. In this context, NAM can prove its worth by striving to work for the following contemporary issues:

New Cold War

  • Those who say the NAM is a relic of the Cold War must also acknowledge that a new Cold War is beginning to unfold, this time between the US and China.
  • This can be reflected in Trade WarQuad initiativeIndo-pacific narrativeemergence of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, naval presence in the Indian ocean, etc.

The resurgence of colonialism: Neo-colonialism

  • Neocolonialism is the practice of using capitalism, globalisation, cultural imperialism, and conditional aid to influence a developing country instead of the previous colonial methods of direct military control (imperialism) or indirect political control (hegemony).
  • China’s investment in Africa and Asia through its Belt and Road initiativeis criticized for being neo-colonialism in nature whereas NAM can help in establishing the ethos of collective action.

Restructuring and democratization of the UN

  • Due to undemocratic representation and veto power of permanent members in UNSC, the UNSC has been criticised as undemocratic. Thus, there has been a demand for reforms in the UN system for long.

Combating Global Issues

  • NAM becomes relevant to mobilize international public opinion against terrorism, weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), nuclear proliferation, ecological imbalance, safeguarding interests of developing countries in WTO (World Trade Organization)

Importance of NAM for India

Support for India’s Candidature in UNSC

  • NAM’s total strength comprises 120 developing countries and most of them are members of the UN General Assembly.
  • Thus, NAM members act as an important group in support of India’s candidature as a permanent member in UNSC.

Global South Cooperation

  • India is widely perceived as a leader of the developing world. Thus, India’s engagement with NAM will further help in the rise of India’s stature as the voice of the developing world or global south.
  • In times of increasing protectionism, NAM can provide a platform for South-South cooperation.

Strengthening of Multipolar World Order

  • A multipolar world order is in concurrence with Indian forigen policy.
  • Thus, NAM can help in formation of a multipolar world with India becoming a major pole.

Road Ahead

NAM has been shaping a persona that is increasingly vocal about resisting the hegemony of the sole superpower, the US, and in asserting the independence of its members – overwhelmingly former colonies in the developing world – from the dominance of “Western imperialism”.

NAM embody the desire of many developing countries to stake out their own positions distinct from the Western-led consensus on a host of global issues – energy, climate change, technology transfer, the protection of intellectual property specially in pharmaceuticals, and trade, to name a few. In its determination to articulate a different standpoint on such issues, NAM embodies many developing countries’ desire to uphold their own strategic autonomy in world affairs and the post-colonial desire to assert their independence from the West.

For a country like India, whose two and half decades of economic growth have made it an important player on the global stage, the non-aligned movement remains a necessary reflection of its anti-colonial heritage.

However NAM is no longer the only, or even the principal, forum for its international ambitions. In the second decade of the 21st century, India is moving increasingly beyond non-alignment to what is known as “multi-alignment” – maintaining a series of relationships, in different configurations, some overlapping, some not, with a variety of countries for different purposes.

Thus India is simultaneously a member of the Non-Aligned Movement and of the Community of Democracies, where it serves alongside the same imperial powers that NAM decries. It has a key role in both the G-77 (the “trade union” of developing countries) and the G-20 (the “management” of the globe’s macro-economic issues).

Community of Democracies

The Community of Democracies (CoD) is a global intergovernmental coalition comprised of the Governing Council Member States that support adherence to common democratic values and standards outlined in the Warsaw Declaration. The CoD is represented in the international fora by the elected Secretary General.

Historical Background

Born as a common initiative of former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Polish Foreign Minister Bronisław Geremek, the Community of Democracies was founded at the Ministerial Conference held in Warsaw, Poland, where high-level delegations from 106 countries signed the Warsaw Declaration Toward a Community of Democracies. Signatories pledged to uphold the democratic values expressed in the Warsaw Declaration and to support them through a variety of initiatives.

Since its establishment in 2000, the Community of Democracies gradually developed from a conference initiative into a global intergovernmental coalition of democratic states and a multi-stakeholder platform for dialogue and discussion. The Community of Democracies provides Member States with a forum in which to work together to learn from each other and identify global priorities for diplomatic action to advance and defend democracy, including through collective diplomatic action at the UN and in other multilateral fora. In addition to facilitating joint diplomatic action, the Community provides an international forum that facilitates mutual dialogue, learning, and exchange of experiences among Members.

An acronym-laden illustration of what multi-alignment means lies in India’s membership of IBSA (the South-South cooperation mechanism that unites it with Brazil and South Africa), of RIC (the trilateral forum with Russia and China), of BRICS (which brings all four of these partners together) and of Basic (the environmental-negotiation group which adds China to IBSA but not Russia). India belongs to all of these groupings; all serve its interests in different ways. That is the manner in which India pursues its place in the world, and the non-aligned movement is largely incidental to it.


Has the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM) lost its relevance in a multipolar world?

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