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Tuesday, September 1, 1998 Published at 20:42 GMT 21:42 UK


Non-Aligned: For what, against what?

Preparations for the 12th Non-Aligned Movement summit in Durban

World Affairs Correspondent Nick Childs discusses the relevance of the Non-Aligned Movement.

The Non-Aligned Movement was born in 1961 with 25 founding members. Its membership has since swollen to 113. But this enormous growth gives a rather false impression of the movement's health.

It was born in the depths of the Cold War, aimed at uniting those countries which wished to owe allegiance to neither the US-led western bloc or the Soviet-dominated eastern bloc.

Long-time sceptics in the West argued that it was never truly non-aligned, and took a predominantly anti-Western stance.

Now, sceptics wonder why it still exists, given that the Cold War and the East-West tensions at the heart of it are now a thing of the past.

The Non-Aligned Movement's supporters insist that history has vindicated it, that it played a significant part in the very collapse of the East-West rivalry, in the eradication of colonialism and the fight against apartheid, and has been a champion of global disarmament.

And they say that in a multi-polar world of considerable instability, there is still value in such a movement in giving voice to a large section of the developing world.

The Non-Aligned Movement certainly acted with some effect in the negotiations to extend the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1995.

But generally, it has faced the charge that it has been little more than an ineffective talking shop, and with such a diverse membership, it has little real common cause amongst its members.

There was talk at the last summit in Colombia three years ago of re-orientating the movement, to take more concerted action to alleviate poverty in the poorest countries. But little has been achieved.

The movement's ability to achieve a group concensus on reform of the United Nations is limited.

And it remains open to the charge that it has been ineffective in sorting out problems between its own members.

Issues at the top of the international agenda as the latest summit gets under way - nuclear proliferation, concern about global terrorism, instability in central Africa - pitch members into very different camps.

And, against the background of international economic upheaval, the movement is confronted with the reality that a grouping which is numerically strong, but which represents predominantly poorer states, has much less influence than, for example, the Group of Seven leading industrial countries.

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