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Jonathan Fryer
The movement has always been hard to define
 real 28k

Dr Geoffrey Stern
The western countries were not listening
 real 28k

Monday, 27 December, 1999, 09:20 GMT
Non-aligned and nowhere to go?

NAM members India and Pakistan have fought over Kashmir


By the BBC's Charu Shahane

It started off in 1961 with 25 founding members. Now it has 113.

Despite its numerical strength, the Non-Aligned Movement, NAM, bringing together countries which were neither allied to the Soviet Union nor the United States, has been struggling in recent years to find a role for itself. And many members were never really non-aligned anyway.



"The Non-Aligned Movement must develop new approaches to deal with the many problems facing mankind today
President Moi, 1992

At the 10th summit of the movement in Jakarta in 1992, there was a great deal of talk about meeting new challenges and adopting new approaches.

"The end of the Cold War appears to have precipitated many devastating ethnic conflicts in many parts of the world," President Daniel Arap Moi of Kenya told the summit.


Moi: Called for new approach

"Therefore the Non-Aligned Movement must develop new approaches to deal with the many problems facing mankind today such as the enormous debt burden, poverty, imbalanced trade relations and political upheavals."

Role undefined

President Moi was speaking at a time when the term non-aligned seemed to have lost all meaning. But it was never easy to define anyway.

"Well, it has always been hard to define because it was a movement that basically set itself up as something which it is not, rather than something which it is," says Jonathan Fryer, an expert on international affairs.



"The Cold War came to an end and suddenly the Non-Aligned Movement thought, well, what really are we for?
Jonathan Fryer

"In other words, it was meant not to be associated with Washington and not to be associated with Moscow. It is very much a child of the Cold War."

The Non-Aligned Movement was set up in 1961 at a summit in Belgrade by some of the great leaders of that era: Nehru from India and Tito from Yugoslavia, Nasser from Egypt.

These were leaders who had either stood up to Washington or Moscow or indeed learned how to play the game of getting something out of both of them.

"Then of course the Cold War came to an end and suddenly the Non-Aligned Movement thought, well, what really are we for? And they've spent the last few years trying to find things to do," says Mr Fryer.

One of those things has been calling for a restructuring of the United Nations. At the summit in 1992, countries as diverse as Iran and Zimbabwe voiced their concern about global governance in the post-Cold War world.

"We have suggested that in the current exercise of restructuring the United Nations the hand of the non-aligned movement and its members be strengthened," Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe told the summit.

"While the monopoly of power, or is it historical privilege, of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council should be abolished through a democratisation process."

Non-aligned ignored

Nobody, it seems, was listening. Dr Geoffrey Stern of the London School of Economics argues the Non-Aligned Movement has been relatively unsuccessful in influencing the world's most powerful and rich countries right throughout its history.



They were hardly models of the end of power politics
Geoffrey Stern

"It was formed in the first place by countries like India, Indonesia, Ghana, Egypt and Yugoslavia because they felt that maybe they could do something about the Cold War. They thought that they could bring the Cold War protagonists together to bring about an end of the Cold War."

"And at the same time they believed in a new kind of politics, they said. A politics which would eschew power politics and which would be much more moral than the old order," he says.

"However the trouble was that pretty soon, the leaders of the non-aligned were themselves showing a good deal of artistry in manipulating power politics. India at war with Pakistan and China, Indonesia's confrontation with Malaysia, Ghana interfering in Togo, Egypt interfering in the Yemen and Yugoslavia with internal conflicts which are still being played out to this day. So they were hardly models of the end of power politics."

Diplomatic successes

But the Non-Aligned Movement claims success on some diplomatic fronts. It says it helped end apartheid in South Africa, and it claims success in putting pressure on nuclear powers in the whole debate on nuclear disarmament. In 1997, Palestinian Khalid al-Sheik paid tribute to the movement for its work on the behalf of his people.

"The Non-Aligned Movement has in the past been quite supportive to the cause and struggle of the people of Palestine. They have been quite instrumental in supporting the Palestinian cause in the United Nations," he said.

"Despite what is said that the Non-Aligned Movement has lost its vitality and its role, members of the Non-Aligned Movement can still pressure, within the United Nations, and within the international community, against such policies and acts."

Nevertheless, says Geoffrey Stern, the movement has been discredited because it simply did not live up to its name.


Nehru: Founding member
"The non-aligned movement was supposed to be non-aligned with either Russia or America. But then when countries like Cuba and Vietnam joined it which were clearly aligned to the Soviet Union and countries like Singapore would plead, as it were, the Western cause, it began to look less like a non-aligned movement than something else," he says.

"In any case, it got discredited early because the five main protagonists who were supposed to be, in the first Indian Prime Minister Pandit Nehru's words 'mobilising the moral violence of the people' in order to bring about the end of power politics, soon got themselves involved in a lot of power politics."

Principle sound

The movement's members strayed from their principles, but experts argue the principle itself has not been discredited.

"It's not been discredited in the way that communism has been discredited, as an ideology which was basically mistaken, at least in the way that it was used, - or indeed, like eugenics, which has been totally discredited," says Jonathan Fryer.

"I don't think non-alignment as a principle has been discredited. The problem has been that it can show very little as evidence that it actually did anything useful."

"However, if you talk to some of the countries represented in the non-aligned, particularly some like Colombia and Indonesia who have chaired the movement at one time or another, they will say it has been the most wonderful forum and we haven't had Washington and Moscow staring over our shoulder and breathing down our necks."

Vision for the future

South Africa is the current chair of the Non-Aligned Movement. At the summit last year the country's then Deputy President Thabo Mbeki spelt out his vision for the movement.

"I think it is important that there must be some way by which the non-aligned movement interacts, formally for instance, with the G7, G8, to say what is the world agenda, what is the agenda with regard to the world economy," he said.

And that is where many say the movement's future lies.

"What has happened now, since they can't be non-aligned between two power blocs because there is no Communist bloc any more, they have now gone to the stage where they are really pleading the cause of the world's poor - the so-called Group of 77," says Dr Stern.

"They had tried to create a new international economic order about 10 or 20 years ago and it became a kind of dialogue of the deaf. The western countries were simply not listening."

"But it may be now that they will have to listen because I think western countries can see what happens when the world's poor get poorer, which is what is happening at the moment. You get violence, you get instability and so on which can spill over into the First World."

It seems that as an economic grouping, the non-aligned movement still has some mileage left in it.

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