The Idea of Non -Alignment @ 65
Amb Anil Trigunayat, Distinguished Fellow, VIF

The idea of Non- Alignment (NAM) in the international discourse is often being scoffed as anachronistic and archaic especially in the 21st century political hyphenism where brute power plays out at will. Multilateralism and its notional institutions either need renewal, reorientation or resuscitation. Utility of these appear substantially discounted and compromised like the proverbial senior citizenry in their sixties whose references are a matter of a sub-text and anecdotal value only for the society at large. Idea is good to talk about but not to be carried forward. National Interest surely remains the primary motive and driver for international discourse and for that inter-alia if some global good is served so be it. America First, India First, China First and Europe First are part of the similar yet occasionally conflicting value chains. “Might is right” became the dictum for the dialogue. In any case talking about NAM as something worthwhile has become an anathema for the purists and realists alike in the international domain while to an extent every nation practices it too.

It was in 1955 at Bandung, Indonesia, when gripped by the tug of cold war the newly independent countries’ leaders chose to work out an alternate collaborative mechanism that could give them a voice in the spirit of South-South cooperation. They did not wish to be drawn into the Super power politics and hegemony. They also wished to support the aspirations of independence from the colonial rule of people around the developing world. Hence, President Suharto of Indonesia invited leaders from India, Egypt and Yugoslavia, Ghana among others for the Bandung Conference of Asian -African countries. Prominent among them were President Josep Brez Tito of Yugoslavia; Pandit Nehru, then Prime Minister of India; President Gemal Abdel Nasser of Egypt; Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam; and Zhou en Lai of China among others. They agreed to adopt a “Declaration for World Peace and Cooperation”. In 1961 some six decades ago, Marshal Tito hosted the first Conference of Heads of State or Government of the Non-aligned countries in Belgrade. In 1970 at the Lusaka meet the members agreed to add “peaceful resolution of disputes and abstention from the big power military alliances as well as pacts”. They also expressed their opposition to stationing of foreign troops and bases. NAM has eventually evolved into the second biggest organisation after the UN with nearly 120 members even if some dismissed it as a coalition of the week or talking shop of a routine kind. Nearly all African countries are the members.

18 NAM Summits have been held-last one being at Baku, from October 28-29, 2019, under the Chairmanship of President Ilham Aliev of Azerbaijan. At this conference the focus was on upholding the Bandung principles to ensure a concerted and adequate response to challenges of the contemporary world. Indeed, the world has changed a lot so did the priorities of many members over time. In the 1955 at Bandung Chinese Communist Party was looking for representativelegitimacy against its rival Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party) among the developing world. Taiwan opposed the idea of NAM and tried to create another anti-communist platform (APACL Asian People’s Anti Communist League) with the help of South Korea and Philippines to ideologically fight against communist China, Soviet Union and new Bandung recipe. Even at Bandung there were differences and opposition to include PRC. (Hao Chen) Today China is an economic global power which in its run for the top spot has stepped on many a toe. Currently, world is confronted with the Covid-19 where China, responsible for the initial spread of the Corona virus, has become a key opponent and target due to its policies of Deception, Dole and Defiance.

Although there have been differences on approach, themes, purposes and objectives of the movement as to what literally Non-alignment meant. Many would call it a neutralist idea while others will make a moralistic value addition to connote taking a decision on the basis of available facts and objective criterion. Sitting on the fence could be an option but NAM has actively taken up many longstanding international issues and stayed focussed even though the efficacy and the outcome may be debatable. Even though NAM and its vocal leaders may have been hated by the Super Powers both sides tried to keep them amused as large cross section of the developing world was inhabited in the NAM. But that is true of any multilateral institution, starting with the UN, which has seeds of its ineffectiveness in its very institutional structures.

Hence there is a clarion call to reform the UN system especially the Security Council that is still beset by the victor- vanquished mindset of post second world war and does not reflect or represent the new age reality. Likewise, the NAM will have to continually renew its mandate in keeping with global realities not only of power politics and short-term gains but key issues like Climate Change, Counter -Terrorism, and reforms of WTO and WHO as well as focus on implementation of SDGs and equitable distribution of global commons and goods.

Indian foreign policy is not unifocal in so far as its use of available instruments of diplomatic interaction and engagement is concerned. Deepening bilateral ties remains the primary mover in the international discourse. But India has always looked at the world from a globalised prism of intersecting interests and objectives and has often taken the lead to even create new multilateral and plurilateral platforms. NAM is one such organisation but not the only one. Prime Minister Modi was instrumental in creating the International Solar Alliance (ISA) with French President Macron which has a very large membership and support.

Similarly, when Trump was ducking the Climate Change and mitigation efforts and Protocol India has taken the lead. To counter terrorism India is persuading the world to make a sincere global effort. Even in the spiritual and health care space for the first time in the history of UN India’s proposal to declare International Yoga Day (IYD) garnered the largest ever votes and support as well as sponsorship from a diverse group of countries. Now it is celebrated globally. This was a major soft power projection and achievement and a powerful tool for cultural diplomacy.

In view of the fact that India started following the real-politic since 1971 to protect and sub-serve her national interest there has been some criticism that India was no longer keen to preserve or participate in NAM at the highest level. The critique has become more pronounced since PM Modi could not personally participate in the last two summits in 2016 and 2019 even though India was represented at avery high level. In my view these are myopic assertions since it is virtually impossible for a country like India with regional and global aspirations to stave off from the highly representative NAM stage.

This is an age of alliances and plethora of multilateral initiatives across the global spectrum and even crosscutting the organisational multiplicity given the newer economic and security challenges especially in the post-cold war scenario where balance of power matrix needed to be redefined. India is overly active in the bilateral context through “selective and issue based alliances” and multilateral fora including in the NAM. Not only that PM Modi has taken the digital diplomacy to the Summit level and has made it fashionable and worthwhile especially as the Corona virus has locked down the movement and borders. It was true when he virtually revived hope for a moribund SAARC and prodded the current host of G20 the Saudis to host virtual summits.

On a bilateral level both PM Modi and External Affairs Ministers as well as Senior officials have been reaching out to World leaders as never before for securing welfare of Indian diaspora and core interests and objectives while providing all possible assistance to various friendly countries from Bangladesh to Brazil. In fact, the Brazilian President compared India’s lifesaving assistance to proverbial “Sanjeevani booti of the Ramayana”.

In the fight against Covid-19, India has again displayed amazing leadership, and despite her domestic challenges and contagion, is turning out to the first responder regionally and globally be it in tending to the people of evacuating them from conflict and infected zones. On May 4, PM Modi, along with 30 other leaders, participated at NAM Contact Group virtual Summit to discuss the way forward to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic as well as to commemorate the International Day of Solidarity and Peace. He also singled out the other major enemies being fake news, doctored videos and terrorism afflicting the world. India offered all assistance in this hour of crisis.

MEA reiterated India’s commitment toNAM in a press release “PM Modi’s participation underlined India’s longstanding commitment to the principles and values of NAM as one of its leading founding-member. In his intervention, Prime Minister emphasized the importance of a coordinated, inclusive and equitable response by the world to this crisis, outlining the steps India had taken domestically and internationally, while reaffirming India’s readiness to offer assistance in solidarity with the Movement, to the extent possible.”

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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