Rahul Gandhi and his ilk in the Congress command may disagree, the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM) has lost much of its relevance in today’s world where national interest is dynamic as also key to diplomatic wisdom. If Narendra Modi has decided to skip the long journey to Venezuela to attend the forthcoming 17th summit meeting of so-called 120-odd non-aligned nations there, it only suggests that the Indian Prime Minister believes in dynamic diplomacy and not in a static tradition. Barring Charan Singh, all Indian prime ministers attended NAM summit.
Modi is different. He proved his point on the very first day of his assuming the office by trying to engage Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and, thereafter, Chinese president Xi Jinping in order to improve diplomatic ties between India and its historically two hostile neighbours. Modi even attended a private wedding ceremony at the Sharifs’. If the PM’s groundbreaking diplomatic effort failed to improve India’s political and economic relations with Pakistan, blame it on Sharif and not on Modi’s diplomatic wisdom. Modi tried hard. In the case of China, the relationship is improving, though very slowly except in the trade and economy front. China has emerged as India’s No 1 trade partner, way ahead of the US, traditionally the largest foreign fund and technology investor in India. Xi and Modi have even agreed that economic relations should not be subjected to diplomatic differences, which are mostly from China’s side.
Unfortunately, Congress higher-ups find nothing positive about Modi’s moves, at home or abroad. Congress leaders have been out of their wits to nakedly criticise Modi’s foreign trips. Paradoxically though, Pakistan’s opposition leader Imran Khan openly gave Modi the full marks for his well-chosen overseas travel to attract a continuous foreign direct investment (FDI) flow into Indian economy to benefit India by maintaining a high growth rate. Recently, Khan asked Sharif to follow Modi’s ways to improve foreign investment in Pakistan to grow its economy. Modi may not be visiting Venezuela for the NAM meet, but the South American country is highly appreciative of the growing engagement of India’s public sector oil firms, drug companies and others to help Venezuela tide over its current economic crisis. Few NAM members have so far stood so firmly behind Venezuela at its hour of crisis as India.
NAM seems to have overstayed its welcome among its members. The last five-day 120-member NAM summit in Iran’s Tehran on August 26-31, 2012, witnessed the attendance of only some 27 presidents, two kings and emirs, seven prime ministers, nine vice presidents and five special envoys among other lower ranking officials. At the summit, Iran, then totally anti-US, took over from Egypt as Chair of the NAM for the period 2012 to 2015.
Founded in Belgrade in 1961, it was largely conceived by India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Indonesia’s first president Sukarno, Egypt’s second president Nasser, Ghana’s first president Nkrumah and Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito. Cuban president Fidel Castro, a strong NAM champion for many years, said the purpose of the organisation is to ensure “the national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of non-aligned countries” in their “struggle against imperialism, colonialism, neocolonialism, racism, and all forms of foreign aggression, occupation, domination, interference or hegemony as well as against great power and bloc politics.”
The times have changed. The end of the cold war in the early 1990s; the temporary Russian occupation of Afghanistan, which is now under the US tutelage; disintegration of Yugoslavia; improving relationship among the USA, Cuba and Iran; Saudi Arabia and Kuwait receiving US military protection; Vietnam getting closer to the US; the growing tension between India and Pakistan and, finally, the rise of China as a super economic and diplomatic power have made the non-aligned movement practically toothless and also meaningless as the US-led military blocks such as the South East Asian Treaty Organisation (SEATO) and Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO). Even the most powerful US-led 28-member North-Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is facing a challenge from its most trusted ally, Turkey. It was probably the most unthinkable development in NATO that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could take the initiative to visit a long diplomatic rival, Russia, earlier this month to meet President Vladimir Putin at St. Petersburg to engage Turkey in a new military and economic relationship with Russia after last month’s failed coup. US Secretary of State John Kerry was so upset that he said NATO would assess whether Turkey upholds democratic values amid a wave of arrests tied to the attempt by a group of Turkish military rebels to overthrow Erdogan. Turkey has been a NATO member since 1952.
NAM may have been a good idea in 1961. It represented nearly two-thirds of the United Nations’ members and contained 55 per cent of the world population. Membership is particularly concentrated in countries that were part of the Third World. But, not all members were non-aligned. Many were informally aligned with either the US or the then Soviet Union, the two super powers. The movement got fractured from its own contradictions. It struggled to find relevance since the Cold War ended. The emergence of “Arab Spring” that nearly convulsed West Asian republics affected several Nam members in the region directly. The countries that underwent the most significant changes – Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Syria – are all members of NAM. And, they are now less sure about how an anti-US campaign will help restore their economy and a viable political system.
The latest development in Turkey, which has pledged to help Russian-backed Assad regime in Syria, growing anti-Islamist sentiment in the US, Britain and EU and China’s claim of the South China Sea are a blow to all old fashioned alliances. Including NATO, the only surviving post-cold war military treaty. Honestly, old NAM has little role to play in the current world. India would probably do well by playing a more positive and cohesive role in an emerging economy block such as BRICS. Prime Minister Modi and India’s external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj would do well to devote more attention to BRICS than spend their valuable time and resources on NAM.