Non-Aligned Movement

After 1945, the international scenario underwent major political changes. A very important development with immense consequences for the future was the growth of a number of liberation movements that gained momentum in Asia and Africa. The birth of so many independent nations in Asia and Africa implied a retreat of imperialism and a collapse of colonialism, which for centuries had oppressed millions and had kept them in bondage. After winning freedom: from the colonisers, leaders of Asian and African countries consciously responded to the new international developments which were characterised by the bitter cold war, competitive bloc politics, strategies of military alliances and neo-colonialism.

However, it was in the context of cold war politics that non-alignment was proclaimed as an alternative to big power rivalry and competition. The newly emerging Afro-Asian nations were categorised as third world countries which were either developing or underdeveloped, found they had a common interest in peace and disarmament. They considered peace and disarmament extremely essential for their economic development and nation building. It was rightly perceived that any involvement in the arms race and bloc competition would have perpetuated underdevelopment, and the foremost task of national reconstruction would have suffered a, set back.

Jawaharlal Nehru’s contribution to NAM

It was evident that the policy of non-alignment was anti-cold war and pro-development and freedom. Though the concept of non-alignment gained currency in 1955 at the Bandung conference, it was enunciated by the Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as early as September 7, 1946, in a broadcast over All India Radio. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the doctrine of non-alignment was in every sense a brain-child of Pandit Nehru. He had no doubt whatsoever in his mind about what free India should do while stepping on to the world stage. But for Nehru, nonalignment might not have been India’s inevitable choice as foreign policy. Thus, the essence of non-alignment – steering clear of the two power blocs, judging each issue on merit and maximising one’s options by maintaining good relations with both the super Powers – was dear from Nehru’s words as well as deeds. Nehru further emphasised that non-alignment was not to be misunderstood as “neutralism” as was being done by United States. He Pointed out sharply that whereas neutralism was a passive concept, non-alignment was a “positive and dynamic one”. In a speech delivered in the United States, Nehru declared that “where aggression takes place or freedom is threatened, India cannot and shall not be neutral“.

Almost instantly his doctrine was accepted and adopted by all other countries which were emerging from the bane of colonialism to the boon of freedom.

Bandung Conference, 1955

The Bandung Conference was a meeting of Asian and African states, which took place on April 18–24, 1955 in Bandung, Indonesia. The conference was organised by Indonesia, Burma, Pakistan, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and India. The conference’s stated aims were to promote Afro-Asian economic and cultural cooperation and to oppose colonialism or neo-colonialism by any nation. The conference was an important step toward the Non-Aligned Movement. However, NAM was formally launched at Belgrade Conference, 1961.

Belgrade Conference (1961) and Launch of NAM

As a movement, however, non-alignment was formally launched at the Belgrade conference in 1961. The movement indeed was a Post-war development when the Cold war dominated international Politics and the World was divided into two Power blocs. Newly born Countries of Asia and Africa rightly visualised the dangers to their hard won independence in aligning with either of the two. blocs. Involvement in the Cold war would have crippled their social, economic and Political development. The only way to conserve their scarce natural and capital resources for reconstructing their backward economies lay in maintaining a distance from super Power rivalry and the Cold war.

The founding fathers of the Non-Aligned Movement were: Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Sukarno of Indonesia, Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia, Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. Their actions were known as ‘The Initiative of Five‘. Later, the idea gathered much support and popularity and within a span of three decades, the movement which started with only 25 members at Belgrade, rose to more than four times that number. Thus, non-alignment, as a foreign policy option for most new nations, and as an international movement, remained a potent factor in contemporary international relations for many years.

Basic Premises of NAM Movement

The basic premise of the NAM revolves round 4Ds viz. Decolonisation; Development, Detente and Disarmament. Anti-colonialism undoubtedly was the fundamental thrust of the movement since liberation from colonial rule and imperial stranglehold could ultimately lead to the independence of numerous Afro-Asian nations. The process of decolonisation could be successful only when socio-economic development of the newly born countries would, become a reality. Such development was possible in an atmosphere of detente or an understanding between the two super Powers when peace could prevail. Detente would lead to disarmament and when the arms race would end, world peace would prosper. To sum up, the struggle for world peace, anti colonialism -and positive intervention to influence world events for the extension of the areas of peace and freedom are essential components of the concept of non-alignment. In an inspired moment, the Indian Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi described NAM as the ‘largest peace movement in the world.’

Objectives of NAM in dynamic geopolitics

In the initial years, the main planks of NAM included nationalism and opposition to military alliances such as NATO, CENTO, SEATO, Warsaw Pact etc. It opposed cold war, called for disarmament, and called for settlements of disputes through negotiations.

In 1970s, as the detente between super powers was becoming effective, the major concerns of NAM were economic freedom and development. This was also a time for emergence of dangers of neo-colonialism and the NAM countries gave a bold call for a New International Economic Order {NIEO} which would mark fall of neo-colonialism. When detente collapsed by the end of the seventies and the New cold war was suspected to begin, the NAM countries found themselves in very critical situation. By that time, most NAM countries were forced by circumstances to choose between the super powers. This development intensified the regional conflicts and dangers to freedom of many countries. By eighties, the NAM countries besides attempting to peaceful settlements of regional disputes such as Iran-Iraq war, Afghanistan Crisis, Kampuchean Conflict etc. also made plea to hold arms control talks. NAM also demanded early end of racialism and apartheid in South Africa. The early nineties witnessed a great transition in global geopolitics. Communism collapsed in the Soviet Union and East Europe and their bloc vanished and with that military alliances disintegrated, ideological factors receded to the background and the cold war came to an end. In the changed circumstance it was felt that NAM had outlived its utility in the post-cold war era. There were proposals to change NAM Movement to Third World movement. But in the Jakarta Conference of 1992 it was reiterated that though political struggle was over with the end of the cold war, NAM’s economic struggle would continue.

Achievements of NAM

  • The most important achievement of NAM movement was that it initiated an active international struggle for global peace at height of cold war and militarism. It played significant role in prevention of some of the regional conflicts and also made efforts towards end of cold war.
  • Since NAM had greater acceptance among the newly emerging independent nations, it prevented bipolarisation of world to great extent.
  • It’s clear call to end colonialism and dismantle the imperialism led people of different colonized countries demand for right of self determination and end of all kinds of neo-colonialism. It also paced up the decolonization of the world. NAM countries made bold calls to end all racial discrimination and apartheid in South Africa leading ultimately to the triumph of the African National Congress under the leadership of Nelson Mandela.
  • One of the most outstanding contributions of the NAM was its consistent support for strengthening the United Nations Organisation. On the basis of their numerical strength, the non-aligned countries exercised a considerable influence on the decisions of the General Assembly. These countries have supported UN in all of its peace-keeping efforts in different parts of the world.
  • The countries campaigned for general recognition for a New International Economic Order {NIEO} based on political and economic equality.
  • NAM had also successfully ended the monopoly of western agencies over the news dissemination services. Western control over mass media led to the projection of a distorted image of non-aligned third world countries. But with the setting up of a non-aligned Newspool such distortions have been greatly rectified. This indeed was a great achievement.

NAM Movement and India

NAM Movement had special significance for India. The phrase “non-aligned” was first used by V K Krishna Menon at the United Nations General Assembly in 1953 and by Jawahar Lal Nehru in 1956. But as early as in late 1940s, Nehru had spelt out the strategy behind the phrase, first in Constituent Assembly debates and later in Parliament. In a radio broadcast in 1946, Nehru said, “We shall take full part in international conferences as a free nation with our own policy and not merely as a satellite of another nation.”

Thus, via NAM Movement, India propagated her passion for peace and cooperation rather than war or confrontation.

Via Nonalignment, Nehru proposed that India should avoid entering into “other people’s quarrels”, unless, and this is important and “our interest is involved”. Nehru once said that “We should either be strong enough to produce some effect or we should not interfere at all“, which demonstrates a realistic awareness of the limits of India’s ability to influence events. Nehru also did not rule out entering into an alliance if that proved necessary: “We are not going to join a war if we can help it: we are going to join the side which is to our interest when the time comes to make the choice.”

The way Jawaharlal Nehru conceived Nonalignment was a strategy and not a doctrine. For Nehru, the non-alignment was a strategy designed to maximise newly independent India’s gains from the world system. Nonalignment did not mean to choose isolation to become a hermit kingdom. Nehru kept the West open for trade and aid, while on the other hand, avoided alienating the two communist powers in India’s immediate neighbourhood, China and the Soviet Union. By adopting a policy to be friendly to all, Nehru hoped to receive critical necessary foreign aid at that time.

However, the following questions arise here:

  • To what extent Nehru was successful in his strategy?
  • It is always alleged that despite its policy of Non-alignment, India could not keep herself non-aligned practically as it moved closer to USSR and became its ally. Why did this happen? Was it a failure of Nehru’s dogma?

Nehru had made it clear that India would act in her interests first rather than the interests of Washington, Moscow, or Beijing (Peking). But at that time India needed crucial foreign aid, particularly in terms of food grains. This critical aid actually forced India to approach United States. India was viewed by United States as a weak and backward country which was in dire need of Financial Resources. USA also over expected from India that she would accept the American Line of policy, but Nehru’s policy of Nonalignment and strategic-independence was a different approach. India perhaps over expected from US taking it as a champion of democracy that would support the largest democracy.

Thus, Nehru had first approached the West and it was only after the West refused that, India asked the USSR for its projects such as Steel Units. On the Defense front also, US and UK were often reluctant to sell or extend lines of credit to India.

Nonetheless, the United States remained India’s largest provider of aid (to less propagandistic effect than Soviet aid) throughout the Cold War. In the decade of fifties, India initiated its friendly relationships with USSR. Indian Prime minister’s visit to Russia and return visit of Soviet leaders irked USA. In Late 50s USA came in open support to Pakistan on Kashmir Issue. The chances of bright India-US relations were almost lost and the chances of bright India USSR relations appeared. By the end of 50’s decade, US had started regarding India as a Pro-soviet country.

To sum up, India was fairly successful in receiving aid from both the blocks; and neither took India as a threat.  However, India found herself moving closer and closer to the Soviet Union. However, the biggest failure of this policy was the India’s failure to deal with China in 1962. It was said that India could move closer to US to counter the abject poverty, grim state of economy and problems in foreign trade. However, these were problems of India as a state and not India as a country with independent foreign policy. The failure was not of non-alignment, but of an economy spiralling out of control (the concurrence with the China war/ pushing of India’s Five Year Plans off schedule).

Differences among members and challenges for NAM

Since its inception there had been remarkable changes in the world and such changes were bound to have a significant effect on the NAM. The views of later entrants into the movement tended to differ from the perspectives of the founding fathers. Thus within the nonaligned group contradictions began to develop.

Among individual members these have been shifts of emphasis on and implementation of nonalignment. On the other hand, from an initial attitude of hostility by the big powers towards non-alignment, there was a keenness on their part to accept the movement and the super powers even seriously tried to influence the movement.

Following were the specific challenges faced by NAM:

Firstly, though the policy on non-alignment had its general features, it could never be immune from specific national issues. Thus, while a large number of Afro-Asian nonaligned countries viewed threats from western imperialism as a world reality, Yugoslavia in Eastern Europe viewed threats from the Soviet Union as real. Interestingly, within the movement there were countries like Indonesia or Egypt which openly admired the United States while Cuba, a major non-aligned country asserted that the Soviet Union was ‘a natural ally’ of the non-aligned countries.

Secondly, non-alignment was not only a political or diplomatic response to world affairs; it was also an assertion of independence of the poor countries from the control of the rich and powerful countries. Such an assertion demanded self-reliant economic development. But most NAM countries were facing economic challenges in those times.

Thirdly, NAM countries suffered and faced local / regional wars and undue influence from super powers. The Arab-Israeli conflict, the struggle in Southern Africa and events in Afghanistan intensified big power rivalry, thereby destroying the spirit of detente of the seventies. The behaviour of the big powers had a direct bearing on the policies of developing countries and this put a great burden on functioning of NAM.

Development of nuclear weapons by India, Israel etc. also led to mockery of NAM Movement.

NAM in post-cold war period

It was unable to set the so called New International Order under the auspices of the United Nations; Restructuring and democratisation of the UN by increasing the number of permanent members in the Security Council; Strengthening of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) etc.

In the post-cold war period, the NAM has become almost defunct as most of its foundational ideologies such as national independence, territorial integrity, and the struggle against colonialism and imperialism have become irrelevant after end of colonisation.

Despite, NAM had tried to remain relevant by emphasising on multilateralism, equality, and mutual non-aggression in attempting to become a stronger voice for the global South {South-South Cooperation}.


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