Prime Minister Manmohan Singh attended the 16th NAM summit in Tehran on August 30-31. Having participated in the previous two summits also, his presence in Tehran underlined the importance India continues to attach to the Non-Aligned movement in a post-Cold War era. The PM’s message at the summit was that in order to remain relevant, the movement should reinvent itself by helping resolve contemporary issues of global governance. Over the years, India’s influence in NAM has declined. There is a debate in the country whether NAM is relevant in today’s changed geopolitical circumstances when the Cold War has ended, a multipolar world is in the making and new kinds of global and regional threats have emerged.
India, as an emerging power, has been engaged in repairing its relations with the West and building new partnerships that it could not have done had it strictly confined itself within the framework of NAM. From having been being a founding-member of NAM and having hosted the seventh NAM summit in 1983, India has been watching it from the margins. It found many of the NAM positions untenable, particularly after it tested the nuclear bomb in 1998 and got a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group. After the Indo-US nuclear deal, which heralded the onset of a strategic partnership between the India and the US, many NAM countries, especially Iran, felt that India had drifted too far away from into the western side having given up its tradition of independent foreign policy.
At Tehran, the PM pitched for NAM unity and a forward-looking vision. He put it well at the NAM summit when he said “…Our shared objectives of working together to preserve our strategic space, ensure our social and economic development and to strive for a more just and equitable world order remain as true and relevant today as they were in the past.” That is the relevance of NAM even today.
Reformatting NAM is easier said than done. Where is the leadership? Where is the vision? Where is that spirit of solidarity that informed the movement in early years? NAM countries are deeply divided on a host of issues concerning global governance. During this year’s summit, Iran was publicly ticked off by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon on the issue of ‘holocaust’ denial and by the Egyptian president on the Syria issue. Iranian’s supreme leader was critical of the UNSC describing it as ‘unjust’ and under the dictatorial control of the West. Media reported that Ban Ki-moon was visibly irritated over Iranian anti-West, anti-Israel rhetoric.
NAM has a history of taking bold positions on the global governance issues: in the Seventies it gave a call for a New International Economic Order (NIEO). At the 14th NAM summit in Havana, the movement sought to redefine itself by adopting a new set of objectives that included multilateralism, respect for international law and the principles of United Nations charter, opposition to unilateralism and hegemonism in international relations, sustainable development through international cooperation, resolution of international disputes by peaceful means, solidarity and cooperation among developing countries, respect for human rights while avoiding the politicisation of the issue. However, the movement has been dogged by differences and dissensions. Within the NPT, NAM countries have kept up the fight for nuclear disarmament but without much success.
Manmohan Singh sought to bring NAM’s focus to current problems when he said: “Today’s structures for global governance remain driven by the power equations of the past. It is not surprising that they have proved inadequate in dealing with the economic and political crises of our present…The deficit in global governance is perhaps most stark in the sphere of international peace and security and in restoring just and fair economic and financial mechanisms.”
Singh’s speech was forward looking, focussing on what NAM countries can do together. He reminded NAM members that NAM has changed considerably, with several of its members, unlike in the past, having acquired political and economic clout. He came out strongly in favour of the reform of the UN, World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to make them more representative. He also invited NAM members to work together with India to resolve the developmental crisis in Africa. He underlined the fact that there is a major deficit in global governance in so far as security is concerned.
All this is fine, but there was no road map in the PM’s speech. He did not make any concrete announcement that would underline Indian initiative to take NAM forward. The summit setting was a good opportunity for India to stake its claim to leadership in NAM but that did not happen.
NAM’s stewardship has now passed on from Egypt to Iran for the next three years. After Iran, Venezuela will take the chairmanship of the movement. Iran, which is facing crippling international sanctions and is under international scrutiny for its suspected nuclear weapon programme, may use to position the movement in an anti-West direction. This could further strain NAM unity. Thus, in the next six years, the movement may get more radicalised. China, which is an observer member, sees considerable anti-West potential in the movement. Needless confrontation with the West for nationalistic interests will not do the movement any good.
NAM remains relevant for India for practical reasons. India’s aspiration to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council cannot fructify without the support of the members of large international groupings such as NAM. At the same time it will have to be pragmatic and deepen engagement with powerful countries, particularly the P-5, whose support is vital.
NAM is in a flux. India can help shape the movement in this period of transition. There is a strong case for more proactive Indian engagement with the movement. The least India can do is to come out with a road map for the transformation of the movement. It should and help NAM focus on issues of global governance eschewing unnecessary confrontation. NAM’s principle weakness is internal divisions. India should try and bridge these divisions and help shape NAM agenda on nuclear disarmament, climate change, and reform of the UN. It can also extend material assistance in NAM projects on poverty reduction, health, education, skills training, employment, disaster management, IT, science and technology, remote sensing, etc. India is strong enough to contribute meaningfully to the evolution of NAM as an effective organisation. This will be in India’s national interest.
Arvind Gupta is director general, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi.