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India’s Future Policy on Non-Aligned Movement

  • 10th September, 2020

Syllabus : Prelims GS Paper I : Current Events of National and International Importance

Mains GS Paper II : Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and Agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.

Context

Significance of Non Aligned Movement in present global order.

Background

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The External Affairs Minister recently said recently that “non-alignment was a term of a particular era and a particular geopolitical landscape”, has raised the debate on the significance of the NAM and its future relevance for India and how India should follow it to play greater role in the global order.

Emergence of NAM

Non Aligned Movement, commonly known as NAM, took birth at the 1st Belgrade Conference of 1961 orchestrated by Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, Josip Broz Tito (President of Yugoslavia) and Gamal Abdel Nassar (President of Egypt). Originating with a participation of 25 members, it has become the biggest independent and informal association comprising of 120 member nations and 17 observers.

Unlike the United Nations (UN) or the Organization of American States, the Non-Aligned Movement has no formal constitution or permanent secretariat. All members of the Non-Aligned Movement have equal weight within its organization. The movement’s positions are reached by consensus in the Summit Conference of Heads of State or Government, which usually convenes every three years.

The administration of the organization is the responsibility of the country holding the chair, a position that rotates at every summit. The ministers of foreign affairs of the member states meet more regularly in order to discuss common challenges, notably at the opening of each regular session of the UN General Assembly.

NAM’s primary objectives of neutrality, national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of non-aligned countries began to gain recognition after two historic events: i) The Sino-Indian Agreement 1954 ii) Bandung Conference 1955. Both the events adopted Panchsheel philosophy, which means the five principles of peaceful co-existence as the ideological foundation of the movement.

Though non-alignment has been a natural outcome of the Nehruvian conceptions, its actual relevance was in determining the space for India and the third world in the Cold War spectrum from the early 1960s, when the superpower competition began to acquire numerous dimensions of conflict and cooperation. Furthermore, after its initial mobilisation as an anti-imperial voice, the movement was about the struggles of members to engage and reconcile with the normative structuring of the global order by the superpowers. India’s non-aligned postures, for that matter, remained contested and subjected to varied interpretations as it evolved in the next four decades of pivoting India’s foreign policy.

NAM in Post-Cold-War Era

It is often argued that the movement was conceived at the onset of Cold War and that the end of Cold War calls for its immediate withdrawal. The fact remains that the movement was initiated with an intent to combat the conditions of Cold War which included neo-colonial pressures from former colonies, many of which still sustain- for example, US hegemony in international forums like UN, China's assertiveness in South China Sea, US preparations for the launch of lethal anti-missile system and so on.

NAM’s support for the cause of Puerto Rico and Western Sahara Self Determination before UN since 1960-70s, brings into limelight its urge to achieve a New International Economic Order and democratisation of the international system, which barely goes noticed. Though the movement receives criticism but the impact was significant. It constantly efforts trying to appeal for the protection of cultural diversity and the tolerance of socio-cultural, religious, and historical peculiarities defining human rights, especially for the well-being of member states with poor human rights records like Syria and Egypt.

India and Non-alignment

The inherent scope for flexible policymaking was abundantly evident during the non-alignment decades when India engaged in realist statecraft involving both superpowers with significant policy swings that could easily fall between neutrality and alignment. The decision to seek US assistance when the Chinese attack happened in 1962, the efforts to obtain military equipment from both the superpowers, the food aid from the US (PL-480) and the Friendship Treaty with the Soviet Union are notable examples of the policy initiatives that transcended the non-alignment constraints.

While dependent on the Americans for food aid, India also had to grapple with its balancing games when it came to arms supplies to Pakistan, which illustrated Washington’s preferential policies towards Pakistan as a Cold War ally even while humouring India to ensure that it does not veer towards the Soviets.

An outcome of this maneuvering was Indira Gandhi’s decision to sign a Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union in 1971. Though the US endorsed it as a peace treaty, the then Prime Minister used the aggravating crisis in East Pakistan as a rationale for the treaty, terming it as an additional deterrent.

The fact that India’s space programme and military hardware acquisitions were rapidly progressing with Soviet assistance during that period.

India’s policy of non-alignment is not mean to neutrality. By not aligning herself with any power bloc, she is not subservient to any country and reserved the right to pass judgment on international issues. At the same time, she aligned herself to certain principles and certain causes, like to disarmament, to doing away with nuclear weapons, to anti-communalism, apartheid, and so on.

Scope of NAM

The non-alignment is not merely defined by principles like neutrality and equidistance, but also by the autonomy of decision-making and flexibility of choices to act in the best interests of the country. As is evident from the many instances of realistic decision-making and unrelenting pursuit of national interests, non-alignment was a decisive practice of realist statecraft or pragmatic conduct of international relations. When seen from that perspective, the era of non-alignment could provide immense insights on how visionary leadership seeking to play an influential role in international politics could develop ideational frameworks that would propel the grand strategy of their choosing.

Conclusion

The emergence of a unipolar world has led to serious economic and political repercussions. This is because it has widened the wealth gap between rich and poor which is resulting into war, exploitation, disease and poverty. The only possible way for such unification lies in the solidarity amongst NAM member nations to take up a strong stand as the biggest representatives of the developing world withthea potential to pressurise even the international society.

Hence it would be wrong to question the significance of a long-lasting movement like NAM, in its purpose of serving the national interest of member nations and promoting the cause of humanity. ‘The need of the hour is to call out for NAM’s revitalisation for it to be able to cater to the 21st Century needs of Third World countries more efficiently.

Connecting the Article

Question for Prelims

With reference to the Non-Aligned Movement, consider the following statements:

1. Its permanent secretariat is in Delhi.
2. It is a group of members of Developing Countries.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct ?

(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Question for Mains

The non-alignment is not merely defined by principles like neutrality and equidistance, but also by the autonomy of decision-making and flexibility of choices to act in the best interests of the country. Discuss.

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