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Middle east

Non-Aligned Movement summit opens looking for renewed relevance

Text by Apoorva PRASAD

Latest update : 2009-07-15

The 2009 summit of the Non-Aligned Movement opens today in Egypt. The Cold War-era movement is now focused on development issues, but this year's summit looks likely to be overshadowed by the talks scheduled between India and Pakistan.

The 15th Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit opened in Egypt’s Sharm el Sheikh on Wednesday, with various multilateral issues on the agenda for the developing countries who are its core members. The summit will provide an opportunity for the leaders of India and Pakistan to meet; relations between the two neighbouring countries have been unstable since the 2008 Mumbai attacks.


The NAM organisation was born at the height of the Cold War with former colonies and developing countries seeking an ideological alternative to NATO and the Warsaw Pact.


The movement today has 118 members. They include increasingly global players like India, South Africa, Egypt and Indonesia; developing countries such as Ghana, Nigeria and Pakistan; but also countries at the other end of the spectrum, including Zimbabwe, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan.


With the concept of non-alignment made largely irrelevant by the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, a much weakened NAM has had to redefine itself on the world stage.


Fractured alliance


At NAM’s inception at the seminal 1955 “Bandung Conference”, it was riding on a wave of independence movements around the world, fears of neo-colonialism and “western” domination.


India’s Jawaharlal Nehru, Yugoslavia’s Josip Tito and Egypt’s Gamal Abdul Nasser initially formulated the idea of “non-alignment”. Along with Indonesia’s President Sukarno and Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, they paved the way for the first NAM conference in Belgrade in 1961.


The issues at the time were largely focussed on restricting US and Soviet influence on member nations and staying out of the arms race. The movement also supported freedom movements in Asia and Africa, including anti-apartheid in South Africa and Zimbabwe.Asian countries including India were also fearful of China’s rapid rise and wanted assurances of peaceful cooperation.


But right from the beginning, some of NAM’s principal tenets were nearly rendered moot by world events, including the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Sino-Indian war in the early 1960s.


A heavily pro-Palestine stance including an “anti-Zionism” agenda, plus conflict between member countries such the three Indo-Pakistan wars and the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan essentially fractured the alliance, polarizing NAM members towards a US or Soviet camp.


A post-Cold War future


After the end of the Cold War, NAM struggled to find its place on the world stage. It dealt with the dual problems of some of its member states ceasing to exist - such as Yugoslavia – and members looking to other alliances that could further their economic or geographical ambition.


NAM’s stated goals have now moved towards economic and developmental issues. Members include the Group of 77 (a loose group of 130 developing countries from Africa, Asia and South America) and a large chunk of the UN’s member states. But many of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) or G20 nations are not members, even though China, Brazil and Mexico have participated as observers or guests in earlier summits, as have developed nations, including the US.


NAM summits are now forums for multilateral issues between developing countries. At the 2009 summit in Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh, the Dominican Republic and the Palestinian Authority will establish diplomatic ties for the first time.


Sharm el-Sheikh will also provide an opportunity for the leaders of India and Pakistan to meet, after the 2008 Mumbai attacks destroyed the fragile peace process between the two neighbours. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani PM Yousef Raza Gilani will meet officially Thursday morning, in the hope of re-starting talks.


The terrorist attacks in Mumbai have been linked to Pakistan-based groups, and Pakistan has responded by subsequently made arrests.


Date created : 2009-07-15