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Does NAM still have significance?
Publication Date : 03-09-2012
The 16th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) has been wrapped up with a resolution containing some 700 clauses. As usual, it called for global disarmament, establishment of the Palestinian people's right to an independent nationhood, Iran's right to carry on with its peaceful nuclear energy programme, emphasis on the need to combat Islamophobia and so on.
Iran has undoubtedly been able to show the US and other Western powers as well as Israel that it is not isolated from the international community as out of some 120 member states of NAM, more than 100 countries sent their delegates or heads of government/state to the Summit.
Leaders from countries like Venezuela and Iran used the forum to express their strong feelings against the world powers, particularly the US. Venezuela's Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro even presented the proposal to construct a multi-centric world supported by the non-aligned nations and to attain that mission he stressed the need to break political ties with what he termed neo-colonial systems in which these countries are trapped for years.
Similarly, Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the closing session of the summit stressed the need for joint global governance, rebuilding the international order and making a radical change in the way the world is run. Despite the spirit and fervour of the Summit, the resolutions are going to remain a wish-list in practice, given the history of great resolutions adopted in many such well-meaning gatherings of nations. Even the largest gathering of the world nations, the UN, cannot claim much in terms of its achievements vis-a-vis its promises and aspirations thereof.
As new members, Bangladesh and Azerbaijan got the opportunity to address the second largest multinational forum after the UN. The net gains for many nations that attended the summit have been the bilateral talks and meetings that were held between heads of states or governments on the sidelines. Moreover, leaders of different nations got the rare opportunity to know each other and exchange views about many crucial issues in a less formal environment. For example, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, on the sidelines of the summit, met with her Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh and discussed Teesta water sharing, which is a very crucial issue for Bangladesh as well as India.
How did the Western powers look at the Tehran summit of NAM?
They had a rather lukewarm attitude towards the summit and tried to make light of the gains, if any, that Iran might have desired to make by dint of its playing host to the Summit. For example, it could not garner enough support even from the Middle Eastern Muslim states for its ally, Syrian President Assad. For even Egypt's Islamist president Mohamed Morsi termed President Assad's as a repressive regime and that it was an ethical duty to support the Syrian opposition's struggle against what it called the oppressive regime in Damascus. But is it a really important point to highlight?
As the largest platform of nations next to the UN, it is natural that there would be diversity of opinions among the leaders on different international issues. But the main point that the critics of the NAM miss is that the multinational forum comprising newly emerging post-colonial nations created during the Cold War has not lost its significance as yet. In fact, the original idea of NAM conceived by the then Indian Premier Jawaharlal Nehru, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito, Indonesian President Soekarno and Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah, was to provide an alternative platform for the newly independent nations so that they might distance themselves from superpower rivalry and may not join their military blocs. It had its origin in the Asia-Africa conference held in Bandung of Indonesia in 1955 at the initiative of prime ministers of the then-Burma, Ceylon, India, Indonesia, etc, bringing together 29 nations. Later, it took a formal shape as Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) at Belgrade as the brainchild of the Yugoslav (now defunct) leader Marshall Tito.
Is the context of NAM any more valid simply because one of the superpowers, the erstwhile USSR, of the Cold War era has collapsed?
The turnout at the Tehran Summit of NAM is itself a proof that the forum has not lost its significance, though the dispensation of the Cold War under which it first came into being is no more existent. The world is still under the hegemony of different military and economic powers with the lone superpower exercising its overall control on the world affairs. The Western military blocs are very much there, in some cases they are expanding. Numerous countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America are torn by internal conflicts and wars, where big powers are siding with one party or the other.
In sum, both economically and politically, the Third World nations remain as dependent, or rather, at the mercy of, the rich and militarily powerful countries as ever.
So far from becoming redundant, the import and need for an alternative international forum to discuss issues of mutual interest and wider cooperation among the developing and least developing nations outside the ambit of big powers remain as significant as ever.
The writer is Editor Science & Life, The Daily Star