Is NAM struggling for survival?

By K.N. Pandita

Much water has gone down the river when NAM was founded and propagated as a conglomerate of nations professing independence from two blocs of cold war era. About 20 heads of states from a total of 120 of its members, and the rest of them the representatives, met in Teheran on Thursday to deliberate on matters relevant to it. Iran took over the chairmanship from Egypt, and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Egyptian President Morsi took their seat on the podium in their privileged capacity as founder members. Indonesia did not attend, and Yugoslavia remains fragmented.

The session proved somewhat embarrassing for the host country Iran because Egyptian President made a direct and threadbare statement against the Syrian regime accusing it of letting loose the engine of suppression and tyranny against the freedom movement in Syria.

Wile the Arab countries were appreciative of the statement of the Egyptian President; Iranian delegation walked the thorny ground very cautiously and almost circumvented the subject. She has stakes in Syrian regime.  Even Ayatollah Khamenei, the religious pontiff and supreme leader of Islamic Republic of Iran, steered clear of Syrian juggernaut when he delivered the inaugural address.

It will be recollected that in its guidelines, the NAM had agreed in principle not to open bilateral issues and disputes for debate and discussion in its meetings and deliberations. But this norm has not been strictly adhered to.  Opening of Syrian issue for general discussion would not have broken the norms but the harsh statement of Egypt about Syrian ground situation did not go well with the tradition of the NAM.

India adopted the middle path, indirectly defending the peoples’ movement in Syria but warned against foreign intervention.  However, the Syrian conflict was not the substantial theme on which India was prepared to lay emphasis.

Iran certainly managed to derive some political mileage from hosting the 12-member country NAM organization. This was reflected in Ayatollah Khamenei’s address in which he, more than once, tried to take somewhat new position of his country vis-a-vis the much hyped Iranian nuclear weapon tantrum. He said Iran’s stand is that she has no intention of making nuclear weapons but she will not forego the right of peaceful use of nuclear power. Adding a new dimension to the entire debate on Iranian nuclear strategy, he proposed a nuclear free Middle East.

Though on its surface it appears a pious wish but the harsh and rather undiplomatic idiom which he used in characterizing Israel diluted this somewhat pious slogan. Iran will have to tone down its animus against Israel if she wants Middle East a peaceful and nuclear free region.

The quality of deliberations of Teheran NAM summit did not reach the level of its previous and more celebrated sessions. Member countries were more concerned either about their respective national interests or regional issues and did not bother to delve into more important and pervasive issues either concerning the non-aligned nations as a group or the world at large.

It fell to the lot of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to touch upon these subjects. Focusing on 21st century issues of global governance, technology and skills development, he said,” 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.”

The one question contemporary political fraternity in the non-aligned world will be vigorously debating is whether NAM has much relevance in contemporary times. When it came into existence in Bandung in April 1955, the world at that time had left behind the World War II ambience and entered another depressing phenomenon of Cold War in which it was divided into two blocs with conflicting and contradictory ideologies.  Essentially, Bandung marked the end of formal colonialism and unleashed forces of nationalism as in Algeria for example.

Not to dilute the function of the UN, NAM did not establish a secretariat and the host country not only played host for three years but also provided secretarial facility as the NAM has no secretariat. The outgoing host- country, viz.  Egypt was so much embroiled in her domestic conflicts that she could not pay desired attention to NAM. Now that Iran is chairing it for three years, will she be able to move NAM’s cause as she is no less shoulder deep in domestic and international controversies?

We have yet to define if the address of Ayatollah Khamenei has global reach and is not willy-nilly confined to the interests and policies of Iran alone. We have already found that NAM platform is not the proper place to spit venom against the enemies or dole out eulogies for friends.

Another challenge before the NAM is that at the time of origination, the world was divided between two major nuclear blocs. But today within the NAM we have members with nuclear capability. Apart from India and Pakistan – the two sub continental nuclear powers – Iran, another Asian power and not too far away from the subcontinent, is also gradually plodding to attain nuclear capability. In this situation, will NAM be able to maintain equilibrium of interests and strategies? This question will have to be address by all NAM members but more critically by Iran herself. Moreover, “the NAM states are members of regional, intergovernmental organizations and therefore look less to NAM leadership to structure economic and cultural cooperation.”

Having said that, the fact remains that for a large group of 120 countries, most of them having thrown off the yoke of colonialism, has the only secular platform in NAM to address the world community how new set of relationship among the nations of the world can be drafted and pursued.

In all probability, the NAM may have to respond to the imperative of restructuring its assemblage, terms of reference and methods and methodologies of dealing with new situations thrown up by a world where there is mad race for technological advancement at the cost of international peace and human welfare.

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