Serbian Foreign Minister, Nikola Selakovic, invited members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) to attend an event his country organized to mark the 60th anniversary of the first NAM conference held in Belgrade in 1961. He pointed out that Serbia would organize the event with current NAM Chair – Azerbaijan.
As the name implies, not aligning with any of the superpower military alliances of the Cold War era was one of the stated objectives of the movement. With the end of the Cold War at the end of the 20th century and the defeat to the Soviet Union, one side of the superpowers in the bipolar international system lost their political and military clout. America emerged as the only world superpower although the international system became multipolar.
Such political developments at the international stage robbed members of the NAM off the narrow path between the two superpowers as one of the sides lost its superpower status. The need to carve a safe path between the two superpowers, which was a fundamental reason for the movement’s formation, was no more important. Therefore, argue some scholars, the NAM lost its relevance with the end of the Cold War.
One of the prominent Ethiopian historians who is currently Deputy Director of the Ethiopian Heritage Preservation Authority, Abebaw Ayalew, argues that the non-aligned group is no longer needed and has become almost a forgotten business in the current world order. Abebaw argues that states tend to treat their affairs more as an individual business rather than a group endeavor.
Others argue that the need to non-align with neither of the superpowers makes only an aspect of the NAM’s objectives. Proponents of this view claim that other objectives of the NAM still bear relevance in the current multipolar world that suffers at the hands of the superpower and its satellite states. An article entitled “History and evolution of the Non-Aligned Movement” states: “The primary objectives of the non-aligned countries focused on the support of self-determination, national independence and the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States; opposition to apartheid; non-adherence to multilateral military pacts and the independence of non-aligned countries from great power alignments.”
Although, argue scholars with this view, these objectives were set on the backdrop of the rapid decolonization wave that followed World War II, threats to national independence, self-determination, sovereignty and territorial integrity of states have probably increased tremendously in the post-Cold War period. Countries have been at the receiving end of Western dictated policies that have proved disastrous to them. Sovereignty has increasingly become an obsolete concept with human rights violations, the presence of weapons of mass destruction and other alibis used to invade states. The initiation and incitement of color revolutions and other illegitimate methods of regime change in states perceived by the West as unfavorable has also rendered states fragile.
Considering most of the 120 members of the NAM are the Least Developed States of the world, an isolated effort to assert their positions unilaterally would end disastrously. Experts in Economics and development field observe that many aspects of international relations constitute ‘a matrix set up by the advanced capitalist countries, a system of pressures which sharply constrain, indeed, wholly determine the options available to developing countries.’ Such realities of the international system push solidarity of less prosperous states as the only way to stand a chance against the self-obsessed interests of the rich.
Others also argue that in economic terms, China’s rise as investor, minerals purchaser and development assistance provider has more than offset the influence lost through the collapse of the USSR. With China’s rapid ascendance to superpower status, some analysts argue that the international system is becoming bipolar by the day. The Sino-America rivalry that shapes most of the relations between the US and Africa have led to the disintegration of states and political turmoil in the continent. The NAM could once again prove to be relevant after all in finding the right tracks out of the tussle of the giants.
With the multipolar international system, there are a number of regional powers all across the globe. Such conditions create a scenario in which these regional powers could end up clashing with the only superpower in the world. Under such conditions, other states in the region find themselves in a rather precarious situation. The NAM could also come in handy in addressing such predicaments.
Some experts have, therefore, called for the re-evaluation of the NAM. They recommend updating the NAM for it to become more in touch with the realities of the 21st century. One major constraint holding such recommendations back is that the NAM has not been doing much over the last thirty years.
Therefore, the members of the NAM need to use the gathering in Belgrade that marks the 60th anniversary of the first conference as a venue to strengthen their movement and build on its relevance.