NAM, a review

Print edition : November 16, 2012

The book traces the distance the Non-Aligned Movement has traversed.

HISTORIANS may quibble over whether the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) really served its founding membersIndia, Egypt, Indonesia, Ghana and Yugoslaviawell in putting their views in the global arena or simply held a nuisance value when its membership grew to more than a hundred at one time. A former Foreign Secretary of India, Krishnan Srinivasan, has attempted in this book to see the movement from an Indian perspective. He states that after Nehrus death stripped away its idealism, it was, shorn of the bombast, a strategy first of realism and later of opportunism. He also says that Indias definite tilt towards the Soviet Union for reasons of practicality from 1964 to 1984 was scarcely concealed by the facade of non-alignment.

The period after the Cold War, he says, left India without moorings in an unfamiliar global milieu, but it recovered quickly to adjust to the new situation whether in the manner of its tilt towards the United States or in reviving its ancient ties with East and South-East Asia in the form of a Look East policy.

Tracing the genesis of NAM, the author says Nehru held utopian ideas of transforming the world political order and that these were loosely adumbrated in the doctrine of non-alignment. He believes that Nehru had a propensity to equate imperialism with capitalism, and claims that this led him to develop a bias against the U.S. Nehru was a socialist and so the socialist bloc led by the Soviet Union would have held an automatic appeal, he says. The focus on non-alignment made Nehru neglect Pakistan President Ayub Khans offer in April 1959 for joint defence of the subcontinent against any Chinese threat, he claims.

Interestingly, the author notes that before 1954 India was almost alone outside the communist bloc in championing the entry of China into the United Nations and seeking assurances from the Americans on Taiwan. The author says that in contrast to Chinas views about India, Nehru held a rather romanticised view of China, an approach that signified the triumph of wishful thinking over strategic thinking.

The African countries appreciated India as the leader against colonialism and racism, but when it came to Indias national interest, particularly during its conflicts with China or Pakistan, Africa tended to be hesitant and self-consciously neutral. The author points to V.K. Krishna Menons dictum that a non-aligned nation must be non-aligned with the non-aligned to be truly non-aligned in order to make the point that only two countries of the Non-Aligned Conference of 1961, Cyprus and Ethiopia, supported India against China.

As sensible power play, as the best route for promoting a diplomatic presence from a weak position, and as an enabling mechanism for economic assistance from both camps, non-alignment was a credible thesis during Nehrus time and is, in a greatly diminished manner, even in the age of realism. But after the end of the Cold War such contentions could hardly be sustained when the process of globalisation and increased interchange of ideas and capital across the world were in the ascendant. No wonder, the reasons for NAMs failures include lack of collective action and collective self-reliance, absence of any mechanism for the peaceful settlement of disputes, and the non-establishment of any new international information order or new international economic order, the two major instruments the countries of the South, or the Third World, had harped on for years.

The author states that no collective action was taken against external security threats or aggression against non-aligned nations, while the movements record even in intra-non-aligned disputes such as Iran-Iraq, Indonesia-Malaysia or Libya-Chad was uniformly lamentable. All this brought about the failure of the doctrine of non-alignment. The author has traced the troublesome distances the movement traversed in the few decades of its existence. The book also contains a collection of the authors contributions to Indian dailies on a range of subjects, besides external affairs, after he demitted office.

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