The relevance of NAM

Print edition : February 28, 2003

The next summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, scheduled to be held in Kuala Lumpur, is expected to deliberate on the problems posed by the increasing unilateralism of some major powers.

WITH the threat of war hovering over Asia, leaders of the developing world will congregate in Kuala Lumpur for the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit from February 20 to 25. The summit promises to be a significant event. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed, whose term is coming to an end, is keen to make it a success. NAM has been striving to reinvent itself so that it could once again make a meaningful contribution to enhance global peace and stability.

In the post-Cold War era, countries such as India had started downplaying the importance and relevance of NAM. At the last summit held in Durban, South Africa, New Delhi appeared out of sync with the majority of the countries on a variety of issues. Newer members such as South Africa had taken the lead in charting out a new direction for NAM in the unipolar world that had emerged. Senior Indian government officials, on the other hand, had started routinely questioning the relevance of the organisation.

This attitude was most discernible during the tenure of Jaswant Singh as India's External Affairs Minister. An illustration of the government's lack of interest in issues affecting the developing world was the absence of both the Indian Prime Minister and the External Affairs Minister at the G-77 (Group of 77) meeting in Havana two years ago. All the important leaders of the developing world such as Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and Mahathir Mohammed attended the meet.

There has been a noticeable change in India's attitude since Yashwant Sinha took over as External Affairs Minister. He holds the view that it is in India's interest to strengthen institutions such as NAM to face emerging challenges. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee will lead a high-level Indian delegation to the Kuala Lumpur summit. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is also expected to attend it. But given the state of bilateral relations, the chances of the two leaders meeting on the sidelines of the summit are considered remote. NAM is likely to have a new member with the formal admission of East Timor.

CUBA'S Deputy Foreign Minister Abelardo Moreno, who was in New Delhi in the last week of January after participating in a high-level ministerial meeting to prepare for the NAM summit, told Frontline that the Kuala Lumpur meeting "is going to be one of the most important NAM summits in the history of the organisation. The summit will devote itself to the revitalisation of the movement." He added that there was a need for "new impetus in order to play a meaningful role, which we think it should play in international affairs".

To accelerate the process of revitalisation, NAM should devote "more time and effort to promote cooperation among member-countries both in the economic and political fields". Moreno is of the opinion that there is "renewed interest" among developing countries in NAM. "We should not have any misconceptions. The fact that we are living in a unipolar world and the increasing unilateralism being shown by certain countries in world affairs, should make NAM countries more united. There have been attempts by a group of countries to portray NAM as irrelevant and outdated. NAM is now even more relevant than it was a couple of decades ago," Moreno said.

Moreno pointed out that the principles agreed upon by NAM's founding fathers at Bandung in 1955 were being violated on a day-to-day basis now. At the same time, many of the purposes for which NAM was established "have not been fulfilled". He said NAM was established to "foster peace, equality, development and justice among member-countries. So it is a good time now to have a strong movement that would struggle for the defence of international law and the Bandung principles and try to adopt measures that would allow NAM to play the role for which it was formed. For example, it should devote time to debate on the impact of neo-liberal globalisation on the rest of the world. What is the impact of Western aggression and coercion on the sovereignty, independence and self-determination of independent countries?" he asked.

According to Moreno, the NAM forum should be used to discuss and debate ways in which the resources of the member-countries can be used for the common benefit of the developing world. "This is the moment; 2003 is the year in which NAM should be revitalised. We understand perfectly well that there are differences among member-countries. Not everybody has a similar stand on international affairs. Nevertheless, there are more things that unite us than those that divide us," the Cuban Minister said. He said that the concept of South-South cooperation should be looked at in a "new spirit".

The focus should no longer be confined to increasing trade and economic cooperation. "We have to find new ways to cooperate. For example, we have to find ways to ensure the collective use of the human resources many of us have. The possibility, for example, of providing for many of the lesser developed countries, in the field of health, education and potable water. There are a number of fields in which there is immense potential for cooperation."

The Minister said that if war broke out in the Gulf region before the summit began, it could affect the level of participation but will at the same time provide the movement with an important issue to discuss. "Something that NAM will have to deliberate on a priority basis is the question of unilateralism and the adverse impact the unilateral action by a certain country has had on international relations. At the same time, the summit should not be held hostage to the issue. We have a number of other important topics to discuss. However, it will be among the most important issues that will be discussed by the heads of state," Moreno said.

Another issue that will figure high on the NAM agenda will be the economic blockade against Cuba by the United States for more than four decades now. "There is a traditional paragraph in which the movement rejects the U.S. blockade against Cuba and calls for the implementation of the United Nations Resolution that is passed year after year in the General Assembly. NAM will also once again reject the imposition of coercive measures against developing countries. Coercive methods are generally used by developed countries to achieve certain specific political and economic goals," said Moreno.

Moreno said that he was not sure about how NAM proposed to deal with the crisis in Venezuela. Interference by the U.S. in the internal affairs of that country has led to a serious economic and political crisis. "There is an element of interference in the internal affairs of Venezuela. Machinations against President Hugo Chavez and the Venezuelan government are being carried out from outside. Probably the issue will be discussed in this vein." According to him, "terrorism" will be another important issue that will be deliberated upon.

Moreno said: "I am sure that the summit will discuss and adopt a paragraph saying that the struggle against terrorism will not be a selective struggle. There is no good terrorism or bad terrorism in the sense that terrorism should be rejected whenever, wherever, by whomever and against whomever it is carried out. The underlying causes of terrorism should also be addressed. There is also a need to establish the differences between terrorism and the struggle of people under colonial rule and foreign occupation for their freedom and self-determination. We need to start serious negotiations about a comprehensive international convention on terrorism."

The Minister hoped that NAM would reaffirm its position that the struggle against terrorism, which is legitimate, cannot be equated to war and at the same time should reject those ideas that consider terrorism as a pretext to launch pre-emptive strikes or wars or justify the so-called doctrine of first use of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

The "debt problem" is another issue that will be highlighted. Moreno said that the huge external debts accumulated by developing countries and the usurious repayment mode demanded by international financial institutions along with the continuing deterioration of the terms of exchange and trade, have had a debilitating impact. "The IMF (International Monetary Fund) is imposing a specific ideology and neo-liberal economic policies that have been extremely harmful for the South and especially for Latin American countries''. He cited the example of Argentina. "Argentina is a child of the IMF and its neo-liberal policies. NAM will also have to pronounce itself on those issues and find ways and means to redress this harmful phenomenon."

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