On September 7, 1946, as vice chairman and member in charge of external affairs in the Viceroy’s Executive Council, Jawaharlal Nehru declared: “We propose, as far as possible, to keep away from the power politics of groups, aligned against one another, which have led in the past to two world wars and which may again lead to disasters on an even vaster scale.” It was the perfect script for independent India’s role on the global stage.
The Bandung Conference, an April 1955 meeting of Asian and African nations emerging from the yoke of their European colonial masters and refusing to ally with either of the two Cold War blocs, laid the groundwork for the formation of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). “Despite the infighting, debates, strategic postures, and sighs of annoyance,” writes Vijay Prashad in The Darker Nations, “Bandung produced something: a belief that two-thirds of the world’s people had the right to return to their own burned cities, cherish them, and rebuild them in their own image.”
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In mid-July 1956, Yugoslavia’s Josip Broz Tito, Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, and Nehru met on the island of Brijuni in the northern Adriatic Sea to assess the impact of the Bandung Conference and discuss their vision for a non-aligned force. Brijuni was dubbed the “Third World’s Yalta”, where Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill met in February 1945, just before the end of the Second World War, to consolidate “their spheres of influence”. “If Yalta presaged the division of the world, Brijuni and Belgrade augured the creation of an association that would seek more room for the darker nations,” writes Prashad.
The first official NAM summit, held in Belgrade in 1961 under the leadership of Tito, Nasser, Nehru, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, and Sukarno of Indonesia, drew delegates from 25 African, Asian, Latin American, and European countries. Participants at the conference were united in their emphasis on economic development and their condemnation of colonialism. Nehru’s principle of “peaceful coexistence” appealed to the new nations.
NAM remained a moral force over the next decades, refusing to intervene in Cold War tensions. In terms of the conference’s impact on the United Nations, it did draw attention to the structural disadvantages that Third World countries faced within the organisation, which eventually led to the expansion of the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council.
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Today, the largely toothless NAM is the second-largest international organisation of states after the UN, with 120 members. NAM countries account for nearly two-thirds of UN members and 55 per cent of the global population.