By S Saraswathi
Prime Minister Modi’s absence from the 17th Non-Aligned Summit (NAM) held recently in Venezuela gave rise to speculation regarding India’s foreign policy, both from friends and foes of the NDA Government. Notably, it has triggered debates on NAM’s relevance and even the future of this movement in the context of increasing globalization.
The Prime Minister missed the Summit, but India was very much present and represented by Vice-President Hamid Ansari. Perhaps, this was to establish Modi’s contention that NAM is one of “India’s Heritage” though not its “core principle”. Questionably, should one respect, promote and use this heritage instrument to encounter the challenges of today? Or dump it in the backyard as a relic of the past to be remembered ceremonially without any attachment or great expectations?
Pertinently, in the 55 years since NAM’s inception in 1961, tremendous changes have taken place in global politics and economics totally altering the basics of international relations. Given, bilateral, multilateral and global agreements are all presently governed by factors far different from those which were at work in the 1960s.
Remember, NAM emerged in the context of the bitter Cold War which divided the world into two antagonistic camps — USA and its friends on one side and the Soviet Union and its associates on the other. Moreover, alignment of countries which were strongly driven by feelings of nationalism, anti-colonialism and economic under-development and which were disinclined to join either bloc in the bi-polar politics, gave rise to the Non-Alignment Movement on the initiative of Tito, Nasser, and Nehru. At the time of its creation, NAM had 25 members.
Of the three leading nations, Tito’s Yugoslavia broke into six independent nations in the early 1990s. Nasser’s Egypt has undergone internal upheavals culminating in the big Tahrir Square uprising in 2011. And Nehru’s India is systematically and democratically redefining Peruvian politics and economics.
NAM Summit meetings, except those held in 1979 and 2016 were attended by all Indian Prime Ministers. Primarily as it is the second biggest international organization after the UNO. Currently, it has 120 member States, 17 observer States and 10 observer organizations. A bulk of members are from Africa, totaling 53.
India’s Modi was not alone as several other top leaders also skipped the Summit this year and sent their representatives instead. Bangladesh, Iran, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka were not represented by their Prime Ministers.
Interestingly, China is not a NAM member but has been attending Summit meetings as observer since the 1980s. Indeed, being present in international forums wherever possible is a strategy in foreign policy adopted by many upcoming countries keen on playing a role in international politics to make their presence felt and their voice heard.
Undoubtedly, the relevance of NAM post the Cold War is a big question. However, the over-all thinking seems to be in favour of redefining its role, which is to assert the independence of individual countries against Western imperialism of any kind.
Consequently, it has led to enlarging the scope of non-alignment from international politics to various other non-political global issues. Given that politics today is inextricably intertwined with non-political affairs. There is no pure politics in International dealings.
Further, many of NAM members today have several kinds of bilateral relations and have formed blocs for international cooperation and development in various spheres. Thus they cannot assume a pose as anti-Western, anti- imperialism or even anti-colonialism. But, they can stand against hegemony politics to some extent.
Surely, non-alignment in Cold War politics cannot be transformed into anti-US or anti-developed countries under the pretext of safeguarding the interests and independence of developing countries which constitute bulk of NAM membership.
Think. Indo-US relations is an important aspect of our foreign policy as also our interest in forging economic ties with South and South-Eastern nations. Brazil, China, Russia and South Africa are India’s partners in different blocs to present a united front and safeguard their common interests.
As it stands, in today’s world there are multiple poles competing for primacy while the USA remains undisputed on top. New power centres cultivate relationships with emerging nations in their struggle for removal of inequalities and imbalances in social and economic progress.
Towards that end, the theme for this year’s NAM Summit was chosen to defend the rights of nations for “Peace, Sovereignty, and Solidarity for Development”. The task set was to review the international situation vis-à-vis these goals thus fitting NAM in the global march towards “development”. Hence, the question of debating NAM’s relevance is irrelevant.
Besides, the Summit Declaration touches a variety of objectives like revitalizing the movement, strengthening international peace, security, self-determination, human rights, international solidarity and fighting terrorism.
It stressed the importance of dialogue, democratization of economic governance, South-South cooperation, New World Information and Communication Order, education, science and technology for development and cooperation for fulfilling the goals of Sustainable Development.
The Summit also condemned the practice of issuing unilateral sanctions, expressed alarm at climate change and urged developed countries to fulfill their commitments even as it welcomed a high-level meeting to discuss the refugees and migrants problem.
Also, the situation in the Middle East and terrorism were considered as destabilizing factors requiring united action. While the Declaration was common, NAM countries themselves might have different approaches on these issues.
What’s more, NAM declared that the UN peace keeping operation must adhere to the principles and purposes enshrined in its Charter. While voting for UN reforms it plumed for strengthening the UN General Assembly for which concerted pressure of many countries in every international platforms is required.
Certainly, continuing NAM membership cannot be an embarrassment to India though it has a number of separate agreements with several countries including USA and China. Globalization or global economic integration allows every country to have more freedom in its foreign relations without being understood as taking sides.
There is no concept as equal relationship with every country under NAM. Additionally, non-alignment is as much an economic strategy as political and helps a nation to frame its economic policy to promote national interests.
Critics are inclined to remark that India’s foreign policy is slowly and definitely changing with more importance being given to regional organizations and bilateral agreements. ASEAN, BRICS, BIMSTEC and even EU appear to be more important to India than NAM.
So also are G 20 and East Asia Summit. India’s Logistic Agreement with the USA is seen as a shift in its foreign policy involving a move away from non-alignment.
But, this is not so as NAM is also undergoing changes in its priorities and outlook. Its struggle is now entering a new phase with the object of establishing a more equitable international order in which politics (in the sense of regime changes, war and peace) is but one aspect of international relations.
Clearly, for India every international platform is important to gather strength and support for its fight against terrorism. And every international agreement which benefits the country in some way is worth pursuing. Participation by the Government is important and not who represents the country. —- INFA
(The writer is former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)