Push Play NAM

The 14th Non-Aligned Movement Summit (NAM) formally opened in Havana, Cuba on Friday with exactly 116 member states present and at least 50 heads of state including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in attendance. With the exception of the United Nations General Assembly, the NAM summit will easily outnumber other more prominent conclaves like the G-8 Summit—restricted to only the wealthiest and most powerful or the ASEAN meetings confined to a geo-political bloc. This comparison by itself should be a significant point of reference when critics point to the very relevance of NAM, which invariably becomes the only topic of discussion. Agreed that the NAM, look more of a disparate gathering of world leaders who have no need for each other in a world order that is today dominated, not by the UN and two superpowers, but by the United States as the sole dominant force. So the obvious question that arises is where NAM actually fits into in the post-cold war era.

It all boils down to, not how relevant NAM is, but how much relevance do the 116 countries give to themselves and to the summit as a lever for addressing issues that has a common denominator for member states and also for the world at large. And those who have pioneered the NAM from its infancy such as the current host Cuba, India, Indonesia, Egypt etc. have to ensure that the principles on which NAM was founded remains intact. If they are able to do this, there is no reason why NAM cannot be reinvigorated to take on newer challenges that confronts the world—terrorism, poverty, nuclear proliferation, HIV/AIDS, drug/arm trafficking, organized crime, free trade, UN reforms, human rights, environment etc. With the geographical spread of its member states—Asia, Europe, Africa, South America, the Arab world—there is much that the forum can do of making a constructive contribution to the new world order free from fear and war.

Leaders gathered for the 14th NAM Summit will no doubt know that the movement born out of the cold war is passing through a critical period in its life. Today, it is in search of its identity and endeavoring to determine the role it has to play in the changed world scenario. While critics point out that NAM has lost its raison d’ etre with the end of the cold war, the Havana summit must send out a clear message that it can still provide a positive agenda for cooperation among the developing nations. In particular, in the wake of the US virtually overpowering the UN, its future wellbeing may well depend on the NAM to play help revitalize the UN system so that it continues to remain a major instrument of global governance. This remains a major responsibility of the 116 member states. The other relevance of NAM undoubtedly lies in the realm of foreign policy, to have an independent say in world affairs and remain free to choose what is best in the national interest and in that sense NAM is as much relevant today as it was before though for different reasons.