The Non-Aligned Movement As Living Fossil

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 8/12/2009 03:31:00 AM
The story of the Coelacanth fish is not one that routinely comes to mind when discussing international organization, but it is nevertheless one worth recounting in the present context. As I would like to think that this blog provides a richer slice of life than your everyday economistic fare, let me explain what Coelacanth fish have to do with a long-dormant grouping of developing countries.

The Coelacanth fish is said to represent the closest link between fish and the amphibian creatures that first waded their way onto land. Paleontologists believed that the fish, whose existence predated that of the dinosaurs, became extinct along with the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period which concluded 65 million years ago. Hence, the recovery of a specimen in 1938 by a museum curator was hailed as a major event that set into motion a rush to find more specimens worldwide. It is theorized that the Coelacanth survived by living in deep waters of 200 meters and below sea level as well as having few natural predators. There is available footage of this amazing fish on Google.

Similarly, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) is an item of curiosity for those of steeped in the history of third world solidarity and international organization. The NAM grew out of the Bandung Conference of 1955 which proclaimed the right of developing countries--many of which had just emerged from a period of Western colonialism--to self-determination. In particular, non-alignment concerned, well, not being aligned with either the Soviet or American powers during the Cold War period.

Never a very active or meaningful grouping, the demise of the Cold War also means that NAM has no particular blocs to identify as needing avoidance. The reason why you haven't heard much about NAM is that it isn't really all that significant. Nevertheless, its history is marked by leadership (lip service?) from third world figures who require little introduction--Tito, Nasser, the brothers Castro, Mugabe, Suharto, Mandela, Mbeki, and Mubarak. It was thus with some interest that I received an e-mail message from the South Centre concerning NAM. In the time I've been maintaining this blog, I have subscribed to all sorts of newsletters--most of which have items of occasional interest. The South Centre's current honcho, Martin Khor, is a fellow who knows a lot about the history of South cooperation even if our views tend to diverge.

Anyway, the most recent meeting of NAM was hosted by Egypt in the resort town of Sharm al-Sheikh--familiar to many as the site of the 2005 bombing attacks. Here is the write-up the South Centre has prepared of the proceedings. There is more to be found on this page:
At the Sharm El Sheikh Summit, several leaders stressed that the Cold War is over, but NAM is needed just as before. However, as some of them pointed out, to keep up with the modern times, it may, however, have to re-invent its image and rationale, and advocate positions in the current global agenda. The need to avoid being victims or subjects of hegemony or domination by a superpower or a group of developed-country powers seems to remain the NAM’s driving force.

The most passionate single cause at the summit was the support for the rights of Palestinians, shown in many speeches that condemned Israel’s occupation and brutality in Palestinian territories, and by a separate declaration on Palestine. Cuban President Raul Castro, reviewing his country’s chairmanship of NAM, called for opposition to hegemony, the use of force, and an end of an international order dominated by big powers...

A favourite theme, stressed by many, was how the UN Security Council has been used by a few big powers to selectively pick on and act against some countries, while these same powers also use unilateral military actions or economic sanctions when these suit them. Libyan Leader Gaddafi said NAM which was born in the Cold War era faces a new condition and challenge. It should assess the current international situation and agree on new positions. The UN Security Council does not represent the vast majority of countries as it was under the authority of a few big powers...

President Mugabe of Zimbabwe criticized the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) for allowing those who produced nuclear bombs to keep them without being charged for treaty violation, while smaller countries which later produced the weapons are pursued. The treaty should be changed to ban those who have weapons from keeping them, he proposed. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, speaking at the opening, also called for a nuclear weapons free world under the NPT.

The Summit was also preoccupied with the impact of the global financial crisis on developing countries. Many leaders stressed the need to reform the imbalanced global economic system through giving the UN a central role and giving developing countries fair representation in decision making in the IMF and World Bank.

President Fernandez Reyna of Dominican Republic, speaking for the Latin American countries, said the US$20 billion that the G8 leaders recently pledged to fight hunger in developing countries is “negligible” compared to the US$18 trillion provided to their banks, which is more than GNP of the African and Latin American countries combined. “Injustice, insecurity and inequality does not have a better example than the greed of a few versus the unmet needs of the many,” he said. He also expressed skepticism that the poor countries would get the $20 billion pledged, because so far much of the aid promised had not been given...

The Summit was a shot in the arm for NAM, whose many leaders thought it important enough to turn up in force. Whether NAM can rise above “business as usual” to help developing countries face the world’s many crises is its major challenge in the years ahead. To prove it is a vibrant force, it has to turn its words and rhetoric into actions.

Therein lies the rub. There are some good ideas here like better representation of LDCs in the UN Security Council, World Bank and IMF more commensurate with their increased political-economic clout. At the same time, defending North Korea over the nuclear issue elsewhere is iffy, as is the age-old practice of groveling for more aid. NAM has been lame because these leaders get together every so often to denounce the continuing evils of Western imperialism but with no follow-through. Yes, the Non-Aligned Movement is still alive, but it is more of interest to curators of historical curiosities like yours truly than as a meaningful international organization. Ironically, it's ultimately the lack of meaningfulness of the organization that shields it from pressures to maintain relevancy and maintains its status as, yes, living fossil.