Non-Alignment Reborn? Morsi, UN's Ban, etc in Iran

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 8/31/2012 03:20:00 PM
The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) came into existence at a time when developing countries could, yes, align themselves with either the United States and its allies or the Soviet Union and its allies. Even the United States--which dissuaded many countries from attending the 1955 Bandung Conference in Indonesia launching the NAM--has since acknowledged it as a "milestone" for developing countries. Ever-so-suspicious of others' motives, American leaders of the time thought it was some sort of communist shindig, headlined as it was by the attendance of probably the most skilled Asian diplomat of his generation, Chou En-Lai.

The developing countries' stated principles about political self-determination, mutual respect for sovereignty, non-aggression, non-interference in internal affairs, and equality were notable, especially in a world fraught with Cold War tensions. While it is true that developing countries have made countless political-economic mistakes since 1955, some have done spectacularly well, too. At any rate, that they deemed it important to find out on their own what sort of governance would permeate their societies certainly remains an attraction.

To certain white American commentators, the end of the Cold War "ended" the rationale for non-alignment since LDCs no longer had to choose between communism and market democracy. To paraphrase Thomas Friedman, the erasure of the Iron Curtain meant there was no longer an alternative to the "golden straitjacket" of market democracy, and he chides others for their...current deviations.

But, something which surprises most casual observers is that the NAM still lives on in the post-Cold War era. It's not about LDCs being caught in the middle of two would-be oppressors, but still very much the desirable objectives of political self-determination, mutual respect for sovereignty, non-aggression, non-interference in internal affairs, and equality. While one blowhard may have met its end several years ago, another still remains that usually exaggerates the good it's done the rest of the world.

While the Western media largely ignored the recent handover of NAM leadership from Egypt to Iran in Tehran--look around and see how much attention was devoted to the Republican National Convention--the NAM handover matters. Veteran Asia watchers should be familiar with Philip Bowring, former editor of the late, lamented Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER). While he does acknowledge that NAM has itself become marginalized as of late, there is an opportunity to revive the movement and the causes it champions insofar as its aspirations remain those of countries as diverse in NAM membership as Singapore and, say, Fiji:
The Non-Aligned Movement is a shadow of its former self. In a multi-polar world of many criss-crossing alignments it may have no place at all, leaving the 115 member organization, founded in the wake of the 1955 Bandung Conference of independent Asian and African states, as a meaningless relic of the Cold War.

However, the fact that Iran is hosting the Movement’s 16th summit, which began yesterday, is an acute embarrassment to the US and other western countries who have been demonizing Iran...[t]he US even attempted to lean on UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon not to attend...
Ban is doubtless aware of the hypocrisy of sanctions against a country which is itself surrounded either by nuclear states, or by countries recently invaded by the US. NAM delegates, includ[e] India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono...
That India and Indonesia's leaders--generally held up as Western-friendly, democratically progressive sorts--went to Tehran anyway does indicate their respective countries still see value in the aims of non-alignment. Despite the sideshow of Secretary-General Ban's appearance and an Egyptian head of state visiting Iran for the first time in small eternities, Bowring sees the potential of reviving NAM by returning to its founding principles:
Members such as India and Indonesia would like to use the non-aligned movement as a vehicle for pushing their own aspirations to regional and international influence. But it is unclear how this can be achieved given the diversity of nations involved and their varying degrees of ties with the US, China and Russia.

However, for all its lack of identity and common goals the NAM remains a symbol of lingering Afro-Asian (and Cuban) resentment over western colonialism and imperialism and continued western and particularly US assumptions that they can continue to dictate to a wider world whether on politics, social mores or economics. They need only look to the Afghan and Iraq wars and the continued occupation of Palestinian territory for reminders.
Westerners are certainly not infallible and tend to revert to their preachy habits sooner or later. For that reason, it is still a good idea for the developing world to have a gathering where they can point this out and chart their own destinies in the process. Contrary to Friedman, the NAM is not another despot's club, but one that reflects the diverse choices LDCs have made over the years. For better or worse, the choices they've made remain theirs.