Daily Trust (Abuja)

3 September 2012

Nigeria: Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Tehran

Photo: Chris Kirchhoff
Electricity pylons.

editorial

The two-day 16th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement ended in Teheran, Iran, on Friday. Nigeria's delegation was led by Vice President Mohammed Namadi Sambo.

That the summit took place was a diplomatic coup for the Islamic Republic, which is under unrelenting pressure and threats of isolation by Western nations because of its nuclear policy. The United States and its allies also leaned on many NAM members to boycott the Teheran summit, with little success.

Indeed, such behind-the-scenes skulduggery belies the erroneous notion that the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) should have folded up with the end of the Cold War since it was a product of that era, and that its existence is an anachronism in a uni-polar world.

The summit was a godsend to Teheran, which it exploited to show that it is far from being isolated and is not without supporters.

The idea of NAM was first mooted in Asia and the term "non-alignment" was first used by Krishna Menon, then India's ambassador to the United Nations. In the Cold War era with two ideological blocs led by the US on the one hand and the Soviet Union on the other, it was felt that the vast majority of developing countries that belonged neither to the East nor West needed an institutional expression of their neutrality and independence. With 120 members, the NAM is second to the United Nations in terms of geographical spread.

The Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, President Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia and Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, were the driving force behind the establishment of the NAM at a conference in Bandung, Indonesia, hosted by President Sukarno.

President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana was also a supporter of the NAM. He saw it as an additional platform to call for decolonization of African countries. In practice, some members of NAM developed closer ties with either of the two superpowers. President Anwar Sadat, for instance, expelled the Soviets from Egypt following the death of Nasser, signed a peace treaty with Israel and moved closer to the West. On the other hand, Cuba, an important member of the NAM was closely allied to the Soviet Union. The NAM has for decades tried to address the burning issues of the day including the crisis in the Congo, apartheid and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with varying degrees of success.

Besides, NAM summits have provided the opportunity for bilateral talks on the sidelines of its multilateral gatherings. For example, the strained relations between Egypt and Iran since 1979 have given way to the beginnings of a rapprochement at the summit in Tehran. Egypt's new president Mohammed Morsi attended the summit and held talks with the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, who he called 'my brother', a tectonic shift from the days of deposed Eggyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

If the NAM appears to be anti-West and in particular anti-American, it is because its members feel threatened by U.S.'s display of arrogance of power in relating to the weaker nations. As the world's lone superpower following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the U.S. has been riding roughshod over other countries, behaving like a global policeman.

One way in which Washington has established its hegemony over members of the NAM especially those in Africa, has been by imposing neo-liberal economic policies on them by using policies of the IMF and World Bank. In addition to this, the U.S. has also been in the forefront of imposing Western mores as universal values to which all countries must subscribe. Not surprisingly, such approach to global interaction that insists on a single American narrative is a cause of alienation and resentment on the part of developing countries, most of which constitute the NAM. Over the years since the Cold War ended, the NAM has lost some of its clout on the international stage. While a few countries such as Brazil, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) are the fastest growing emerging economies in the world, far too many of the NAM's members particularly those in Africa continue to be the showcase for bad governance, even if this is assessed in Western terms.

If the NAM had collapsed then, and nothing would please the West more, it would have had to be reinvented. Many of the concerns that led to its founding are still very much in evidence, underscoring its relevance. The Teheran summit's call for "fundamental changes" in global governance and collective management of the world as the precondition of establishing peace, illustrates this.

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