Global Trends by Martin Khor

Monday 7 November 2016

The Non-Aligned still relevant in a turbulent world    

At its recent Summit, the Non-Aligned Movement reflected on its history and reaffirmed its relevance in a world of great political and economic turbulence, and now it faces the challenge of maintaining unity and converting the two adopted declarations into action.


It’s had a grand history in defending the rights and interests of developing countries especially when they were newly independent from colonial rule. But is the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) still relevant in the present era when the Cold War has ended?

According to the 120 member states of NAM, which held its Summit recently, the answer is a resounding Yes.

There might no longer be a world of the two camps (the West and the Soviet Union) to be “non-aligned” against, but the developing countries collectively still face the domination of a few developed countries which control the levers of the global economy.

Moreover, many countries fear their sovereignty can be stepped on by major powers that have used military might to get rid of leaders they don’t like, and that their countries may be bombed to smithereens or face economic sanctions or sabotage, unless they comply with these demands.

The invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the bombing of Libya, the regime change in these three countries, the economic embargo against Cuba and sanctions against Iran, and the continued  occupation of Palestine, are all examples of why the developing countries have not yet shaken off the shackles of colonialism.

It is beneficial for them to have the protection of a club, even if it is moral and not military protection, especially when they face the threat of military aggression or political interference.

The NAM Summit, attended by political leaders or senior officials of 120 member states and many more observer countries and organisations, was held in the beautiful island of Margarita in Venezuela in mid-September, under the theme  “Peace, Sovereignty and Solidarity for Development”

NAM, which is 55 years old, was formed during that period in modern history when many colonial territories had just won their independence.

Political giants Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Sukarno of Indonesia, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and Josip Tito of Yugoslavia were among the visionary founding fathers of NAM, which became a symbol of unity of newly independent countries, forged from a common anti-colonial struggle and a common aspiration.

In a world split by the Cold War, the newly independent countries decided to be “non-aligned” and play a balancing role in global affairs. After the end of the Soviet Union and the Cold War, its members continued to find NAM useful.

NAM played an important role in the successful struggle against apartheid and today it is in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for independence. In the halls of the United Nations in New York and Geneva, NAM continues to play a major role in the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council and other bodies.  

The struggles of past decades – including for a new international economic order, the right to development, and for developing countries’ interests to be at the centre of agreements and negotiations – are still the struggles of today.

In his opening NAM Summit speech, the Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro, gave a useful categorisation of three phases in the history of NAM.  Phase 1 was the initial foundation years from the Bandung conference in 1955 to the Belgrade founding NAM conference in 1962 to the collapse of the USSR in 1990.  Phase 2 were the years of the unipolar world dominated by unilateral actions of the dominant countries especially the sole super-power (the United States). 

And Phase 3 is the present era where the unipolar world has turned into a world of more distributed power, with the rise of some countries of the South, and more opportunities to reshape the world order into a more balanced one.

The Summit produced a political Summit Declaration; and a 200-page Outcome Document which lays out positions and actions for the Movement on a wide range of issues.  

The Declaration states that developing countries are the ones who suffer more intensely from the disregard of international law, from invasions, war and armed conflicts, caused mostly by the geopolitical interests of the great centres of power. It affirmed the validity of NAM’s founding principles and achievements.

The Declaration’s 21 commitments include the revitalization of the NAM; rejecting the illegal policies of regime change aimed at overthrowing constitutional Governments; and working towards eliminating weapons of mass destruction especially nuclear weapons.

It reaffirmed the right to self-determination, condemned the use of unilateral sanctions and coercive measures and highlighted the Right to Development.

It also condemned all forms of terrorist acts and affirmed that terrorism and violent extremism should not be associated with any religion, nationality or ethnic group.

On Palestine, it called for Israel’s withdrawal from occupied territories and called for a just and lasting peace.


It called for the reform of the United Nations and the full implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and for the multilateral trading system to ensure a level playing field for developing countries in international trade.

On climate change, it called on developed countries to fulfill their commitments of providing finance and technology transfer to developing countries.

It reaffirmed the need to reform the international financial architecture and democratise decision-making in the IMF and World Bank.

If NAM takes up all these issues seriously it will make a positive impact in international affairs.  However implementing concrete actions will be even more challenging.   

The Final Document is a detailed statement of 200 pages, containing NAM’s positions on a whole range of global and regional political issues.   It is a great feat for the NAM members to have reached consensus since in some issues there are strong differences of views among the members.     

All in all, the NAM Summit was useful.  It gave the NAM members the opportunity to review and take their collective position on the whole range of international issues. It was also an opportunity to reflect on the history and present state of the movement and to reaffirm the need to advance the cause in the next three years.  

This kind of occasion that the Summit provided is much needed in a world that has become extremely turbulent, economically and politically.