Global Trends by Martin Khor

Monday 20 July 2009

Summit reaffirms non-aligned movement     

The Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement last week recalled its colourful past and mapped out priorities and plans for the next three years.


Last week, the Non-Aligned Movement re-dedicated itself to promoting the interests of developing countries in international affairs when many of its political leaders gathered in the Egyptian town of Sharm El Sheik.

Among them were President Mohammed Mubarak of Egypt, who chaired the Summit,  President Raul Castro of Cuba (which chaired the NAM the past three years), Malaysia’s Prime Minister Dato Sri Mohd. Najib bin Abdul Razak, Palestine’s President Mahmoud Abbas, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, South African President Jacob Zuma, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, Libya’s President Muammar al-Gaddafi, Nigerian President Umaru Yar’ Adua and the Philippines’ President Gloria Arroyo.

Also present were the heads of state or government of Swaziland, Kuwait, Ghana, Vietnam, Algeria, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Sudan, Lebanan, Yemen, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Zambia, Malawi, Equatorial Guinea, Mali, Gambia, Pakistan, Angola, North Korea, Dominican Republic, Bahrain, Jordan, Namibia, Morocco, while Vice Presidents, Deputy Premiers and Foreign Ministers represented other countries.

The presence of so many well-known and new leaders of the developing world was perhaps just as important, or even more, than the declarations and documents they adopted.

It showed that they still consider the NAM, which has 118 member states, to be important, even though the original rationale of the organization has to be re-interpreted in the changed circumstances of today’s world.

NAM was created out of the desire of the first generation of post-Independence leaders to protect their countries from domination by one or the other of the two major blocs then – the United States and its NATO allies, and the Soviet Union.

The Bandung conference in 1955, led by Indonesia’s Sukarno, India’s Nehru, China’s Chou En-lai and Egypt’s Nasser, was the spark that led to the creation of NAM, which held its founding Summit in 1961.

Malaysia has been an active member, having held the NAM Summit in Kuala Lumpur in 2003 and chairing the movement in the following three years.

At last week’s summit, several leaders stressed that the Cold War is over, but NAM is needed just as before.  It may, however, have to re-invent its image and rationale, and advocate positions in the modern world’s 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.

The Cuban President, 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 better world is possible and NAM has an essential role in its attainment.”

The incoming Chairman, Egypt’s President Mubarak, said international peace is threatened by terrorism, the retreat of the non-proliferation treaty and the many armed conflicts and issues whose resolution is long overdue, foremost of which is the Palestinian question and peace in the Middle East.

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 action when these suit them.  

Libyan President 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, and it had threatened peace, he said, proposing that NAM set up its own council of peace and security which should deal with conflicts among the NAM’s member states, instead of allowing the UN Security Council to deal with them.

Some leaders also condemned the injustice in the nuclear weapons issue, when major nuclear powers like the United States and European countries continue to hold or build nuclear bombs, while threatening smaller countries like North Korea for newly developing weapons and accusing others for having weapons ambitions.

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 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, and 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.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib, speaking for Asian countries at the closing plenary, said the Summit had heard the views and proposals of many leaders, with loud and clear pronouncements, delivered in a frank manner. 

“While the challenges of old remain unresolved, we are now saddled with new challenges, such as threats to peace and security of our nations and regions, external interference in the affairs of our States, global financial and economic crisis, climate change, food security, energy security -- just to name a few -- all of which have generated adverse impact on our ability and focus on ensuring political stability, achieving economic development and accomplishing social progress” he said.

Najib added that the documents adopted by the Summit will serve as a roadmap, and called for a pro-active and fresh approach and in a non-business-as-usual fashion in the next three years.

The Summit last week 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.