The Non-Aligned Movement: a worthy ideological fight or a lost cause?

This month Venezuela has been host to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit at Margarita, an island situated off the northeastern coast of the country. The movement officially has 120 member states, although this year only 12 Heads of State made an appearance, down from the 30 that made the last summit in Iran.

Recent news concerning the event have focused on the fact the movement is from the Cold War era, or that in light of the summits’ low head of state turnout, questions can be asked about its relevance and significance in the future. Yet, this view is perhaps more of a reflection on the simplicity in which international political economy is currently seen, rather than the strength of the Movement itself. One may recall the saying that ‘what is popular is not always right, and what is right is not always popular.’ Yes, many Heads of State did not show up for the summit, but that does not necessarily mean what the Non-Aligned Movement is irrelevant or outdated. It is after all the second largest membership organization after the United Nations.

The notion of trying to relegate the movement to the pages of history is perhaps an injustice to its young history. Following this logic, perhaps we should as well relegate the U.N. itself, to the pages of history.

So, what is the Non-Aligned Movement?

Founded in 1961, the movement was formed in response to the escalating arms race between the USSR and the United States of America. The organization was a set of countries that aimed to not align themselves in a time when the two dominant global superpowers (U.S.S.R and the U.S.A) expected the world to choose a side. To complicate the process further, this was a time when colonialism was still rife, perhaps explaining why all African countries are part of the movement except South Sudan which did not exist at the time. The Cold War coincided with many African States’ struggles for independence. The organization’s concerns when founded in the 1960s revolved around issues of colonialism and Western influence in developing countries. Following the end of the Cold War, the organization has found itself also being concerned with restructuring the World Economic order amid an increased globalization.

Since its formation, the movement therefore has strived to be an organization that espouses the need for peoples of the developing world to achieve their independence in relation to neo- and direct colonialism, and more broadly to the needs of their citizenry.

In current global politics the notion of ‘colonialism’ seems outdated and from a bygone era as it is perceived to no longer exist and perhaps more importantly it has an un-savoury public persona. As such, it may be true that the movement has lost much of its steam, but the fact is that there are 17 ‘non-self-governing’ territories according to the U.N; arguably there could be more when wanting to define self-government. Colonies therefore still do exist in our lifetime and consequently so do the associated socio-economic structures of power and influence that determine the fates of peoples. Though the world has definitely changed since the Cold War and its colonial past, there are areas of contention that still exist in spite of the equalities we take for granted as citizens in ‘free’ states; the existence of the 17 territories is but one testament to this reality.

Admittedly, the NAM does not currently speak to the issues affecting these 17 territories, but rather focuses, for instance, on the Palestinian cause for an independent state and Puerto Rico’s independence. The movement touches a core that underlies much of international and local politics: the lack of equality in the international political economy. The NAM was founded due to the need for developing nations to come together and work on a more inclusive international political order that includes reforming the U.N Security Council to better represent the current international political order and promoting intra-developing state trade and self-reliance. This, however, is an ideal that has not been realized in the six decades after the NAMs founding. Inter-African trade for example stands at 12% of its global trade and ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) trade at 20%. By comparison intra-European trade stands at 60% of its total trade and 40% for North America. By developing economic and political ties developing states in theory would be able to leap-frog their development and destabilize the global economic order by trading amongst themselves, rather than the traditional developed state – developing state dynamics.

Perhaps the strongest statement from this year’s summit is Venezuela’s suggestion to tackle ‘Other Issues’,

Other issues in which there were specific agreements among NAM member countries are the rejection, through concrete policies, of all forms and expressions of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, Islamophobia or any other related intolerance. This includes new forms of slavery, trafficking of humans and the rights of the young people and women. The members furthermore spoke of the need to refrain from adopting or implementing extra-territorial or unilateral measures on fellow members as well as the condemnation of terrorist acts.

As inequality in the developed world becomes of greater concern, the lived experiences of minority groups within such states are consequently disproportionately affected. Such is the case with the ‘black lives matter’ movement in the U.S.A and the rise of xenophobic acts of violence in countries such as France, Germany and the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, this new reality in developed countries reflects a routinely avoided issue, that there never was equality to begin with in this post-Cold War era, whether in international or local politics. The current global economic environment has therefore opened a window into the underlying inequities that exist.

Although this year’s summit was held in Venezuela and consequently much of the media’s attention was devoted to the low Head of State turnout and the economic straits of the country or notorious Heads of State such as President Mugabe of Zimbabwe; It is important to remember that what NAM seeks to foster is perhaps a naïve notion of an inclusive non-hierarchical political economy.

The importance and relevance of NAM in today’s uncertain world is a matter of affirmation to the core values it aspired to at its founding. There still exist gross economic and political inequalities and thus the NAM’s voice should be ringing out louder in our generation. It should now be working to make itself a movement of global contention, forging meaningful alliances with member states beyond media spotlights. After all, if someone can at least hear the pleas in a sea of chaos, the NAM should by right be that institution. And because of that we can perhaps hold ourselves more accountable to our ideas and actions in perpetuating the same inequalities that we aim to eradicate.

Author Biography

Chiziwiso Pswarayi is Master’s graduate in International Relations at the University of Cardiff. Chizi’s interests include Southern African politics and migration issues.

Cover Image ‘Presidente Salvador Sánchez Cerén es recibido por el Presidente de Venezuela , Nicolás Maduro’ under Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

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