Return to the Non-Alignment spirit vital now - GulfToday

Return to the Non-Alignment spirit vital now

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


A policeman wards off Ukrainian demonstrators who protested at a venue where the Russian and Chinese foreign ministers are set to meet with their counterparts from the BRICS economic bloc of developing nations in Cape Town, South Africa. File/ Associated Press

The Russo-Ukraine war and risky politico-economic competition between the US and China have made a pro-active return to Non-Alignment all the more necessary at this time of nuclear peril. Russia, the US and China have large arsenals of nuclear weapons.

President Vladimir Putin has warned that he could deploy tactical nuclear weapons against Ukraine if Russia itself is attacked but this has not prevented Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s armed drones and allied anti-Putin Russian militias from striking Russia.

Non-Alignment as a movement emerged between the 1955 Bandung and the 1961 Belgrade conferences. Its founders were leaders of newly independent countries: India’s Jawaharlal Nehru, Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, Yugoslavia’s Josip Broz Tito, Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Indonesia’s Sukarno, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, and Cyprus’ Archbishop Makarios. Non-Alignment lost a great deal of influence when Nehru and other founding fathers died. His daughter, Indira Gandhi was the last Indian prime minister to take a strong interest in promoting Non-Alignment. Her assassination in 1984 deprived the movement of its spirit of independence and readiness to intervene in crises.

Non-Alignment was based on the five principles of non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality, co-operation for the benefit of all, and peaceful co-existence. The Non-Aligned Movement campaigned against colonialism, occupation, aggression, imperialism, racism, apartheid, armament, and great power blocs.

The movement eventually had 120 members (some more non-aligned than others) and included 20 observer states and 10 international organisations. At its height of influence during the Cold War, the movement was successful in securing decolonisation, controls on nuclear weapons and proliferation, and disarmament and an end to apartheid in South Africa. The US and its allies regarded Non-Alignment and Non-Aligned Movement as hostile because the ideology and the organisation were independent and did not accept the US slogan, “If you are not with us, you are against us.” This remains Washington’s attitude although the Cold War is long gone. US President George W. Bush adopted this childish line when he launched his unprovoked, disastrous war on Iraq in 2003. Incumbent Joe Biden has taken the same attitude toward countries which do not back the US-driven Ukraine war. The recent Group of Seven industrialised countries — the US, Britain, Germany, Italy, France, Germany and Japan — sought to influence countries which have failed to support the war by inviting them to the Hiroshima summit. India, Brazil, Indonesia, and Vietnam did not change their policies.

When the Cold War ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, pundits predicted non-Alignment would no longer wield the influence it once had. They were correct. With the deaths of the movement’s distinguished founders, there were few figures of their stature to steer the movement and the world fell under destructive US unipolar domination. This began to wane in recent years as China, Russia and, to a certain extent, India began to assert themselves with the aim of creating a multipolar international order. Favouring this development, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have adopted policies which have promoted their national, regional, and international interests rather than adhering to the diktats of the US and the Western powers.

The Ukraine war has unified Europe and strengthened its connection to the US which is, as they say, “calling the shots.” The Western-controlled international media has drowned the world in an uninterrupted tsunami of “news” (i.e. propaganda) from Ukraine. Other crises are ignored. UN and international humanitarian agencies now complain that they face serious shortfalls in funding for Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Palestine, and other crisis-ridden countries where needs of their people are far greater than those of Ukrainians. The US and its allies sustain Ukraine’s war against Russia while collaborating with and funding Israel’s occupation of Palestine and low-level war of attrition against Palestinians. On many days, Palestinian casualties from Israeli raids are higher than those in Ukraine.

The Ukraine war has accelerated alienation from the West of the countries of the Global South which have suffered from the fall-out from high energy prices and shortages of grain, cooking oil, and fertiliser on which Afro-Asian nations relied. The volume of Ukraine’s exports (10 per cent of global consumption) has been cut by warfare and Russian blockade while the flow of Russia’s exports (20 per cent) has been reduced by sanctions. Twenty-first century Non-Alignment has to take into consideration the changes wrought by the end of bipolarity caused by the fall of the Soviet Union followed by the US war on Iraq in 1991, on Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003, the civil and proxy wars in Syria from 2011-19, and the proliferation of US-driven sanctions which amount to war by economic means against hapless populations of targeted countries.

The election of Donald Trump in 2016 and his withdrawal from the Paris climate change agreement, the World Health Organisation, and other international pacts and organisations demonstrated that the US cannot be trusted to abide by its global commitments. This was reinforced by his 2018 abrogation of the 2015 international agreement for limiting Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for lifting sanctions. The possible re-election of the erratic Trump in next year’s election would be a disaster for the US and the world. A new Non-Aligned option could cushion the world from rivalries and potential warfare between the US/NATO and Russia or China. The five principles of Non-Alignment, particularly non-aggression and peaceful coexistence, have not become obsolete. For neo-Non-Alignment to emerge there must be serious leadership from influential players on the world stage.

In October 2021, the movement celebrated its 50th birthday in Belgrade. Sixty ministers of foreign affairs attended, plus Nasser’s son Abdel Hakim, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and former Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. The ideal of Non-Alignment and the movement could emerge from intensive care if there are leaders prepared to make the effort. The grouping formed by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) is not non-aligned but serves as an unequal but useful counterweight to the powerful US and its allies. Expansion was discussed at last week’s BRICS foreign ministerial meeting in South Africa with the Emirates, Iran, and Saudi Arabia being potential candidates for membership. The presence of these four oil-producing countries would give BRICS greater weight when confronting the G-7. While no decision was taken during this meeting, the subject will be taken up during the BRICS summit in August.

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