Is Non Aligned Movement (NAM) Irrelevant?

Is Non Aligned Movement (NAM) Irrelevant?


Non Aligned Movement (NAM): Genesis and Metamorphosis

Recognizing the destructive nature of Cold War, several leaders: Nehru of India, Nasser of Egypt, Tito of Yugoslavia, Nkrumah of Ghana and Sukarno of Indonesia decided to stay non-aligned with the two competing super-power blocs. For small  countries that came under pressure to join one or the other bloc, the non-aligned movement offered a graceful third way. NAM is a movement and not an organization.
Through NAM countries wished to create a positive force for peaceful resolution of conflicts, disarmament, respect for territorial integrity, non-interference in internal affairs of sovereign nations, and emphasis on economic development and social progress.
From a simple idea based on anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism and anti-racism, it developed into a powerful concept of South-South cooperation. The first NAM summit, which took place in Belgrade exactly 50 years ago, assembled twenty-five countries. Today, the movement has 120 member states and 20 observers.

NAM: Ambiguities


  • NAM has never had a coherent policy; each member country has acted and continues to act in accordance with its national interest. No consensus could be reached about the meaning, influence and actual relevance of the NAM.
  • The economically and militarily weak non-aligned countries tried to achieve their foreign policy aims by influencing an imagined “world opinion”. This aim could never be achieved.
  • For those with a moral point of view, NAM seems an important platform to resolve the problems of the Global South. Those with a more realistic approach pointed to the failures and weaknesses of the NAM.
  • The movement has no permanent headquarters, and the widely differing interests of the member states prevent a coherent policy. NAM’s relevance has been doubted from the beginning.
  • What do member states and diplomats expect from a non-aligned policy? What does it mean in different countries and periods? In which situations do member states find a common voice? These questions have always remained unanswered.
  • Outside its summit process, the UN is really the only place where NAM continues to be considered as still relevant.


NAM:Limited Achievements and Contradictions

  • NAM certainly helped accelerate decolonization, the end of apartheid in South Africa and provided group solidarity for many nations to resist the pressure to join or be dragged into one super-power bloc or the other.
  • As its membership grew, it also became a hiding place for some Third World dictators. Many members of NAM were not really non-aligned, but openly aligned with one or the other super-power blocs. For example, Cuba and North Korea were clearly aligned with the Soviet bloc; Iran under the Shah and Saudi Arabia were clearly aligned with the US bloc.
  • NAM movement became so rhetorically radical at times, that the truly neutral and non-aligned European countries like Switzerland and Sweden never considered joining NAM.
  • While NAM stood for disarmament and peaceful resolution of conflicts, many NAM countries are huge military spenders. There have been so many civil wars as well as cross border wars inside and among NAM countries, that the gap between NAM principles and realities has become very wide indeed.

NAM:Relevance Post Cold War

  • Following the end of the Cold War, it is hard to tell what NAM is non-aligned against? The very purpose of giving birth to NAM was to fight the bi-polar ideology that existed during the Cold War. Today, the bipolar ideology itself has changed.
  • Since NAM hides behind sovereign right of nations to do whatever they please inside their territory, and does not come out in support of collective international action to protect civilians in major humanitarian disasters or against massive violation of human rights, NAM has lost its moral right as the conscience of the oppressed people and nations of the world.
  • NAM can develop a common voice against the greatest evils of our times –
    • abject poverty,
    • violation of human rights,
    • the culture of violence and impunity,
    • excessive militarization, and
    • degradation of the environment.
  • If NAM can do the above, then so can the UN? UN is definitely a more powerful organization. What is the utility of continuing with a movement which has had contradictions since inception and is of doubtful potency and relevance?

Is NAM Irrelevant?

NAM was more of a theoretical concept than a practical idea. Since inception it has lacked clarity about what it stands for and hence could never develop a potent common voice on issues that it could have stood for. An objective analysis of the achievements or rather non-achievements of NAM will lead us to conclude that it is a largely irrelevant movement. The world has gradually moved towards economic, geographical, military and strategic groups rather than ideological groups, which appear irrelevant in contemporary times. A movement which is beset by large and unsolvable contradictions and does not seem capable of achieving anything significant in the future should be terminated. I fully endorse Modi’s non-attendance of the latest NAM meeting in Venezuela. He should devote his energies towards more important issues. It is time that NAM is brought to an end.

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