Amid much controversy, Tehran played host to the 16th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) which concluded on Friday. While Iran tried to use the occasion to further its controversial goals, the conference did not yield any constructive results. It is about time to decipher the real worth of NAM, given the fact that it has been around for 51 years but has failed to achieve whatever ideals the founders had set at the inception. With the Cold War long over and Russia finally joining the World Trade Organization, it is time the members consider re-aligning the principles of the movement. Better still, they should think about agreeing on an amicable parting of ways.
NAM was founded by five statesmen-turned-leaders-turned-dictators who wanted to chart an independent course, free from the eastern or western influences. When it came to actual independence, however, the conduct of the founding fathers was less than legendary. Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser and Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru frequently switched sides during the Cold War and Yugoslav statesman Josip Broz Tito and Indonesian president Sukarno turned from heroes to villains in their respective countries.
Still, the organization managed to stay afloat and garner some prestige. It was the Cold War era and member states wanted to have a better bargaining position by citing their allegiance to the NAM. The organization also made some success especially in the opening and expansion of commerce and trade between member states. The non-aligned countries made significant strides towards voicing their opinion against the cancer of colonialism that was still prevalent during the time.
As Vijay Prashad has beautifully articulated in his book The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World, NAM removed the stigma attached to the term "Third World." Impoverished and developing countries found a platform to vent out their anger and earn some recognition. It is another thing that the member states failed to get anything but respect.
Perhaps the most telling failure of NAM is the fact that member states continued their liaison with the Eastern and Western blocs thus invalidating the very premise of the movement. India sought and received generous military aid from the west during the Sino-Indian war of 1962. Egypt became the largest recipient of American aid within the next two decades. Yugoslavia turned into a mess and Indonesia launched one of the biggest communist-hunting campaigns during that time. The non-alignment thus effectively provided the member countries with a facade to conceal their real aspirations.
The fall of the Soviet Union only hastened the demise of the NAM. By then, it had already become a meeting-and-greeting place for the head of states, dictators and despots. The disintegration of Yugoslavia did not impact the organization much; it was already in a free-fall. The situation was so dire that the organization failed to host a summit for five years; from 1998 to 2003 (summits are usually held after every three years).
The modern incarnation of NAM is not much different from its predecessor. Although the membership has gone up (120 full and 17 observer states), the organization has been a total let-down. There appears to be little, if any, significance of democracy and human rights while setting the agenda of the conferences. A large number of member states have performed exceptionally poorly in terms of human rights, democracy, and freedom of speech. It's no wonder that the summit was held in Iran, a country known for its suppression of minorities, curbs on women's right to education, and support of terrorism and barbarian dictatorships. The shameless tampering with President Morsi's speech (in which he criticized the Syrian regime) by Persian interpreters reflects the deep-seated disdain for democracy and human rights. Venezuela will be the next host of NAM summit in 2015 and one can expect the repeat of some of the tactics used by Iran (and one must laud the members for their choice of host nations).
NAM is not the UN, which has gained international recognition despite many failings and is now the supreme global body of nations. It is not a regional or international group of countries either, which team up to seek targeted goals. While the European Union, G-8, ASEAN, and BRIC are booming, NAM is in disarray. It does not provide any economical or social benefits to the member states. The organization has served its purpose and it is about time that it be disbanded. Regional alliances are better equipped to take on the economic and social challenges.