The Widening Horizon
Since 1961, when the first Non-Aligned Movement summit was held, the membership of NAM has expanded, as has India’s engagement with other countries and groupings. Here are 10 major outfits with which India has been deepening its cooperation.
It is ironical that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is in Tehran, extolling to NAM leaders the virtues of “lasting peace through joint global governance,” while in New Delhi the Opposition, led by the BJP, stalls parliamentary proceedings and bays for the government’s blood and the PM’s head over the alleged multi-crore coal scandal. Others are cautioning Manmohan not to cozy up to Iran—a country whose ‘clandestine’ nuclear weapons programme has led the US and its Arab allies to demand its isolation. Some question the relevance of the Non-Aligned Movement in a multi-polar world order, particularly India, as it makes conscious efforts to whittle down its anti-US rhetoric and builds strong ties with the West.
So what is Manmohan doing in Iran and why is India still part of NAM?
“It is like being in a bad marriage which you can neither leave nor improve,” says former Indian diplomat K.C. Singh. He argues that if India wants to be part of NAM it must see to it that anti-US and anti-West rhetoric does not take centrestage, since that has been pretty much the track record of NAM.
In recent years, India’s formal ‘non-aligned’ stance has come up for serious criticism from foreign policy commentators in India and abroad. Some who believe India’s future lies in being close to the US feel the leadership in New Delhi should dump an age-old stand that reeks of the Cold War period, and which has outlasted its utility in a changed world.
Earlier this year, when a document titled Non-Alignment 2.0: A Foreign and Strategic Policy for India in the 21st Century, written by a group of Indian scholars and commentators, was released for a public debate, it generated much controversy. Most of the criticism concerned the “non-aligned” in the title, as detractors wondered whether India was still looking at the emerging world through its Cold War prism.
Opinions differ. “While NAM’s utility in a post-Cold War period can be questioned, the principles of ‘non-alignment’ in formulating key strategic policies still remain valid,” says Srinath Raghavan of the Centre for Policy Research, a co-author of the document.
V.K. Krishna Menon was the first to use the phrase ‘non-aligned’ at the UN General Assembly in 1953. Subsequently, Jawaharlal Nehru used it in 1956, though he had spelt it out as a strategy for maintaining India’s independence in formulating policies on key issues much earlier. The landmark Afro-Asian Conference in Bandung in 1956 sanctified it, prior to the launch of NAM in Belgrade in 1961. Non-alignment helped newly independent nations maintain their sovereignty on key issues as Soviet Union and the US tried to carve up the world in their respective camps.
The ongoing controversy stems either from a selective reading of Nehru, or from confusing ‘non-alignment’ as a principle of foreign policy with the ‘Non-Aligned Movement’. Former foreign secretary Shyam Saran argued in one of his recent newspaper columns that Nehru’s attempt in “maintaining, and if possible, expanding the country’s strategic autonomy” continues to be India’s overall objective. He pointed out that our first premier demonstrated a realistic awareness of the limits of India’s ability to influence world events when he said, “We should either be strong enough to produce some effect or we should not interfere at all, unless India’s interest is involved”.
Post Cold War, and particularly in the past decade, India’s engagement with the world has grown and has helped it in expanding its options. Seen as a vibrant democracy and an emerging economic power with a strong, nuclear-powered armed force, India has become an attractive partner for the US and other countries. But New Delhi has kept close ties with traditional allies, like Russia and groupings like NAM. MEA officials also argue that NAM’s support is necessary for India which aspires for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.
Manmohan’s trip to Tehran—where he met Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, and other leaders—was to convey India’s commitment in deepening ties with Iran, whose importance goes beyond its being a main source of India’s energy needs. It is also a country which can play a key role in maintaining peace in West Asia—where India has a number of strategic assets. Instability there not only jeopardises the six million Indians who work in the Gulf, but also disrupts India’s energy flow and hits economic growth. Though India isn’t part of the NAM group on Syria, in Tehran the prime minister did stress on the need for peacefully resolving the crisis.
So, irrespective of what detractors say, the Indian leadership is not likely to abandon the principle of ‘non-alignment’ as an inherent part of its foreign policy. Especially, when no one is sure of the emerging picture, and most are hedging their bets.
In the Cold War era, especially since the late ’60s, India was clearly and obviously aligned with the Soviet Union (Too Big For The Party?, Sep 10). These days, our efforts towards getting close to the US are equally obvious. If we still wonder why the NAM countries don’t take us seriously, we need to get our heads checked.
Ganesh Natrajan, Isere, France
Actually, India played a balancing act during the Cold War. It surely did get assistance from the USSR, but also dealt with the West, led by the US, in a big way. And it consistently engaged fellow Third World countries too. It was probably a smart thing to do for a developing and newly independent country. Note also that India never had a single Soviet or US military base or missile launch site. It also kept Communism largely at bay. India did its own subtle, little-noticed part in the Cold War, by simply being democratic and pluralistic.
Varun Shekhar, Toronto
The Non-Aligned Movement was never non-aligned that way, with India, Yugoslavia and Cuba all firmly in the Soviet camp. And in this unipolar world, the NAM is totally irrelevant. It should be dismantled.
George Jacob, Kochi
In the Cold War era, India was very clearly and obviously aligned with the USSR. Nowadays we are very clearly and obviously a US ally. With all this if wes till wonder why the NAM doesn't take us seriously we need to get our heads and eyes checked.
Good one Ganesh.
"“It is like being in a bad marriage which you can neither leave nor improve,” says former Indian diplomat K.C. Singh."
Again, a real good analogy.
Part of non alignment, was based on a mindset "the West as colonizers were evil (we experienced it), the Soviets were with power very likely to turn evil too (though they seemed less at the time), the colonized were simple, nice and pure guys - the good guys". As it turns out none of it was as true - black and white.
Actually, India played a balancing act during that whole cold war. India was obtaining assistance from the USSR, but it was also dealing in a big way with the US, Germany, Japan, the UK et al. Plus the entire third world. Probably the smart and ethical thing for a poor, developing, newly indpendent country to do, in order to avoid clientage in a big way. India never had any Russian( or American) military bases, missile launch sites or any direct strategic coordination. India did its own subtle, little noticed part in the cold war, by simply being democratic and pluralistic, without joining any power bloc. And thereby keeping communism out of the subcontinent. Without even joining the formal 'cold war'. Saudi Arabia, Zaire and El Salvador may have been close to the US in those years, but they can hardly be said to have been upholding freedom and democracy!
NAM course is a course that is tedious and a slow growth.People should be ready to make apporiate sacrifices.Will they?Becoming subservient to west will bring us riches in the short run and may in the long run too considering the changed world situation.But independence will be lost and will have to toe the line of the west in all their nefarious activites.
West or for that matter any super power do not want their supermacy challenged and indpendent nations will have to either suffer or accept this fact.NAM countries are in the hands of one of the two groups-Russia+China or US+Europe.
With absolute inferiorirty in weaponery and technology these countries will have to pay a price to remain in a sustainable manner.
NAM during the cold war was a farce. In allowing itself to be presided over by Cuba and in failing to contradict Moscow when it said that "the non-aligned countries are the natural allies of the Soviet Union" it looked more like an AAM (Anti American Movement), preferring proximity to a discredited political system that ultimately collapsed under its own falsehood and hypocrisy. Today NAM has to steer between Russia and China (totalitarian, corrupt and mafia dominated) and the West (imperialistic, rapacious and decadent). It is to be hoped that it will not now, under the influence of rabidly anti-Western states such as Iran, fall into the same trap and come under the sway of the amoral Eastern powers who are presently, for their own selfish interests, presiding over the destruction of Syria.
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT