Non-alignment, anyone?

Though the ideologues of non-alignment in India and the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may not realise it, both entertain same misconceptions about non-alignment. Both appear to think that it is an ideology with a well defined value system. Those who are persuaded that non-alignment is an ideology subscribed to mostly by non-democratic states, as Rice appears to be, assert that it has become irrelevant, and question why a democracy like India still continues to subscribe to it. On the other side, the ideologues of non-alignment point out that the non-aligned are united in their espousal of an equitable trade regime, reform of the UN and a just and fair world order.

But non-alignment is far from being an ideology. How could Singapore, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Cuba and Sri Lanka be united under one value system? Do the non-aligned agree on WTO issues, the future expansion of Security Council, and a just and fair world order which implies democracy and secularism. Obviously not. In reality non-alignment was a strategy devised by Jawaharlal Nehru after Churchill's Fulton speech when he was anticipating the division of the international system into a bi-polar world. He talked of not joining any power bloc aligned against each other. He did this while enunciating India's foreign policy before India became independent in his broadcast on September 6,1946.

At that time there were very few independent developing countries. That was also the time when Cominform (the International Communist Organisation under the leadership of the Soviet Union) had proclaimed the Zhdanov thesis which called for Communist uprisings in the newly decolonising countries, including India. Nehru wanted to keep links with the West and also not alienate the Soviet Union. He kept India in the Commonwealth and attempted to cultivate friendly relations with the Soviet Union.

India had no problems in receiving aid both from US and the Soviet Union. President Kennedy referred to India favourably in his inaugural speech and earlier as a senator sponsored the Kennedy-Cooper Aid bill for India. Jawaharlal Nehru was firmly opposed to its becoming a third bloc, though the other co-founders of non-aligned movement favoured creating a secretariat and converting it into a third force. India was also opposed to the view that the Socialist bloc was a natural ally of the non-aligned.

What was the non-aligned movement about? It started with the newly decolonised nations which did not want to join either of the two military blocs getting together to assert their autonomy, their plea for disarmament and greater development aid. Attending the non-aligned conferences did not prevent individual nations from having close relations, including military relations with the US, UK and France or the Soviet Union. Malaysia and Singapore had defence pacts with Britain and Australia. Saudi Arabia had very close relations with the US and UK. Cuba was very closely tied to the Soviet Union. Yet they came together under the non-aligned umbrella because they were not formal members of Cold War military alliances.

Though the non-aligned claimed to stay out of the tensions created by the Cold War they fought wars among themselves. The Iraq-Iran war was the longest war among two non-aligned countries without the movement being able to stop it. Other non-aligned countries supported the belligerents and helped them to sustain the war. Malaysia and Indonesia, both non-aligned, had their conflicts. Somalia and Ethiopia, Egypt and Yemen fought wars. Chemical weapons were used in the Iraq-Iran and Egypt-Yemen wars. All this made a mockery of the boast of the non-aligned movement being the largest peace movement.

With the end of the Cold War and the emergence of a polycentric balance of power among six major nations US, European Union, Russia, China,Japan and India there is no more bloc politics. The US has developed extensive trade relations with China which has led to a great degree of mutual dependence. Russia is now a major supplier of energy to Europe, China and Japan. The balance of power permits each player to deal bilaterally with others to mutual advantage. India has been recognised as a strategic partner by Russia, US and European Union, and is engaged in a strategic dialogue with China and Japan.

In the light of the above reality there was no need for Rice to raise the question about the relevance of non-alignment in Indian foreign policy. The cooperation she seeks with democracies like India, Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa can be obtained without non-alignment coming in the way, provided the US and European countries would agree to an equitable trade order and to reform of international decision-making so that it abides by genuine democratic norms and does not perpetuate the dominance of the victors of the Second World War.

The writer is a defence analyst

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