NAM and its contemporary relevance.

The historical importance of the Non-Aligned Movement

The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and its precursor, the Bandung Afro-Asian conference in 1955, were examples of soft balancing by weaker states towards great powers engaged in intense rivalry and conflict. As they had little material ability to constrain superpower conflict and arms build-ups, the newly emerging states under the leadership of India’s Jawaharlal Nehru, Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser and Indonesia’s Sukarno, and later joined by Yugoslavia’s Josip Broz Tito, adopted a soft balancing strategy aimed at challenging the superpower excesses in a normative manner, hoping for preventing the global order from sliding into war.

The NAM and the Afro-Asian grouping acted as a limited soft balancing mechanism by attempting to de-legitimise the threatening behaviour of the superpowers, particularly through their activism at the UN and other forums such as the Eighteen Nation Committee on Disarmament, as well as through resolutions.

The Impact of NAM on the nuclear arms race

The non-aligned declarations on nuclear testing and nuclear non-proliferation especially helped to concretise the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty. They also helped create several nuclear weapon free zones as well as formulate the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. The tradition of ‘non-use of nuclear weapons’, or the ‘nuclear taboo’, was strengthened partially due to activism by the non-aligned countries’ at the UN.

The present situation

As the great powers are once again launching a new round of nuclear arms race and territorial expansion and militarisation of the oceans, a renewed activism by leading global south countries may be necessary to de-legitimise their imperial ventures, even if they do not succeed immediately. If these states do not act as cushioning forces, international order could deteriorate and new forms of cold and hot wars could develop. China, the U.S. and Russia need to be balanced and restrained and soft balancing by non-superpower states has a key role to play in this.

If the present trends continue, a military conflict in the South China Sea is likely and the naval competition will take another decade or so to become intense, as happened in earlier periods between Germany and the U.K. (early 1900s), and Japan and the U.S. (1920s and 1930s).

The U.S. as the reigning hegemon will find the Chinese takeover threatening and try different methods to dislodge it. The freedom of navigation activities of the U.S. are generating hostile responses from China, which is building artificial islets and military bases in the South China Sea and expanding its naval interests into the Indian Ocean. Smaller states would be the first to suffer if there is a war in the Asia-Pacific or an intense Cold War-style rivalry develops between the U.S. and China. Nuclear weapons need not prevent limited wars as we found out through the Ussuri clashes of 1969 and the Kargil conflict in 1999.

The way forward

The smaller states could engage in soft balancing of this nature hoping to delegitimise the aggressive behaviour of the great powers.

China’s wedge strategy and its efforts to tie Afro-Asian states through the Belt and Road Initiative have limited the choices of many developing countries. However, despite the constraints, many have been able to keep China off militarily by refusing base facilities and also smartly bargaining with India and Japan for additional economic support. They thus are already showing some elements of strategic autonomy favoured by the NAM. More concrete initiatives may have to rest with emerging states in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) grouping. Engaging China and India more intensely while restraining the U.S. and Russia from aggravating military conflict in Asia-Pacific can be the effort of the developing countries.

Source: The Hindu