Iran has touted the Non-Aligned Movement summit which began yesterday in Teheran as a major diplomatic victory, especially for its leaders Ayatollah Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Sanction-hit it may be, but from yesterday Iran heads the 120-nation group, which represents nearly one third of the world’s population.
To add plums and pistachio to the Iranian halva, the United Nations Secretary General also attended the summit, amidst US-Israeli pressure on him not to visit Teheran. Egypt’s newly elected President Mohamed Mursi was also at the summit, making his country’s presence felt in the Iranian capital for the first time in 33 years. Egypt under Hosni Mubarak, a US puppet, had severed diplomatic relations with Iran and even supported Iraq during Iran’s nine-year war with that country.
Mursi, who last month pulled off a surprise coup against the powerful military by sending into retirement his Defence Minister and military chief, the 76-year-old Hussein Tantawi, is in Iran hoping to score a victory at international level. He has come with a proposal to solve the Syrian crisis – a proposal that pleases Iran and is likely to get NAM backing. Mursi wants a core group comprising Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey formed to find a solution to the Syrian crisis. The call by Egypt for the inclusion of Iran in the core group was another reason for Iran’s elation. The earlier core group which the United Nations and the Arab League supported had deliberately left out Iran despite requests from Russia and China that Iran, a major player in Syria and the region, should be included in it.
But as the summit began yesterday, the Iranian halva turned bitter. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hit out at Iran for its "outrageous" comments denying the Holocaust and Israel's right to exist. One wonders whether Ban was aligned to the US-Israeli camp because Ahmadinejad only called for regime change in Israel – not the elimination of the country as the UN chief and others mischievously claim.
Another blow to Iran and the summit spirit came from Mursi. He condemned the pro-Iranian Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and described what Iran has been calling terrorism as a revolution.
The summit proves once again that the Non-Aligned Movement is hardly the united Third World voice that it had been during the Cold War era with legendary figures like Josip Tito, Gamal Abdul Nasser and Sukarno giving powerful leadership to the movement.
The end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 virtually and gradually made NAM irrelevant in the new world order that unfolded. The countries that had during the four decades of the Cold War received economic and military aid from the Soviet Union thought it prudent to become allies of the United States, the Cold War victor and sole superpower. In this unfolding new world order, many NAM states also began to flirt with the United States. Thus they abandoned the socialist-leaning economic systems and adopted market economic policies at the cost of sacrificing their independence and sovereignty at the altar of the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank — institutions that covertly promote the interests of the rich capitalist countries. India, a NAM founder nation, for instance, gradually abandoned the state-controlled socialist economy and embraced the market economy during the premiership of Rajiv Gandhi, putting the country on a high-growth trajectory.
Another issue that underscored the NAM states’ surrender to the Cold War victor was the abandonment of their opposition to Zionism. During its early days and heyday, NAM spearheaded a campaign in support of independence movements and their struggles against colonialism in Africa and Asia. It recognised the Palestinian people’s campaign for a state of their own as a legitimate struggle against Israel’s colonialism. When Sri Lanka hosted the NAM summit in 1976, it came under immense pressure from the United States not to condemn Israel in the summit communiqué. But Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike did not give in to US pressure. Neither did Indira Gandhi, whose opposition to US imperialism prompted President Richard Nixon to slam her as a bitch and a witch.
But, today, India is an undeclared US ally, maintaining close military and economic ties with Washington. Like some other NAM states, it also maintains diplomatic ties with Israel and extends only lip service to the Palestinian struggle. Why blame India when most of the Arab nations maintain diplomatic relations with Israel and have virtually abandoned the Palestinian cause?
Indonesia, another NAM pioneer, is no better. The country under President Suharto had become almost a vassal state of the US long before the Cold War ended. Serbia, the successor state of NAM champion Tito’s Yugoslavia, is today only an observer in the group.Thus it comes as no surprise that NAM was divided over the crisis in NAM member state Syria. At a recent UN General Assembly vote on a resolution against the regime in Syria, a majority of NAM states backed the resolution while Iran and a handful of NAM nations voted against. Sri Lanka opted to abstain.
Many a leader attending the Teheran summit may agree in private that NAM has outlived its usefulness.
The summit resembles the parable of the beggars who meet in a dilapidated building in the night and talk about their plans to rebuild it. But when the day breaks, each beggar leaves in a different direction with none committed to the previous night’s resolution and all concentrating on their day’s collection.
Just like the beggars in this parable, leaders of NAM states will go back to their countries not to take measures to uphold the Teheran declaration but to engage in politics that suits them most. It is the national interest that will come into play — not the collective interest of NAM. Such idealistic vigour has long disappeared from NAM states. Today each country is for itself, be it talks on sharing the global resources, or trade or disarmament — issues that topped the NAM agenda in the 1970s. Remember UNCTAD (the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development), the Law of the Sea process and the Indian Ocean Peace Zone? That was then. Today it is a different story — the story of selfish nations that have betrayed their own cause.
There was little NAM spirit when India and Libya voted for a US-backed resolution against Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council in March this year. There was little NAM spirit, when the Ranil Wickremesinghe government betrayed NAM unity and supported the US position at the Cancun trade talks in 2003.
However, for Iran, NAM is still a useful tool. It depends heavily on NAM member states’ support at International Atomic Energy Agency meetings and at the UN Security Council to defeat, thwart or mitigate moves by the US, Israel, the European Union or others to impose sanctions on it over its nuclear programme.
Because of this usefulness, Iran is expected to make some extra efforts to make NAM meaningful. In a way, Iran can play this role because since the 1979 revolution the country has been adopting a policy of aligning with neither bloc during the Cold War nor any power centre in the post-Cold War era.
As part of its moves to make NAM meaningful, Iran seeks to set up a permanent NAM secretariat. Foreign Policy experts in Iran also call for the creation of a common Third World currency. Perhaps, such a currency will help Iran mitigate the adverse effects of the US sanctions. An Iranian proposal for NAM to condemn sanctions by individual countries may find its way to the final declaration. Thus, Iran is making use of NAM to the maximum to promote its national interest.
So NAM is not quite dead. Neither is it quite alive. But wait a minute! There are signs of a new Cold War on the horizon. China is emerging as a world power capable of checking the sole superpower. New alliances and alignments are being formed in Asia and Africa amidst tension in the regions and the seas around China. If this new Cold War takes shape, we may see a new NAM. Of course, some of the old NAM members, including the pioneers, may find themselves being aligned with one power bloc or the other.