As the 14th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (Nam) gets underway in Havana, its relevance has come under the scanner like never before. Two questions hang over all the atmospherics and photo-ops: will the Nam be able to shrug off its tag of being a product of Cold War politics? And will it now reinvent itself by infusing new energy to prove its continuing usefulness? The answers to these posers will probably determine the future course for the Nam in a world that is at a crossroads — divided as much by strife as by issues of globalisation.
When the Nam first emerged in the Sixties, the Cold War was at its coldest. Its original brief was to unite developing countries that gained independence from European colonial powers after World War II under a political umbrella that set them apart from the US and the Soviet Union. But over the years, the movement came under strain because of superpower tensions. With both the Soviets and the West manipulating it, it was hardly surprising that many Nam members were prompted to stray from their commitment to the principles of non-alignment. The end of the Cold War, however, placed yet another question mark over the viability of the largest forum for developing countries outside the UN. Curiously, although the importance of the Nam is under a cloud, the idea of solidarity among poor countries has probably never been more important. The controversy surrounding the WTO negotiations is clear enough evidence of this, as borne out by the way crucial WTO talks aimed at helping developing countries to benefit more from global commerce failed last July.
There was a lesson in that failure, though. It reminded smaller countries struggling to confront the issues of globalisation that only a bigger organisation like the Nam could offset their vulnerability. Fortunately, the Havana summit looks set to give the Nam a shot in the arm. But much will depend on key States like India, China, Brazil, South Africa and Venezuela, which must play a positive role to reinvigorate the Nam. New Delhi could perhaps walk this talk by promoting South-South joint ventures in science and technology, and addressing social agendas like health and environmental protection. India could also provide the leadership to set up a permanent secretariat and operational fund for the movement to ensure that it emerges charged with new ideas from Havana.