Re-thinking NAM in a post-COVID-19 century

We are approaching the 65th anniversary of the Bandung Principles this year and 60th anniversary of the NAM in 2021. There is a renewed call in the NAM communique for the revitalization and strengthening of NAM, writes Sayantan Bandyopadhyay for South Asia Monitor

Sayantan Bandyopadhyay Jul 04, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic offers new difficulties as well as opportunities. Prime Minister Narendra Modi used this as an opportunity to address the Non- Aligned Movement (NAM) Contact Group Summit in May through video-conferencing, which was his first NAM summit after skipping them in 2016 and 2019. He spoke about deadly viruses like terrorism and fake news and how NAM countries need to pool their best practices, experiences, crises-management protocols, research, and resources. He pointed out how NAM has retained its role as the moral voice of the world and has to remain inclusive. India as a founder member of the organization has repeatedly called for fighting the global scourge of terrorism jointly and multilaterally.

In the post-COVID world, a new template of globalization needs to be created based on fairness, equality, and humility where international institutions will reflect the realities of today’s world. The idea is NAM – which has 120 developing world states - in its current form would not be able to live up to its expectations. So it needs to be reformed as it 'talks but does not act' due to burdensome procedures leading to delay with no clear outcomes.

So improvements need to be pushed and it could do with the following three reforms :

Representative Changes: It had a diverse objectives list and non-alignment was its biggest objective and hence the organization was named after it. Now after the end of the Cold War when most countries follow a policy of multi-alignment defining the objective of this movement needs to change. This is even more relevant as the NAM countries even during the Cold War were not completely non-aligned as it is always focused on national interests that determined alignments. For e.g. - India had a 1971 Indo-Soviet Peace and Friendship treaty with a mutual security clause. Philippines had Mutual Defense Treaty with the USA. 

If we multiply the examples it can be seen that an overwhelming number of countries had very close relations with either the USSR or the USA. So a name can be proposed like the Southern Solidarity Movement or Global Solidarity Association as many people have objections to the Third World Movement. The Southern Solidarity Movement is a good idea as most NAM members are from the Global South and most of them share postcolonial dreams and common socio-economic conditions. But even if it is called a movement it needs to have a few features of an organization that we will take up later. NAM needs to work on symbolic gestures like declaring every decade as a decade of democracy, human rights, good governance, rule of law and freedom which can go a long way in promoting global goodwill and creating a moral force of good governance. The decades can also have sub-themes like free and fair elections, judicial accountability, and due process of law and safeguarding fundamental rights and promoting tolerance.

Structural Changes: NAM is like a toothless tiger and we need to provide it with sharp teeth to bite. Indian strategic analyst C.Raja Mohan and many others have commented that NAM only conducts a triennial ritual with no followup actions. So a permanent secretariat is the need of the hour. There is also a need for a charter of rules, coercive machinery for implementing its dictates, budget, membership criteria, and change the structure from consensus-based to decision-making. The idea of permanent secretariat has historically been opposed by Ghana, Indonesia, and India as they were apprehensive of the cost-sharing formula (did not want additional financial stress for so many small countries) and they felt the secretariat can expose internal fissures. The South Commission report, 1990 even argued for a permanent secretariat as with evolving time countries are economically better off and secretariat will have no problem in implementing common issues of low politics where consensus can easily be garnered like international terrorism, counter-narcotics, and disarmament. 

In the initial years. the permanent secretariat can be rotational among the permanent original members of NAM who would provide infrastructure and staff. Later a permanent civil service also needs to be conceptualized for NAM. Secondly, an Economic Development Council, Internal Conflict Resolution mechanism, Environmental Commission, Human Rights Commission, a pool of news agencies, Global South Health Organization and the cultural and artistic centres need to be conceptualized. 

Thirdly, the membership criteria should be made more specific to ensure a cohesive likeminded group is formed and the consensus model of decision-making needs to be changed to a two-third majority based decision making for swifter decision making. The resolutions and press releases of NAM should be specific, clear, and free from jargon for an action-oriented agenda. Fourthly, NAM countries need to work on a common security clause or a mutual defense pact which will show them as a united front from a divided house.

Policy Reforms: NAM should not just be a political organization. It remains a politico-social-economic organization as it continues to work for the evolving interests of member countries. These countries should remember this is not a labour union movement and adequate attention should be given for maintaining working relations with the global north for North-South Cooperation along with  New International Economic Order (NIEO) and South-South cooperation. There should be an issue-based collaboration with the US and any other resourceful countries. NAM needs to work on a framework where natural resources of the country can be easily extracted, processed, and marketed. NAM plenary sessions can host business council meetings where NAM members companies and MNCs from the US can be asked to invest in developing countries. There can be a slew of incentives that can be offered to make it attractive for FDI and some essential sectors can be liberalized like health, education to promote competitive consumerism (more options to choose for a basket of options and hence driving down costs and also essentially improving the quality of services).

NAM countries can even create a code of conduct for multinational companies. There can be a NAM bank, named as Global South Bank, which can finance infrastructure projects, human development projects, and provide economic bailouts at a non-exploitative rate. Thirdly, new issues like climate change, environmental degradation, new diseases need to be countered with new institutions in a reformed NAM and old issues like poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, malnutrition, drug-trafficking, human trafficking, international terrorism needs to be prioritized and dealt with actionable agenda and targeted outcomes. Fourthly, we need to understand the Right to Development is a fundamental human right for people and nations constituting them and hence needs to be given prima facie significance.

NAM and global governance

We are approaching the 65th anniversary of the Bandung Principles this year and 60th anniversary of the NAM in 2021. There is a renewed call in the NAM communique for the revitalization and strengthening of NAM. We live in an interconnected world where we need to face new challenges unitedly. The new challenges are complex and destructive for instance the cyber threats, public health emergencies (like the COVID-19 pandemic), natural disasters, and security implications of disruptive technologies. This reminds us of the strength of any organization depends on the unity and cohesion among its members of the movement. So if NAM is to be taken seriously member countries have to look at it with all seriousness and reform and reshape the organization to make it more effective. They need to take necessary measures to reinstate and reaffirm its ability and capacity for initiative, negotiations, leadership, and representation and strengthen its moral, ethical, political, social, and economic power to be a forum representing the aspirations of the two-third of the populace.

At the 18th NAM summit, India’s Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu used an ancient Vedic hymn Sangachadhwam, written about 4,000 years ago, to drive the message home. “May our intentions and aspirations be alike so that a common objective unifies us all".   NAM leaders created a task force to identify the requirements of member countries through a common database reflecting their social, medical, and humanitarian needs in the fight against COVID-19. This was a step in the right direction.

In the post-COVID world, a new template of globalization needs to be created based on fairness, equality, and humility where international institutions will reflect the realities of today’s world. US President Donald Trump also spoke in the same tone to reform G-7(Group of 7) and make it G-10 or G-11. This will add India into the global grouping of most advanced countries and fulfill India’s aspirations to become a part of international rule-making and recognizing its emerging role in global politics. But it remains to be seen whether India’s inclusion will enhance NAM's stature or act to its detriment. 

(The writer is a post-graduate student at the Department of International Relations, Jadavpur University, Kolkata. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at handle Sayantanb21)

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