TCS Daily


Non-Aligned No More?

By Jason Miks - February 8, 2006 12:00 AM

For all the talk of India being on the verge of national greatness, there has been concern that it could be held back because of its attachment to something called the Non-Aligned Movement (more on this in a moment). Yet two recent decisions -- one a clear break with the fifty year old Movement, the other a more subtle move -- suggest that India is increasingly willing to take a more realistic and pragmatic approach to international relations which should help the country make good on its great promise.

Some History

The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) was conceived at the height of the Cold War when Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru joined with leaders such as Yugoslavia's Tito and Egyptian President Gamal Nasser to pronounce their independence from US and Soviet influence. There was an obvious attraction to such a stance when the super powers seemed on the verge of mutual destruction. And NAM leaders were undoubtedly sincere in believing they might be able to bring some influence to bear on the two parties and end the stand off.

But with the addition of countries such as Cuba, which clearly sided with the Soviet Union, the Movement's credibility as an impartial force was badly damaged, a view only reinforced as several members -- including India and Ghana -- ended up engaging in the type of power politics they were supposed to be rejecting.

India and other NAM countries have also too often been reluctant to engage in much meaningful or constructive criticism of one another -- notably on human rights. Indeed NAM countries dismissed the value of sanctions against Robert Mugabe's oppressive regime in Zimbabwe, and Cuba is set to host the next summit later this year.

But India's reticence has been particularly noticeable on the issue of Iran's nuclear ambitions and whether to refer it to the United Nations Security Council. In fact India has been developing closer ties with Iran in recent years, with a January 2003 declaration clearly stating the intention of developing a closer strategic partnership. And as a fast growing country (economic growth in the last year has beaten forecasters predictions and been rounded up to over 8 per cent) India needs more energy -- something which Iran has agreed to supply with a pipeline running through Pakistan.

The Indian government was thus clearly under pressure to back its NAM ally in any vote at the UN, a possibility which worried the United States. But in an encouraging sign that the country won't be bound by a doctrine that is out of place in the post Cold War milieu, India this month voted to support referral to the UN.

A second, less remarked-upon but still important, decision of note is an announcement that India has withdrawn around 3,000 troops from Jammu and Kashmir. Although there still remain some 500,000 soldiers in the state, and the Indian government of course claimed that it was merely a 'redeployment', it is still an important step in the right direction and suggests a maturity and willingness to work with Pakistan towards some sort of solution for the troubled region.

Both decisions should in turn make for a smoother visit when President Bush visits at the end of February. The trip is likely to focus on the issue of civilian nuclear reactors. The subject of India's claim to a permanent seat on the Security Council will no doubt be discussed as well. India is fully deserving of a place and the US should offer its full support, not least because closer ties with India mean a democratic ally in an often unstable part of the world.

Of course the fact that India has moved closer to the US in recent years, and thus away from its Non-Aligned doctrine, does not mean that it will have to fall in line with every US policy. Like all democracies, India can be expected to act broadly in pursuit of the best interests of its own people. Sometimes this will mean siding with America, while other times there may well be painful disagreements.

But either way, abandoning an inflexible and outdated doctrine and showing a greater willingness to call an ally to account when its motives are suspect is a welcome step forward. A step that should provide India with a real opportunity to shine.

Jason Miks is a Tokyo-based writer and Assistant Editor at the Center for International Relations.

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