Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)

What is Non-Alignment?

  • The phrase “non-aligned” was first used by V K Krishna Menon at the United Nations General Assembly in 1953 and by Jawahar Lal Nehru in 1956
  • But as early as in late 1940s, Nehru had spelt out the strategy behind the phrase, first in Constituent Assembly debates and later in Parliament
  • The core idea was that, the very sense of India, with its history and civilisation attributes, demands the pursuit of an independent foreign policy. Decisions relating to India’s vital interests should not be externally determined. Maintaining and, if possible, expanding the country’s strategic autonomy is a continuing objective
  • Nehru once said that “We should either be strong enough to produce some effect or we should not interfere at all“, which demonstrates a realistic awareness of the limits of India’s ability to influence events
  • The way Jawaharlal Nehru conceived Nonalignment was a strategy and not a doctrine. For Nehru, the non-alignment was a strategy designed to maximise newly independent India’s gains from the world system. Nonalignment did not mean to choose to become a hermit kingdom.

Nehru kept the West open for trade and aid, while on the other, it avoided alienating the two communist powers in India’s immediate neighbourhood, China and the Soviet Union. By adopting a policy to be friendly to all, Nehru hoped to receive critical necessary foreign aid at that time.

  • The Nonalignment 1.0 was just a way of making it clear that India would act in her interests first rather than the interests of Washington, Moscow, or Beijing (Peking)

What were implications of NAM?

Despite of initial rumblings from US congress, India was fairly successful in its policy of non-alignment. India received aid from both blocks and neither took India as a threat. In Nehru Era, India was able to maintain satisfactory relations with US as well as USSR. However, India found herself moving closer and closer to the Soviet Union. The reasons were:

  • United States kept supplying arms to Pakistan despite repeated admonition from India
  • From New Delhi’s perspective, US was an unreliable partner, it was proved in 1960s during financial crisis and food crisis.
  • USSR reassured India regarding the security measures against a potential Chinese attack
  • India and US remained in contravention over the nuclear question
  • India was subject to a nuclear blackmail by US (allegedly) when it deployed its aircraft carrier USS Enterprise during the India – Pakistan War of 1971
  • India did not like the US presence at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean

We can say that India and US relations remained acerbated for the first few decades of India’s impendence and that is why India tilted towards Moscow and signed the Indo-Soviet Friendship Treaty in August 1971.

End of Non-alignment 1.0:

NAM as a strategy become useless with the end of Cold War when world became Unipolar as USA became undisputed world leader.

Failures of Non-alignment:

The critics of Non-alignment say that the biggest failure of the policy was the India’s failure to deal with China in 1962. It was said that India could move closer to US to counter the abject poverty, grim state of economy and problems in foreign trade. However, these were problems of India as a state and not India as a country with independent foreign policy. The failure was not of non-alignment, but of an economy spiralling out of control (the concurrence with the China war/ pushing of India’s Five Year Plans off schedule) and held policies held to because they had become articles of faith than strategies.

Future of NAM:

NAM should be seen as “Strategic Autonomy” which is much needed in today’s world than in past. However, in today’s context, India needs more engagements with all players as world has become more inter dependent than in the past. Few points to remember are:

  • India’s enhanced economic and security capabilities enable it to influence external events and outcomes in a widening orbit compared to the Cold War years. India enjoys greater leverage but bears greater responsibility in dealing with regional issues such as South Asian and East Asian economic integration and global issues such as climate change and energy security.
  • Furthermore, in a globalises world, external issues impact our economic and social development prospects while domestic choices we make as a country, in turn, have an impact on the external environment. Promotion of India’s interests demands far greater engagement with the world than ever before.
  • Depending on the issue at hand, India will find itself working with shifting and variable coalitions rather than through settled alliances or groupings.
  • The country has inherent assets, such as a favourable demography, a strategic location and a culture of creativity and innovation, which create a window of opportunity to drive India’s emergence as a front-ranking power, a master of its own destiny but generating a range of public goods that make the world a better and safer place to live in.

Indian PM not attending NAM 2016:

  • Only second PM to do so.
  • It can be attributed to shift in India’s foreign policy given its strategic partnership with the US and therefore NAM was not priority on its agenda
  • However, foreign policy was always to attain a set of objectives. It should not be seen as black or white, it is always shades of grey
  • Blocs and alliances are less relevant today and the world is moving towards a loosely arranged order.
  • Our key national interest is to become one of the central pillars of global politics and it seems as if China is the biggest stumbling block. A lot of India’s foreign policy is about managing China today. There are multiple poles emerging in the world and the US is at the centre of them all
  • Problem with NAM has always been that even in a bloc, individual nations have made foreign policy decisions based on national interest and en bloc support has rarely happened


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