No More Crossroads
By Vikas Nath &
16 November, 2006
South has come a long way since the principles behind Non-Aligned Movement
(NAM) were first enunciated in 1955. The old crossroads between United
States and Soviet Union, and between colonialism and independence which
gave impetus to the NAM no longer exist and have been replaced by dominant
paths of Washington Consensus, globalization, and neo-liberal agenda
- the costs and benefits of treading on which are not so well defined.
Furthermore the question of “Are you with us or against us?”
which confronts countries of the South on several issues are not exactly
workable choices, making it impossible to adhere to the non-alignment
principles of NAM.
But more than issues themselves,
it is the national policy space available to the countries to freely
decide on these issues that has altered dramatically. The South finds
itself in a difficult situation wherein its national policy space is
fast eroding on several fronts; having become a captive to decisions
taken up elsewhere and often behind closed doors. These profound changes
happening in the national policy domain are characteristic of a new
form of imperialism but even more perilous, as it is covert and does
not allow countries of the South to make an informed choice for itself.
Hence the South has to constantly guard against choices being made automatically
While the situation is even
more worrisome for smaller countries of the South who at the individual
level lack the resources and the capacity to exercise influence, even
bigger economies within the South find themselves on the disadvantaged
side of the negotiating tables where they are usually agenda and policy
takers rather than policy shapers. On the whole, the South has to constantly
struggle to minimize the negative impacts of decisions being made outside
of their national frontiers while simultaneously trying to establish
its leadership and dominance in the global affairs.
The rationale for having
a broad coalition of countries of the South is even stronger as many
of the issues including trade, flow of capital and human resources,
climate change, peace and security have become larger than what countries
can tackle at an individual level. This is an area, where solidarity-based
grouping such as NAM can play a substantive role. While the general
philosophy behind NAM to assert the universal principles of equality,
justice and global solidarity against hegemony, unilateralism, and the
use of force to resolve conflicts still holds good, there is a pressing
need for NAM to adopt bold and pragmatic measures in tune with the changing
dynamics, and with the changing conditions within the South who are
at vastly different stages of development and no longer represent ‘one
backward and destitute group of countries’, as described by the
US Writer, Richard Wright commenting on the founding meeting of NAM
at Bandung in 1955.
This heightened sense of
urgency to put South in the driver seat by redefining the South Agenda
and consolidating and taking forward the gains of the last 50 years
of South-South cooperation is evident as the leaders from the 116-member
bloc gather for the 14th Summit of the Non Aligned Movement taking place
Whereas the promotion of
South-South cooperation has been consistently on the agenda of all NAM
meetings, it needs to be viewed differently in light of new cooperation
models which are emerging at the regional level and through participation
of individual countries across the regions. Such arrangements being
more homogenous either because of contiguity of countries or shared
interests with clear benefits from participation, herald a new way forward
to lift South out of poverty and put it on the fast-track to development.
For starters, the NAM Summit
coincides with the Summit of the inter-regional initiative between India
– Brazil - South Africa (IBSA) organized in Brasilia. The IBSA
forum brings together three emerging economies of the South to consolidate
South-South cooperation in the area of trade, security, energy and commerce
while at the same time strengthening the position of the South at multilateral
Elsewhere, the New Asia -
Africa Initiative, launched in 2005 during the Asia - Africa summit
in Jakarta resulted in the adoption of the Asia - Africa Strategic Partnership.
This summit was followed up by the first New Asia - Africa Strategic
Partnership Senior Official Meeting held in South Africa between 1-3
September. The initiative complements the new Asia - Africa Sub Regional
Organization Conference (AASROC) which links the regional economic communities
from both these continents with a view of maximizing their cooperative
Still on Africa, the 7th
Summit of the African Union held in Banjul 1-2 July 2006, was also attended
by leaders from Asia and Latin America. It was during this meeting that
President Chavez of Venezuela insisted on a closer Afro-Latin American
Cooperation. As a result, the very first Africa - Latin America summit
will take place in November 2006. The third Africa-China summit is also
envisaged to take place before the end of this year.
In Latin America as well,
there has been an injection of optimism as far as greater South-South
cooperation is concerned. The emergence of the Bolivarian Alternative
for the Americas (ALBA) in 2004 between Cuba and Venezuela with Bolivia
joining in 2006 signaled a shift in paradigm. ALBA aims to provide a
counterbalance to the policies of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas
(FTAA), thus essentially looking more to the South for solution in areas
such as economics, security, politics and energy.
In Asia too, several steps
have been taken to consolidate the existing regional arrangements through
the creation of ASEAN FTA, the SAARC - SAFTA and the BIMSTEC FTA.
The emergence of these regional
cooperation arrangements were recognized as an effective means to respond
to newer challenges faced by the South at the high-level meeting of
eminent experts from the South organized under the aegis of South Intellectual
Platform in Geneva on 10-11 July.
The implications for leaders
gathering in Havana and the subsequent NAM meetings are clear. A blueprint
for fostering newer partnership arrangements should be created to allow
rapid aggregation of national policy concerns on issues of interest
to the South, and enhance their visibility and activities taken up around
them. The present time is opportune to take such bold steps. The South-South
trade has grown annually at 10 percent during 1990-2001, which is double
the growth rate of the world trade. Also South-South trade accounts
for 11 percent of world trade and constitutes 43 percent of the total
trade of developing countries.
Beyond trade too, there are
several areas such as health, industry, technology, public administration
where aggregation of, and action on common policy concerns can yield
tremendous benefits. New modes of cooperation are also required to allow
countries of the South who are leaders in a particular area to transfer
their skills, technology and support to other countries which may benefit
from them. Several good practices already exist within the South, such
as Oil for Doctors initiative between Cuba and Venezuela or joint training
of personnel from the South on technological and administrative skills.
But these need to be taken up at a larger scale to make a substantive
impact and to make it appealing for other countries to join in.
Within a diverse group of
countries such as those within NAM, conflict of interests and tensions
are inevitable, but they pale out in comparison to the numerous opportunities
that are available to strike common interests, forge partnerships and
take up joint activities, many of which remain unexplored. A New South
is already on the horizon and has started to flex its muscles within
the global arena as is evident from the emergence of the G20 and the
G90 at Cancun and the G110 at the Hong Kong.
NAM can keep alive the South
consciousness and provide the overarching framework and vision to forge
such partnerships, which ultimately need to be carried out at the regional
and country-specific level. It therefore needs to define a new work
programme for itself which should be guided by the underlying concerns
of the South to retain their national policy space in order to make
decisions which are in the interest of their citizens, This will provide
a robust defense against erosion of national policy making which inevitably
happens as the neo-liberal agenda spreads beyond economic sphere into
social and political realms.
Several countries of the
South now realize the impediments that the neo-liberal agenda has placed
on common development of the South. A paradigm shift can be observed
where the South is searching for a new identity based on their common
concerns and common understanding of the problems and the way forward.
Indeed it is as if the spirit of Bandung has been rejuvenated, only
this time all the South is on board in pursuit of alternatives to the
dominant ideology and knowledge hegemony.
In 1955, NAM was one such
bridge which brought together countries which shared similar views on
nationalism and ideology of self-reliant development. The time is now
ripe to build newer and stronger bridges at different levels. By doing
so, the flame of South consciousness lighted by NAM’s stalwart
founders will continue to burn bright and keep providing an alternative
platform for the South to progress.
Vikas Nath is the Coordinator of South Intellectual Platform and Joseph
Senona is a Researcher at South Centre (an Inter-Governmental Organization),
The views presented in this
news article are personal and do not represent the views of the organization
the authors work for.