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NAM Summit 2006:
No More Crossroads

By Vikas Nath & Joseph Senona

16 November, 2006

The 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and Soviet Union, and between colonialism and independence which gave impetus to the NAM no longer exist and have been replaced by dominant paths of Washington Consensus, globalization, and neo-liberal agenda - the costs and benefits of treading on which are not so well defined.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 for them.

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 in Havana.

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 forums.

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 ties.

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), Geneva.

The views presented in this news article are personal and do not represent the views of the organization the authors work for.









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