Iran and the Non-Aligned Movement: Reciprocal Strategies and Viewpoints

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Behzad Khoshandam
Expert on International Issues

“Balancing” is the best term to describe the main strategy that the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) has used with regard to Iran during the past three decades. That strategy emanated from Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence (Panchsheel) which have governed the start and continuation of the activities of this international institution since its inception up to the present time. During about 33 years that have passed since Iran became a member of the movement, its maximum activities toward Iran have been limited to issuing support statements, diplomatic backing as well as lack of any commitment to practical partial support from the movement for Iran's national interests.

The first positions of the Non-Aligned Movement with regard to Iran were taken during its summit meeting in Havana in 1979. The Iraqi imposed war against Iran, the issue of reforms in the United Nations, and Iran's use of peaceful nuclear energy have been among major areas in which the Non-Aligned Movement has taken positions related to Iran's national interests during the past 33 years.

The most important result of Iran's membership in the movement has been NAM’s decision not to hold its seventh and eighth summit meetings in Baghdad during Iraq’s imposed war against Iran, which was a sign of the movement’s practical and firm support for Iran's national interests and goals.

But why NAM’s strategy toward Iran is focused on balancing? The main factors which may have led to the present situation include the quality and main goals of this international body, unanimous voting mechanism used by the organization, lack of true institutionalization which includes the movement’s decision-making process, and absence of any form of executive guarantee for its decisions.

The movement’s strategy of supporting Iran by issuing statements has become more manifest especially in the international security atmosphere which has existed in the wake of 9/11 terror attacks. While the majority of Western countries have been taking a hostile stance on Iran's peaceful nuclear energy program during the past decade, the large-scale approach taken by the Non-Aligned Movement with regard to that program has been maximum support for Iran's right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

Under new conditions in the Middle East and North Africa pursuant to the political developments which are collectively known as the Arab Spring, the Non-Aligned Movement has appeared mostly passive with regard to the management of regional developments. It seems that given Iran's high influence on these developments and since Iran is going to assume presidency of the movement during the forthcoming Tehran summit meeting (scheduled for August 26-31, 2012), the possibility for further activation of the movement’s potentials seems much higher.

There is no doubt that the Non-Aligned Movement’s main strategy toward Iran in view of the movement’s trends, motivations and goals will focus on avoiding maximum partiality in favor of Iran's national interests and will be a function of Iran's participation in institutional activities of the movement and other multilateral international organizations.

At any rate, three years of Iran's chairmanship over the movement can change NAM’s strategy toward Iran to become more institution-based and more beneficial to Iran's foreign policy goals.

On the whole, NAM’s overall approach to Iran during the past 33 years has been focused on balancing the conduct of big powers against Iran's foreign policy goals. This approach will hopefully continue in the future allowing the movement to provide countries like Iran with opportunities in the face of other multilateral institutions like the United Nations Security Council and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in such a way as to benefit Iran's national interests.

The important point, apparently, is to assess Iran's strategy toward this movement during the next three years in relation to such important regional issues as Arab – Israeli conflict, the crisis in Syria, as well as future role of big global powers like the United States in regional equations.

The most essential question in this regard is to what extent NAM’s strategy toward Iran will be overshadowed by the strategy of big powers and other important international bodies such as the United Nations, NATO, the European Union (EU), the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council [(P)GCC], the Arab League, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation toward this important international player and how it will influence Iran's national interests and strategic influence on regional and international equations?

Iran's Strategy toward NAM

Iran's strategy toward NAM stems from its traditional approach of neutrality which has consistently governed traditional ideas of Iran's foreign policy and relations with international bodies. Continuation of “neutrality” in Iran's foreign policy through 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries as well as throughout the past three decades has been in line with the Non-Aligned Movement’s international goals and has increased Iran's willingness to take advantage of the potentials of this movement through the entire post-revolution era.

Since its inception and from the beginning of its activities, the NAM has been actively present in international issues on the basis of the idea of supporting the rights of third and impartial states in the international arena. Iran became a member of the Non-Aligned Movement right after victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, in line with the country’s policy to use impartial multilateral organizations and mechanisms at international level in order to promote its inalienable rights and draw support for them. After victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the impartial idea which governed the Non-Aligned Movement enjoyed a high degree of conformity to “Neither East, Nor West” position of Tehran as well as the “negative balance” doctrine which governed the Islamic Republic’s foreign policy. Existence of such common grounds attracted the attention of Iran's diplomatic apparatus to this international institution.

Iran officially acceded to the movement during its sixth summit meeting in the Cuban capital city, Havana, in 1979. Since that year, Iran has been an active party to the activities of this world body and a main participant in most meetings of this multilateral international mechanism.

The most important goal pursued by Iran through about 33 years of membership in the Non-Aligned Movement has been to use this international institution in order to change international equations and support the independence and justice seeking ideas which ruled Iran's foreign policy approaches. With regard to such important issues as the Iraqi imposed war, Iran's peaceful nuclear technology, as well as Tehran’s effort to do its part in the management of global and regional problems over the past 33 years, the Islamic Republic has only expected the Non-Aligned Movement to support its independence seeking and respect its well-wishing realities and just seeking intentions. The support accorded to Tehran by member states of the Non-Aligned Movement, either separately or in groups in the Board of Governors of International Atomic Energy Agency over the past years, attests to NAM’s backing for Iran's inalienable rights.

Iran hosted the 15th foreign ministerial meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran on July 27-30, 2008, and hosting the movement’s summit meeting in 2012 is the most important practical reality which is in line with Iran's strategic approach to international trends and realities. Therefore, hosting the 16th summit meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran concurrent with the ongoing regional and international developments as a result of the Arab Spring is another step toward realization of the classic strategy of “impartiality” which has persistently governed Iran's foreign policy goals.

Iran's effort to turn the movement into a systematic, institutional-based, plan-based, and active organization, and to revive it at international level is aimed at redefining the movement’s identity and increasing effectiveness of the activities of this international body. Tehran also aims to take advantage of its soft power capacities in order to increase its diplomatic credit at regional and international levels.

Following the Cold War period, this international body has played a passive role in international equations. There are hopes that Iran's presidency of the movement for the next three years and alignment of Iran's foreign policy objectives with NAM’s goals through Tehran’s multilateral meeting (August 26-31, 2012) will give a new impetus to the movement which would help it meet the national interests of member states on the basis of a strategy of impartiality.

By taking advantage of the movement’s capacities in the next three years, Iran will be able to take important steps toward détente with major regional and international powers, formulate indigenized and regional solutions for its members, increase Tehran’s diplomatic might and reduce the impact of international sanctions against Iran by taking advantage of south-south cooperation potentials and the “look to the east” attitude of Iran's foreign policy.

Undoubtedly, convergence between Iran's approach and various approaches taken by countries like India, Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa, and Cuba, which have traditionally played an important part in NAM’s developments, will greatly help Iran to achieve its strategic goals through participation in this important international institution.

Key Words: Iran, NAM, Reciprocal Strategies and Viewpoints, Balancing, UN, NATO, EU, (P)GCC, Arab League, OIC, Neutrality, Khoshandam

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