NAM: Five Decades of Efforts to Turn “Common Identity” to “Common Unity” – Part I

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

By reviewing the conferences convened by heads of member states of the so-called Non-Aligned Movement over the past 47 years, one can notice a series of concentrated efforts by NAM members to turn their “common identity” to “common unity.”

Considering that Tehran will be hosting the 15th foreign ministerial conference of the Non-Aligned Movement next week, a review of the fundamental issues related to NAM seems imperative.

Thought of Non-Alignment

The expression “non-alignment” was first mentioned by the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in a speech in Colombo on April 28, 1954. Later on, the Non-Aligned Movement came into being thanks to the efforts of Asian and African leaders and founders of NAM. In fact, not all the members of NAM were non-aligned. Most of them had a different understanding of the movement but to find a common ideology which could act as a tool to maintain apparent unity among the main NAM members was not easy.

Most of the NAM members were not interested in philosophical principles and were merely active in special political and economic fields. Therefore, their unity was not a common unity but a common and new identity. In other words, the concept of non-alignment was different from neutrality as defined in classic international law. By common neutrality the Non-Aligned Movement meant non-involvement in the differences and disputes of the big states which were likely to break out at the end of 50s and early 60s.

NAM Founders & First Conference

Today, Josip Broz Tito of former Yugoslavia, Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Sukarno of Indonesia, and Nkruma of Ghana are cited as the founders of NAM each of whom played an important role in creation of the movement in their time. Marshal Tito, who led Yugoslavia during World War II and after the war, after establishing his power and despite the fact that he was first an advocate of the East, adopted an independent policy from the East bloc, which prompted their criticism and propaganda attacks.

Tito who could not turn to the West due to his ideological beliefs, tried to go for a third option in order to survive. His interactions with Asian and African leaders, including Nehru and Abdel Nasser encouraged him to propose the hosting of the first summit conference of the Non-Aligned Movement in Belgrade. Thus the first NAM summit was held in Belgrade in September 1961 in the presence of 25 countries.

NAM Summit Conferences

1st Summit (Yugoslavia): The first summit conference of the Non-Aligned Movement was held in Belgrade on September 1, 1961. Based on the conditions set for recognition of non-aligned countries, 25 countries were invited to attend the conference. The international climate at that time, namely the cold war era and escalation of international tensions, had caused fears on confrontation between the blocs and outbreak of a third world war. Therefore, the Belgrade conference put its emphasis on world peace and security and elimination of disputes through international peace and cooperation. Most of the participants were newly-independent states with bitter memories from Western imperialism and for the same reason they were pessimistic about the West and more inclined towards the East.

2nd Summit (Egypt): The 2nd summit was hosted by Egypt and held in Cairo October 5-10, 1964, attended by 47 nations, with most of the new members being newly independent African states. The main aim of the conference was to discuss global crises and ways to establish peace.

3rd Summit (Zambia): Although the NAM summit conference was due to be held every three years, but due to the global developments, the 3rd conference was held in Lusaka, Zambia six years after the 2nd conference. A total of 53 countries attended the 3-day confab (September 8-10, 1970). Discussing issues related to international peace and security, the Lusaka conference underlined the need for the independence of all the nations particularly the Portuguese colonies in southern Africa. In the economic sphere, the conference voiced regret over the widening gap between rich and poor nations and the declining share of exports by the developing countries in the 50s and 60s.      

4th Summit (Algeria): The 4th summit was held in Algiers September 5-9, 1973 attended by 75 countries. The decisions taken by the summit included racial discrimination in South Africa, Rhodesia, Cambodia, Korea, as well as marine rights and narcotic drugs. It also paid attention to economic issues, such as relations between the developed and developing countries, technology transfer as well as international monetary and financial systems.

5th Conference (Sri Lanka): The fifth summit was held in Colombo, Sri Lanka August 16-19, 1976, attended by 86 member states, plus nine countries and 12 international organizations as observers, and seven countries as guests. The differences of views already existing in NAM became more evident in the Colombo conference. The participating states were divided into two groups: extremists or progressive group; and moderate group. Although the number of the moderate group which mostly supported the West was bigger but the organized activity of the extremist group highly influenced the conference decisions. However, the decisions taken by the Colombo conference could be regarded basically moderate. There was also serious rivalry over taking over the seats of the NAM Coordinating Bureau.

6th Conference (Cuba): The sixth conference was held in Havana, Cuba October 3-7, 1979 (just a few months after victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran). The final stage of IRI’s NAM membership was completed at this conference and the Islamic Republic of Iran formally became a member of the Non-Aligned Movement. The Havana conference discussed important issues such as the situation in the Middle East, a proposal to expel Egypt from NAM (for signing the Camp David Accord with the Zionist regime), Cambodia’s membership as well as the international economic situation.
Division between the NAM member states was quite evident in Havana. Some accused Cuba of partiality as the conference chairman. For the same reason, when the idea of support for IRI against the United States came up, a number of the member states stressed that US aggressions against Iran and the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan must both be raised and discussed by NAM.

Items 139, 140, and 141 in the final declaration of the 6th NAM summit were fully devoted to Iran. The statement voiced delight over the historic victory of the Iranian people in overthrowing the monarchial regime which it said inspired hope in all the people of the world in their fight for freedom and consolidating their independence. It also welcomed IRI’s decision to cut off relations with the Zionist regime and the apartheid regime of South Africa. The conference also agreed to a proposal by Iraq to host the 7th summit conference.


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