Born during the early days of the Cold War, the Non-Aligned Movement may still have a place in international diplomacy, as this week’s Iranian hosts are trying very hard to prove. But it must reinvent itself as an institution of integrity if it is to remain relevant.
At its inception, the NAM aimed to provide an alternative to the Soviet and U.S. ideologies, both competing for hegemony. From the beginning, however, the movement was never completely detached, with the majority of its members still ascribing to either American or Communist ideals. This paradox does not exist today, and neither do the reasons for NAM’s creation.
The movement has also claimed to stand for human rights, freedom and democracy: principles that its member states call for on an international level but often ignore at home.
With 120 members today, the NAM meetings have also been commonly appropriated by host nations as an opportunity to push their own agendas. This week’s summit in Iran, which U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is attending, has been criticized by many as little more than a public relations exercise for Tehran. Delegates have entered the conference center by passing an exhibition of the charred remnants of cars belonging to Iranian nuclear scientists assassinated over recent years, and the agenda will include the issues of the country’s atomic program as well as Western sanctions.
The hypocrisies of non-non alignment continue until today. While the Syrian crisis is also high on Iran’s agenda for discussions, can it really claim to be taking a neutral stance? Iranian officials have voiced a desire to see a cease-fire implemented in Syria, after 17 months of violence have brought the country to its knees.
But following vows from the Syrian President Bashar Assad and Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem that the regime will continue fighting until the end, and an admission from Iran that it has transferred arms and money to Damascus, and will stand by the regime, the audacity of this claim of impartiality is staggering.
Attempting to introduce an initiative allegedly aimed at ending the conflict, while so undeniably entrenched in the crisis itself, is an insult to everyone’s intelligence. The Syrian opposition has already dismissed the NAM talks, primarily because of Iran’s attendance.
If the NAM is to emerge from this week’s conference with any remaining dignity, an urgent reassessment of its role, its guiding philosophies and its name itself, is necessary.
Instead of existing purely as an outdated reaction to a bygone era, the member states must discover unifying factors – be they systems of government, ideologies or alliances – which they share. It must be modest in its goals and not attempt to combat the world’s problems in one fell swoop.
Perhaps more importantly, if the coalition is to have a voice to which the rest of the world should pay attention, it must espouse principles by which its own members can abide in their domestic policies.