The Non-Aligned Movement isn’t really a formal organization, though it has sometimes been referred to as the Organization of Non-Aligned States. It is a very loose group of countries with only one thing in common – they don’t like to be told what to do by super-powers or treaty organizations involving super-powers.
The group first met in 1961, brought together in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, by President Josip Broz Tito (who was a bit of a rogue in the communist bloc), India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Egypt’s second president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, and Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno. They felt they represented the future of the world in a way, all of them recently liberated from imperial rule. To varying degrees, all were in truth aligned with one or the other of the superpowers and except for Nehru, devolved into dictators.
The Non-Aligned Movement adopted five principles set out by India’s Nehru: Mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, mutual non-aggression, mutual non-interference in domestic affairs, equality and mutual benefit and peaceful co-existence. In 1970, they added two more principles: peaceful resolution of disputes and abstention from big power military alliances and pacts.
The “membership” fluctuates. Currently, there are 120 member and 17 “observer” countries. That’s 137 of the 195 or so countries in the world. This week, they are meeting in Tehran, Iran. The current “president” of the NAM is Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The conference opened well, with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei telling the assembled heads of state that Iran’s “motto is nuclear energy for all and nuclear weapons for none.” The speech was intended to show that Iran is not suffering in any way from Western sanctions over its nuclear program. Khamenei called the United Nations Security Council illogical, unjust and a relic of the past which the United States uses to “impose its bullying manner on the world. They [Americans] talk of human rights when what they mean is Western interests. They talk of democracy when what they have is military intervention in other countries.”
Then, Egypt’s new President, Mohammed Mursi took the podium and things got very testy very fast. He called for the non-aligned nations to align themselves behind the rebels in Syria, telling the assembly, “Our solidarity with the struggle of the Syrian people against an oppressive regime that has lost its legitimacy is an ethical duty as it is a political and strategic necessity. The Syrian delegation walked out. Iran is only ally the al Assad regime has in the region.
Mursi made it clear that the non-aligned nations are not stuck back in the 1970s, they aren’t even stuck in the Bush era. This is a new world. Many of the non-aligned nations had been parts of old European empires. Then, they were led by strong men like four of the five founders of this group, and in many cases were client states of the Cold War enemies, proxies for the Soviet Union and the United States. But, the breakdown of the Soviet Union was the beginning of the end of strong men and dictators. Those days are waning, sometimes violently as in Libya and sometimes quietly as in Myanmar. Mursi represents a new leadership in the non-aligned nations, someone neither pro-US nor pro-Russia, truly non-aligned.