In certain circumstances of the world the non-aligned movement was born in 1961 ( although the Bandung conference heralded the effort as early as 1955) and quickly gathered strength, before moving into a state of relative stagnation. Now in different circumstances and for somewhat different reasons the movement is becoming even more relevant and there is increasing need for strengthening it as well as reforming it.
While examining the need and the relevance for non-alignment then and now an important source of continuity is the yearning of developing countries for autonomy and sovereignty in evolving the path of their own choice in keeping with their needs and conditions. Even after formal colonial rule ended, it was seen time and again seen that imperialist forces wanted to impose their choices on weaker countries in matters relating to not just foreign policy and defense but also economic, trade and development issues. Multinational companies were expanding and becoming more powerful all the time and in most important development issues including health, medicines, farming, food, energy etc. they wanted to impose their own agenda on developing countries.
If the developing countries did not follow the path suggested or dictated to them, they could face several problems and restrictions created by the forces of imperialism. Worse, some of the resisting governments could be toppled and their leaders could even be killed, as happened in the case of Lumumba in Congo and Allende in Chile.
On the other hand by getting together and establishing unity, these countries can be in a better position to resist as well as prevent such bullying by forces of imperialism and in fact by any super power. What is more, by cooperating with each other and creating systems of mutual help ( South-South Cooperation), as well by obtaining the help of important sympathetic organizations and individuals from other parts of world as well, these countries can improve their capacity for more autonomous growth.
Now all these realities still remain with us. In addition in some ways the forces of imperialism are now more aggressive and are equipped with more powerful technology to inflict harm. The reference here is not just to weapons of war. The technologies and matching systems that are increasingly available to multinational companies and overall to forces of imperialism to exercise much more complete control over agriculture, seeds, food, health, medicines, vaccines, information, media, manufacturing, even outer space are truly awesome in terms of their reach and impact. Hence the need for greater unity of most countries to protect themselves is even greater now.
What is more, China is fast emerging to challenge US power at world level. Russia with its huge weapons still remains a powerful force. Hence countries may be increasingly under the pressure of two or three major powers and their allies to be with them or in their camp . Hence there is continuity also with the earlier need to avoid getting entangled in big power rivalries.
While there is continuity with the earlier situation in some contexts, in another context there is even greater need. As this writer has argued in two recent books Planet in Peril and Protecting Earth for Children, by far the most crucial issue of our times is that the very life-nurturing capacity of our planet is being threatened by the combined impact of several very serious environmental problems and accumulation of weapons of mass destruction, and hence the biggest priority just now is to resolve this crisis within a framework of justice, peace and democracy. Left to themselves the big powers and forces of imperialism will look at these very crucial issues from their narrow interests and hence progress at best will be very limited and distorted. In this most important context also the non-aligned movement can play a very important role and present a more balanced and viable perspective.
Hence clearly there is need to strengthen the non-aligned movement but at the same time it is important to reform it in very important ways .
Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Man Over Machine ( Gandhian ideas for our times) and Earth Without Borders.