Non-Aligned Movement: Tehran’s new secret weapon? PDF Print E-mail
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Friday, 31 August 2012 07:50

International politics is full of surprises and reversals. Here comes this week’s major development: Iran, which has faced mounting international isolation over ‘crippling sanctions’ masterminded by the West, has just scored a major diplomatic win. The new Iranian secret weapon “against American imperialism and Zionism” appears to be the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).


Leaders and ranking envoys from more than 120 developing nations flew to Tehran this week to attend the 16th summit of the NAM. There, they are expected to throw their support behind Iran in its standoff with the UN Security Council and the ‘big six’ of world powers. Basking in the publicity they are usually deprived of by international media, the leaders of “underdeveloped and unprivileged” nations (to use the NAM’s parlance), will feel like real movers and shakers in world politics. At least, for the five days before they return home.


NAM leaders will have to devise a roadmap for resolving tensions over Iran’s controversial nuclear program while meeting in Tehran, as well as other burning issues: The Syrian crisis and the issue of Palestine statehood, not to mention Iran styling itself as the NAM’s new leader.


“The Non-Aligned Movement must seriously oppose unilateral economic sanctions which have been enacted by certain powers against non-aligned countries,” Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said in the summit’s opening remarks, setting a combative tone. Tehran’s most favored guest will likely be UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who didn’t cancel his visit to the Iranian capital despite pleas by the US State Department and a personal phone call from Israeli Prime-Minister Benjamin Netanyahu begging Mr. Ki-moon to boycott the event, claiming it will ‘legitimize Iran,’ something Jerusalem can never tolerate.


Iran is likely trying to develop a new diplomatic firewall by embracing the NAM – a loose confederation of dozens of developing nations that generally has a low profile from one summit to the next, held once every three years. The NAM, meanwhile, is attempting to reinvent itself and regain its influence in the world.


The NAM was founded in 1955 at the Bandung Conference – a few years after Winston Churchill’s famous Fulton speech, which is described as the starting point for the bi-polar world forged by ‘blocs’ and the hostilities of the Cold War. Meeting in the Indonesian city of Bandung, the leaders of the world’s national-liberation movement, and the founders of the new states of India, Egypt and Indonesia – Jawaharlal Nehru, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Sukarno, respectively – defined anti-imperialism and anti-colonialism as two key principles of ‘non-alignment’ for the newly independent states. This is how the NAM was born, posing as a third force in world politics that refused to take sides in the standoff between Western and Eastern blocs – the NATO and Warsaw Pact countries.


Following the collapse of the USSR and the end of the Cold War, the Non-Aligned Movement found itself at the crossroads with an obsolete agenda and a lack of new charismatic leaders; the movement finally lost its steam. As a geopolitical idea, the old idea of non-alignment was until recently on the brink of extinction. With more and more developing countries heavily dependent on Western loans, military-technical assistance, and humanitarian aid, sovereignty was de-facto ceded to the new global centers of economic, political and military might. Unlike colonialism and imperialism, neo-colonialism and neo-imperialism tried to appear less frightening and more smart, helpful and humane.


But the US-led wars Afghanistan and Iraq, followed by the Arab Spring, the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya and the civil war in Syria, not to mention the threat of a new war looming over the Persian Gulf, came as a wake-up call for the NAM. Non-aligned nations discovered that they had to take swift action.


In this unique moment, Tehran was quick to capitalize on the growing anger and frustration among non-aligned nations over the West’s neo-imperialist policies. The basic thrust of Iranian diplomacy, and the main reason behind convening such an event like the NAM summit in Tehran, presided over by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, is to show that there is a conspiracy against Iran orchestrated by a few bloodthirsty sharks. Iran hopes to bring the rest of the world to its side by attacking the global powers in this way.


Are the goals of Iran and the NAM fully met? Yes and no. Both Tehran and Non-Aligned nations want independent states to have the right to self-directed development, free from restrictions and threats, and they are ready to stand up for this right, But it is equally true that Non-Aligned solidarity should not be abused in the name of Tehran’s narrow goals, which attempt to render it immune to international scrutiny. Friendship against (not for) something is an old approach, and will hardly allow the NAM to recapture its former position in a changing world.


The Non-Aligned nations resolved that they have to take swift action, before it is too late. So, it remains to be seen whether the NAM will reemerge from the ashes of the Cold War like a Phoenix, or return to the history books – once and for all.


­Sergey Strokan, for RT


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