Non-aligned movements are good as long as they serve the purpose. On Thursday, we Indians saw two such movements drawing all attention, one an institutional one being held in Tehran and the other, a more informal one, shaping up back home. Manmohan Singh has gone to attend the 16th NAM Summit in the Iranian capital while the Samajwadi Party chief, Mulayam Singh, called a meeting of all non-Congress and non-BJP parties in the national capital. Who will emerge a better player in the game of non-alignment?
International NAM has little to offer to India today
The concept of non-alignment is a crucial one in any battle based on ideology and driven by diplomacy. India was one of the main architects of the NAM and statesmen from the newly-independent world in the late 1940s articulated this new ideology to keep off the warring capitalist and communist blocs in the post-World War II period.
Several countries from Asia, Africa and Latin America had joined the new platform in order to avoid consequences of probable military conflicts that always loomed large during the Cold War era on their socio-economic structures, already ravaged by colonialism at that time.
But in a changed international set-up of today, the meaning of NAM has undergone change too. That Iran, a country which is currently at the centre of all international attention, is playing host to the NAM Summit, is significant. If the latest NAM Summit emerges into a platform used by Iran to promote its anti-West sentiments and complain against the 'international conspiracy' going on against it, then it will imply a huge setback for the NAM, which anyways is travelling a one-way road at this moment.
Former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had once questioned the purpose of the movement, asking who was it directed against today? Rice's observation was true, for the NAM has continued as a baggage of the past and has no ideological relevance today. Even during its heydays, it could never be said that the NAM was a perfectly non-aligned movement. India was never a non-aligned country when it came to realist politics and had to receive aid from the former USSR to counter-balance threat from the US-Pakistan-China axis.
Who's club is NAM today? Not certainly India's
India of the 21st century clearly finds itself violating the very basic tenet of the NAM, i.e., no alignment with either superpowers of the mid-20th century. The international system today does not feature two conflicting superpowers and rather is marked by a uni-multipolarism where the US leads, although not as decisively as it was.
The irony of today's international system is that it has been largely shaped out by the USA's ideologies and actions, its victories and defeats in the last fifty or so and the current breed of potent forces in the world today either find themselves allied with the US or opposing it vehemently. What is NAM's position today then? Is it basically a platform for anti-US overtures? Sympathising with Iran does not make the purpose of NAM any successful nor it has the power to enforce a strong solution for the ongoing Syrian humanitarian crisis.
If that is the case, then Manmohan Singh has nothing to do much in Tehran. New Delhi has clearly changed its foreign policy orientations in the last few decades and is more close to the US than ever. The political and economic ideologies of the two countries overlap to such an extent today that there is no room at all to call India a non-aligned state today by any stretch of imagination. Max Fisher of The Atlantic said the NAM today is just a platform used by the so-called rogue states who regard the USA as their foremost enemy.
The likes of Venezuela, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and Sudan besides the hosts fall into the group. A high-profile representation has also been sent by North Korea to the Tehran talks this year. Even the USA's terms with the new Egyptian government could turn tricky in the near future.
Will extending moral support to Iran earn India any realistic gains?
India will err if it annoys the USA by allowing nostalgia of maintaining historic ties with Iran for in the present realpolitik clearly divides the world into pro-US and anti-US (and also Israel) camps and New Delhi will gain little if it balances 'getting oil from Iran' with 'cooperating with the West.'
Strategic expert B Raman clearly said that if India's strategic and national security related ties with Israel and the US get affected because of Iran, it would struggle to find alternative partners of equal strength. If India has any problem with the US today, there are enough forums and platforms that have evolved today to counter the US dominance in a positive manner.
Engagement is the key word in international politics today and not confrontation and the NAM seems to be evolving more into a 'Bash US platform'. The only important issue that Manmohan Singh could look forward is his meeting with the Pakistan President, Asif Ali Zardari, as a part of a long-drawn engagement with Islamabad. The recent verdict given by the Supreme Court of India upholding the death sentence of 26/11 convict Ajmal Kasab could give India an added advantage to talk to Pakistan in a strong voice.