India may become the leader of the renewed International Non-Aligned Movement

In the context of growing military and political instability in the world, many states and governments are facing the problem of national security, sovereignty, and non-involvement in military conflicts. The invasion of the Russian Federation into Ukraine is probably a marker not only of the lack of effective solutions to the global problems of international competition, poverty, ecology, and inequality in access to resources and technologies but also of the overall gradual withering away of the existing international political architecture. At the same time, the birth of a new international order will be long, difficult, and extremely conflicting; destructive for states and regions; and not lead us in the foreseeable future to some kind of stable hierarchy of relations, or slide into “disorderly multipolarity”, as the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell exactly said.

Therefore, today, as in the early 1960s – the peak of the confrontation between the West and the USSR, which ended in detente after the “Caribbean crisis”, many (or even most) states of the world found themselves in a situation of seriously increased risks of being drawn into a global conflict on the side of one of the opposing blocs or unwittingly become the arena (battlefield) of such a confrontation. The crises in Ukraine, Armenia, Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen are recent examples of it.

After all, the world is rapidly polarizing and is divided into military-political and socio-economic blocs and groups of countries. At the same time, the United States, NATO with allies (about 60 countries formally united in a necklace of formal and informal NATO alliances, AUKUS, Ramstein +) and the Russian Federation with allies (CSTO, Syria, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, etc.) are actively trying to draw third countries into war, creating funnels (whirlpools) of crises and relations of a political, economic and technological nature. But this statement is true not only for the confrontation between the US and the Russian Federation, but also for the strategic competition between the US and China. The big countries are trying to force the rest to live in a flat black and white world, while these countries themselves see many colors and shades in the pursuit of their national benefit.

The geopolitical discourse in Europe and North America is still largely built on the basis of a bipolar vision of the world and the system of international relations. In which the confrontation between the US and the USSR during the Cold War was briefly replaced by the struggle between liberal democracies and authoritarian regimes, and today it is a hybrid war between the West and the Russian Federation, and competition between the US and China. Such a view is certainly important for nation-building and identity formation, and mobilization of social forces, but, nevertheless, it is not sufficient not only for building effective relations with many states and unions of the state beyond the borders of Europe and North America but also for state strategizing in general.

At the same time, most countries of the world reasonably (although not always consciously) do not want to take sides – participants in a conflict with an indefinite ending. They do not seek to make their political, economic and social sacrifices for the sake of the interests of global confrontation. Moreover, most of the world’s countries (out of 197 recognized) are de facto and de jure non-aligned or even have an internationally recognized “neutral status“.

This positioning has deep historical roots and was formalized with the creation of the International Non-Aligned Movement (IMN) in September 1961. Then the founders of the Non-Aligned Movement – 25 countries, many of which have only recently gained independence, called “to refrain from using the mechanisms of collective defense in the interests of any of the major powers”. The creation of the Movement was preceded by the Bandung Conference in 1955, tripartite consultations between Jawaharlal Nehru (India), Broz Tito (Yugoslavia) and Gamal Abdel Nasser (Egypt) in 1956. As a condition of membership, the states of the Non-Aligned Movement have committed themselves not to become part of a multilateral military alliance (such as NATO or the Warsaw Pact), or a signatory to a bilateral military agreement with one of the “superpowers”. Although this obligation was later violated by individual countries.

Nowadays the Non-Aligned Movement(NAM) unites 120 member countries or 62% of the membership of the United Nations: 37 Asian, 53 African, 26 American, 3 ocean states. The member states of this movement are occupying an area for 54.53 million km² – this is 36.1% of the habitable area of the globe. The countries of the Movement are home to about 57% of the world’s population – 4.44 billion people, and the participating states together own more than 75% of the world’s oil and more than half of the gas reserves.

Moreover, another 18 states, 5 international and 2 national political movements are endowed with observer status in the NAM.

The functioning of the NAM is organized without the creation of formal administrative structures and without a budget. The Coordinating Bureau of the Non-Aligned Movement, based at the UN, is the main instrument for directing the work of task forces, committees and working groups of the movement. Unlike the United Nations (UN) or the Organization of American States, the Non-Aligned Movement does not have a formal charter or permanent secretariat.

Responsibility for running the NAM organization entrusted to the country holding the presidency, which changes at each summit. The Conference, or Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, is the main gathering within the movement and is held every few years. There were 18 such conferences in total. Foreign ministers of member states meet more regularly to discuss common problems, especially at the opening of each regular session of the UN General Assembly. Each summit of the movement elects a chairman. The host country of the next Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, represented by the head of state or government, becomes the chairman of the Movement for the next three years. At the 18th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement held in Baku in 2019, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev was appointed chairman. On October 11, Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, hosted a high-level meeting dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the Non-Aligned Movement. The member states of the Movement unanimously decided to extend Azerbaijan’s chairmanship for another year, until the end of 2023. Ilham Aliyev stressed that Azerbaijan will build the priorities of its chairmanship and activities on the basis of the Bandung principles, resolutely uphold justice and the norms of international law.

Despite the fact that the Non-Aligned Movement comprises most of the United Nations membership, NAM has never been a subsystem of the UN and has maintained its independenceDuring the Cold War, membership in the Non-Aligned Movement also helped countries to balance between the US and the USSR, and became an important tool for developing countries to maintain military and political sovereignty.

At the same time, the Non-Aligned Movement is also unique in that it was united countries with different political systems – from absolutist monarchies to socialist republics, and an unequal level of economic development,with complicated interstate relations (for example, Pakistan and India).

In most cases, there was no unity in the Movement in approaches regarding the assessment of conflicts. But the idea of non-alignment also did not mean that the state should remain passive in international politics. On the contrary, ever since the founding of the Non-Aligned Movement, its stated aim has been to give voice to the developing countries and to encourage their concerted action in world affairs.

After the collapse of the USSR and the end of the Cold War, the Non-Aligned Movement lost some of its original goals that formed the basis of this association – balancing in the bipolar world and non-participation in the military blocs of the parties. But most of the goals-problems have been preserved – the necessity to protect their sovereignty from pressure and political unification; opposition to attempts of gross interference in the internal affairs of countries; the desire to build relationships within the framework of the choice in favor of an alliance with one side or another; ensuring equal international conditions for socio-economic development and others.

The separated members of the Movement also continued to form a new set of tasks for the NAM, but they often do so alone. For example, the participating countries have made significant efforts to address such pressing issues as hunger and poverty, social instability, interethnic and religious conflicts, ecology and technology transfer, and so on. Indeed, in the current international situation, non-aligned and developing countries are facing new challenges in the process of economic development, international competition and are negatively influenced by certain factors of globalization.

Against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, calls are beginning to sound more and more actively for the activation of the work of the Non-Aligned Movement, the reboot of its institutions. There is an obvious need to activate, renew and modernize the International Non-Aligned Movement, fill it with new real meanings and goals, expand instruments of influence in key international organizations not only in the political, but also in the socio-economic and cultural dimension.

After all, the situation in Ukraine has clearly demonstrated that the world needs an effective security model, and international organizations have shown a complete inability to prevent or stop the war. As it turned out, in the new geopolitical realities, the system of international law formed after World War II no longer works, and the real security of countries is based on political will, military power and the ability to respond in a consolidated manner to security crises created by individual military blocs or global states.

In this situation, most of the NAM countries condemned the actions of the Russian Federation against Ukraine in the UN, but many abstained, and some even took the side of the Russian Federation. At the same time, NAM countries often and actively criticize Western sanctions as ineffective. The public position of the Movement itself has not yet been formed.

Although the most clear and unequivocal lines of non-alignment to the conflict in the Ukrainian-Russian war from the NAM state and the G-20 are India, South Africa, Brazil, Indonesia and some other countries that set the tone for the Movement.

But just India, because of its authority and historical experience, economic strength (5-6 GDP in the world) and growth dynamics that could become the real leader of the renewed NAM.India is one of the main historical founders of NAM.

Indeed,at the beginning of the 21st century, India has already played a significant role in the revival and reconstruction of the Non-Aligned Movement, proposing new forms of cooperation at the XIII NAM Conference in February 2003 (Kuala Lumpur) and developing the theme of a multipolar world at the XVII NAM Summit in Venezuela (2016).

In general, after the end of the Cold War, India is systematically reviewing its relations with the great powers and modernizing its regional policy with an emphasis on economic interests and projects. The country co-founded or joined several organizations built around world powers: BRICS and SCO around Russia and China; pays balanced attention to cooperation within the QUAD, which includes the US, Japan and Australia.

At the same time, a group of India’s leading political intellectuals released a White Paper titled “Non-Aligned 2.0” which predicted that India’s success as a prosperous, multi-ethnic democracy “will define future opportunities for humanity“.

And as India strengthens its voice in world affairs, more active engagement with the Non-Aligned Movement and, more broadly, with the Global South becomes evident. At the same time, the new interest in the “Global South” is not a return to the perception of the Non-Aligned Movement as an anti-Western or anti-Eastern project. Speaking at the ministerial meeting of the Baku Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in 2019, Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar noted: “Multilateralism today is undoubtedly experiencing difficulties. It is important that our Movement, representing two-thirds of the world’s population, continue to work together and play a leading role in building multi-stakeholder governance structures that can meet the challenges of the 21st century.”In his book “The Indian Way”, he also argues that India should pursue its own interests, using competition between rival great powers to extract the maximum benefit for itself.

India forms its international policy on the basis of the principle of non-alignment to the Russian-Ukrainian war as well. Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar believes that in this case, an immediate cessation of hostilities, an emphasis on dialogue and diplomacy, respect for the international order and institutions such as the United Nations, respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of each country are necessary. India is providing and is ready to continue to provide humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and play the role of a peacemaker to resolve the conflict.

Despite significant external multidirectional pressure, India:

1. Abstains from all UN votes and multilateral elections with criticism of Russia.

2 Refused to join the sanctions of more than 30 countries,including the US, EU, India’s Quad partners Australia, Japan, etc.

3. Increased consumption of Russian oil against the background of the US ban and European calls to reduce Russian imports.

4. Calls for diplomacy and dialogue, the need to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of countries, and the cessation of hostilities.

India demonstrates intends to continue to act from the position of a peaceful settlement, non-alignment and the pursuit of its national interests. This is an honest and transparent policy, although some of its elements are painfully accepted in Ukraine.

Therefore, as a powerful country with a legacy of peaceful foreign policy, India can play a positive and even decisive peacekeeping role. And its non-aligned approach here could contribute to the establishment of a dialogue between the parties and peace in Ukraine. Finally, as India seeks to become an independent pole in world affairs, India could do more with partners within organizations such as the Non-Aligned Movement.

India could be the initiator of a new global Conference of the Non-Aligned Movement Countries with the next agenda:

– assessing global risks and updating the goals of the NAM in modern international conditions;

– creation of target working groups of the NAM (in particular, for Ukraine) to develop principles for proposals for a peaceful settlement;

– creation of a target working group for the preparation of the Charter of the NAM and the development of international mechanisms to counter the involvement of the NAM countries in wars and conflicts; ensuring their national security interests in the broadest sense;

– renewal of the Coordinating Bureau of the Movement and giving a new impetus to its work, consideration of the issue of establishing a transitional secretariat on the basis of the country chairing the Organization.

In general, India and a number of countries of the Non-Aligned Movement are centers of economic growth and political influence that can acquire the status of pillars of a new world order.

The process of shifting the zones of world economic development and political processes to the “Global South” plays into the hands of India, deprived many exaggerated ambitions and historical problems characteristic of Europe or North America; but full of economic dynamism and social optimism.

It is obvious that the background of the escalating confrontation between the United States, the Russian Federation and China, the status of the Non-Aligned Movement begins to increase again. Given the powerful resource potential concentrated there, the Non-Aligned Movement has a good chance of becoming an influential international association, especially against the backdrop of a crisis in the UN system and other international organizations responsible for maintaining world order. After all, the old architecture of international security (UN, OSCE, CE, and so on) is not only often ineffective, but also ceases to be a subject of international politics, and even just a field of international politics – is ignored by global players. Against this background, international organizations of such a format as the Non-Aligned Movement, standing on a pragmatic and rational platform, striving for equality, joining efforts in order to universally comply with the norms and principles of international law, can be in demand in the conditions of the formation of a multipolar world. At the same time, interstate or polystate forms of politics will require a new or updated international legal institutionalization, instead of or within the framework of international associations created in the era of classical bipolarity.

“Non-alignment” and the non-blocking or neutrality that lies within it in the modern world are often synonymous with the word “independence”. And although this requires a considerable effort of resources and political will of the elites from any of the countries, it is often associated with significant economic costs for the armed forces and social stability, but the strategic prospects and benefits of such a status are undeniableThe opportunity, in the context of a constantly changing political context and significant risks of new international wars and conflicts, to choose the best course for your state and people is difficult to overestimate.

And the real sovereignty of countries has already become the main “currency” of geopolitics, into which the world is rapidly sinking.


[Ruslan Bortnik is a well-known Ukrainian scientist and political expert and Director of the Ukrainian Institute of Politics (think-tank). For more than 11 years he was a civil servant and worked as an adviser in the Ukrainian Parliament. He is the co-author of more than 40 bills of Ukraine and the author of many publications in mass media and 6 books.]

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