2012: Non-Aligned With Reality: How a Global Movement for Peace Became a Club for Tyrants

Countries like India founded the Non-Aligned Movement to resist American and Soviet efforts to enlist them in the Cold War, so why is it today championed by the rogue states that most undermine peace?

...The Non-Aligned Movement is not very meaningful today, a vestige of a bygone era. (And it was rarely what it claimed to be even during the Cold War, as a number of members took sides in the proxy conflict.) Yet the fact that it exists at all -- and that leading member India would make such a big show of its participation -- is a reminder of the degree to which the international system is still defined by the terms of the long-closed Cold War. But it also shows the degree to which those terms have changed since America's overwhelming victory in the half-century, world-shaping conflict.

Despite India's gestures at maintaining the Non-Aligned Movement, another show of stubborn independence that has not always reflected the Indian foreign policy that in actual practice is typically U.S.-aligned, the movement perhaps best represents what we today call rogue states. Prominent attendees this year include the leaders of Venezuela, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, and Sudan, the last of whom is wanted on international war crimes charges; North Korea's Kim Jong Un was a rumored guest but ultimately sent a high-level official in his place.

...Nine years later, after the Cold War ended, Clinton administration national security official Anthony Lake warned in Foreign Affairs that five "rogue states" still threatened world peace. His list was almost identical to Reagan's: Iran, Cuba, North Korea, Libya, and instead of Nicaragua, Iraq. All active, highly visible members in the Non-Aligned Movement, all states that undermine the global peace that movement was first meant to protect.

...Whether or not the world's countries wanted to line up specifically behind the U.S., they all ultimately aligned with the U.S.-led order. All except for a handful of rogue "misfits and Looney Tunes" that either cling to the long-gone Cold War tensions or hold out from the global order as self-made pariahs. They're still non-aligned. But with the post-Cold War world defined not by global conflict but by global cooperation, the movement has become about opposing rather than promoting Nehru's non-alignment ideals: "progress," "a deliberate policy of friendship," and a "positive aspect of peace." Those ideals won out, but it wasn't through non-alignment.

2014-2015: India’s shift away from Palestine could spell the Non-Aligned Movement's doom

Talk about unintended consequences. Could the Palestinians’ pursuit of statehood at the United Nations finally put an end to the movement of so-called non-aligned nations, who have nursed Arab grievances against Israel for decades? That certainly seems to be the implication of a report that India is considering a change to its pattern of supporting the Palestinians at the United Nations. Instead, the country, under new leadership and with growing ties to Israel, may abstain on votes regarding the Middle East peace process.

The Hindu newspaper, which published the report, reckons that such a decision “could amount to a tectonic shift in the country’s foreign policy.” It quoted “a senior Israeli interlocutor” as having likened the way India has treated Israel in the past to the way one treats a “mistress — by keeping the bilateral relationship away from the public gaze.”

It quoted two sources within the Indian government as confirming that the change being studied would be “a fundamental departure from India’s support to the cause of a Palestinian state.” It is being aired just as the Palestinians are pressing a new effort to put the statehood question not only to the UN General Assembly but also to the Security Council.

This is all part of what, in a column for Haaretz issued in May, I called the “enormous potential consequence” of the victory of Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, which won a landslide majority in the parliament. If India follows through at the United Nations, it would be a once-unimaginable development, at least for those of us who covered the debates on the Third World during the Cold War.

The Non-Aligned Movement was founded in 1961 in Belgrade. Its most famous figures were Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Presidents Sukarno of Indonesia, Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, and Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt. Though these countries were technically not allies, they perused policies at the United Nations and elsewhere, together with the Soviet Union, that ranged from being oleaginous to pernicious.

Fidel Castro of Cuba was one of the Non-Aligned Movement's tribunes, and Palestine has been a member of the movement since 1976. India, by virtue of its vast size and the liveliness of its multi-party democracy and free press, was by far its most credible leading member. It had outsized prestige in the decolonizing world because of Gandhi and the way it gained independence from Britain. But since the collapse of the Soviet regime, the Non-Aligned Movement has lacked a logical raison d’etre. India’s shift on Palestine could spell its doom.

Not that Israel was without its own claim on the attention of the Third World, a point of which I was reminded by my crony Benyamin Korn, who as a young liberal journalist had spent a good bit of time in India. Israel, he stressed in an email about the latest developments, was active in the Third World in the 1950s. Some of Israel's “early” successes, Korn noted, were Burma, where it had a diplomatic mission and agricultural projects under Prime Minister U Nu; Singapore, where Israel helped developed banking, tourism and the army; and later Sri Lanka, with which it had military cooperation.

But he notes that full cooperation between Israel and India was in effect blocked by Nehru at the request of [Egypt's President] Nasser. The way he characterizes it is that if India defects from the Palestinian solidarity front in international fora, the Third World bloc of non-aligned nations “will fall apart.” He notes that India’s foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, has been itching to make a visit to Israel, though nothing has been announced.

The Times of India has reported that such a visit could come as early as January and set the stage for a visit to the Jewish state by Modi himself. That would make him the first Indian premier to visit Jerusalem since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1992. A writer on Al Jazeera even noted recently that “today many commentators see India’s traditional support for Palestinians as anachronistic.”