NAM in Tehran

NEW DELHI – Nowadays, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) is no longer much of a movement. Since the Cold War’s end, it has fractured into a far more heterodox grouping whose members range from leftist regimes, as in Cuba, North Korea, and Venezuela, to the conservative monarchies (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar) of the Persian Gulf. So it should be no surprise that ideological cacophony has severely diluted the group’s founding impulse of avoiding entanglement in the disputes of the world’s superpowers.

Thus, today’s NAM finds itself as a group in search of purpose and principle. Its sole comfort, it seems, is that it has not yet withered away.

But, despite its diminished status, the recent NAM summit in Tehran was able to claim the world’s attention. Why hold the summit in Tehran, some members asked? This, however, only raised heckles from those who still see the group as a means to stare down the superpowers. Their retort – “Why not in Tehran?” – angered more than it soothed.

The dispute over the wisdom of holding the summit in Iran’s capital revived the core debate about what “non-aligned” means in the post-Cold War world. Why keep such an anachronistic construct alive when the world is no longer frozen into two ideologically antagonistic blocs? Furthermore, given the proliferation of strategic partnerships that claim many NAM members (India, for example, has strategic partnerships with the United States, Japan, and Brazil), are the non-aligned really still non-aligned?