Sixty years ago, Belgrade hosted the first summit of the Nonaligned Movement (NAM). It was a pivotal moment in the history of the Cold War and decolonization that deserves more attention than it gets: The bloc challenged Cold War polarization, allowing countries of the so-called Global South (a term wielded somewhat problematically) to form an alliance separate from both the United States and the Soviet Union. From the outset, NAM supported full emancipation of nations newly freed from European colonialism, and advanced principles of self-determination and peaceful coexistence. NAM was also a vocal opponent of apartheid in South Africa at a time when the US and NATO enjoyed friendly relations with the apartheid regime.
On October 11th and 12th, Belgrade will once again host the summit of the Nonaligned Movement, and commemorate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the bloc.
While there were just 25 states present at that initial summit in Belgrade in 1961, today NAM has 120 member states, and 17 countries and 10 organizations have observer status. Membership is almost entirely made up of countries from the “Global South”: 53 members are from Africa, 39 are from Asia, 26 are from Latin America and the Caribbean, and two are from Europe (Belarus and Azerbaijan).
The host nation, Serbia, has observer status, and Russia was just granted observer status in July. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will attend this week’s summit.
The event takes place amid escalating Cold War-style rhetoric on the part of the US and NATO on the one hand, and Russia and China on the other. The question on many minds then concerns the potential for nonalignment’s renewed relevance.
Nemanja Starović, State Secretary at Serbia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Balkanist that NAM does have renewed meaning today.
“Although the end of the Cold War to a certain extent deprived NAM of its original purpose, recent trends in global politics emphasize the need for reiterating the founding principles of the Movement,” Starović explained.
“Global confrontations may no longer be drawn along ideological lines, but nevertheless they pose a danger to world peace. In circumstances like these, there is an ever-growing need for freedom-loving nations of the developing world to resist pressures to unconditionally align their policies with the superpowers and to pursue a path of independence and sovereign decision-making,” he said.
With 117 delegations scheduled to attend this week’s summit, there are a number of interesting NAM-related issues to keep an eye on. These are a few of potential interest to our readers.
Russia’s new observer status has naturally attracted attention. For years, Russia has viewed NAM as a welcome vehicle for countering US hegemony. More recently, Russia’s Valdai Club published two articles suggesting that India and Russia lead a new Non-Aligned Movement to balance China. (China received NAM observer status in 1992). FM Lavrov is scheduled to read a statement from Vladimir Putin at this week’s summit, and surely many observers will be eager to learn if Russia plans to assume an assertive role in the movement.
Cyprus will not be sending a delegation to this year’s summit, or so says Radio Free Europe. Cyprus has poor diplomatic relations with Azerbaijan, with whom Serbia is co-organizing this year’s summit. Turkey wants Azerbaijan to recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) as an independent state.
Diplomats, academics, and journalists in NATO’s orbit have long chastised Serbia for “sitting on two chairs” with respect to the West and Russia. NAM challenges the idea that Serbia needs to choose; certainly Belgrade has a longstanding history of not choosing. In fact, NAM reminds us that Belgrade has “sat on two chairs” in one way or another for the past six decades. In addition, Serbia will likely be criticized for using its relationships with NAM member states to secure continuing support for its sovereignty, i.e. to ensure that NAM members do not recognize Kosovo’s independence.
In a private message, State Secretary Starović described Serbia’s foreign policy in greater detail:
“Although we are not a big state, the Republic of Serbia is widely recognized as a country that is strongly and genuinely devoted to principles of sovereign equality and thus committed to preserving independence in conducting its foreign policy. It is very challenging at times to preserve that kind of posture in the international arena, but in the long run it is the only policy that brings the proper results and gains respect even from those who may not necessarily support it. If we were not a militarily neutral and politically independent country, we wouldn’t be able to position ourselves as a bridge between the western and eastern world, as well as the Global North and Global South.”
You can find the program for this year’s event here.