Prime Minister Modi’s participation in the recent virtual summit of the Non-Aligned Movement has again revived the debate about the relevance of NAM in the Post-Cold War era. The world order has changed significantly since the end of the Cold War. It is no longer characterized by bipolarity but by multipolarity and complex interdependence. Most of the countries in the current multipolar world have either aligned with big powers or are pursuing their interests which often limit their power to tackle problems such as climate change and terrorism in the international system. The US’s push for America’s first policy in recent years and acceleration of deglobalization especially due Covid-19 has emerged as one of the threats to multilateralism.
Though globalization is facing an existential crisis, it is not possible to return to isolation. In the world of complex interdependence, countries are linked to each other one way or another. With rising threats such as climate change, terrorism, and receding multilateralism, the global south and NAM countries find themselves in a precarious condition. The global south needs to resist the nationalistic tendencies of western countries such as the USA which are increasingly trying to put trade and migratory barriers. NAM may have lost relevance in terms of Cold War-era politics. However, it is perhaps more relevant than it ever was during the Cold War. Today, like the Cold War, there are two blocs, that is south and the North. The difference between the two is quite conspicuous. The global south is still reeling under poverty and underdevelopment. With the rising population and its limited resources, the south is struggling to even provide a decent standard of living to its people. It is marred by terrorism and regional conflicts. Many countries are now facing neo-colonialism. The economic income inequality is on the rise not just within the countries but also between the north and the south. For example, according to Oxfam, the top 10% of the Indian population holds 77% of the national wealth.
Under this backdrop, PM Modi should use India’s historic ties to bring together the NAM countries. India’s strength lies in soft power rather than hard power. Therefore, NAM cannot be based on the current political structure where military and economic power is often used to coerce countries. It should be based on mutual respect and equality. NAM can stand together and raise its voice only if it is based on shared human values and cooperation on multiple fronts such as in counter-terrorism, climate change, poverty, and inequality.
It would be apt to assume that NAM could provide a platform for the global south to come together and pool their resources to tackle impending threats. India, being one of the largest economies of the world and also the founding member of NAM could provide a leadership role where it could share its best practices and technologies for the development of the poor and the lesser developed countries. The establishment of the governance structure of NAM based on south-south cooperation could help the countries in socioeconomic and human development. It will provide better bargaining power to the NAM countries in global institutions. NAM has the potential to provide a platform for improving disaster management and disease control systems. India can play a major role in disease control because it is home to some of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world which are more affordable than their western counterparts. Under the current crisis (Pandemic), India is already delivering necessary medicines to the world including many NAM countries.
Global institutions such as WTO and the UN are facing an existential crisis because only a few nations dictate their functions. India can use the NAM platform to push for reforms in these institutions for a more equal and democratic world order. Thus, NAM has not lost its relevance. It is much needed for the development of countries and the tackling of problems. Individually, poor nations might not have the wherewithal to develop themselves but by cooperation, they can get the required resources. At a time when most countries are resorting to narrow politics and pursuing their parochial interests, it is necessary to seek cooperation to tackle threats that are global in nature. Therefore, NAM countries should resist any efforts which seek isolation. For example, it is said that pandemic is the result of globalization. However, it is also leading to cooperation between countries for the development of the vaccine. That’s why NAM countries should promote cooperation. It is also important that the NAM need not be antagonistic to the west rather it should be used to promote the needs of the south. If India manages to attain a leadership role in NAM, it would provide a big push to its soft power and help it in achieving its objective of becoming a global power.