Non-Aligned Movement Counters Neo-Colonialism

On October 18, 1995, during his speech at the eleventh Summit of Heads of State or Government of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali celebrated “the disappearance of the East-West confrontation and the eradication of colonialism”. This was part of the widespread optimism in those years inspired by the positive changes that had taken place in the second half of the twentieth century, such as the decolonization process and the end of the East-West confrontation following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. However, unfortunately, over the past nearly three decades since that summit, the world has regrettably moved mostly in the opposite direction.

Presently, international relations are characterized by confrontation and danger, potentially surpassing the level of tension seen during the Cold War era. The Russia-Ukraine war, the China-USA rivalries, tensions in the Middle East, etc. have brought the world to the edge of a larger international conflict with potentially dramatic ramifications for the entire international community in general, for the smaller countries in-between these rivalries, in particular.

Moreover, the remnants of colonialism have not completely disappeared, as certain countries still suffer from imperialistic ambitions and the neo-colonial policies of some so-called great powers. Although the conventional concept of colonialism has largely vanished from the global political stage, various manifestations of neo-colonialism endure. These include economic dominance and the influence wielded by external powers, which exert ongoing pressure on underdeveloped nations across the globe.

Anti-colonialism, along with the principle of non-participation in military blocks, have been one of the guiding principles of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) since the early years of its establishment. During the 1970s and 1980s, the NAM prioritized discussions on addressing the adverse effects of colonialism, fostering the principle of political self-determination, and improving the socioeconomic conditions of its member nations. The NAM summits served as affordable platforms for emerging postcolonial political leaders to establish their presence and raise their voice on the international stage.

Amidst the escalating tensions between East and West and the increasing imperialistic tendencies of certain major powers in the modern world, the Non-Aligned Movement is once again gaining prominence as a distinct platform. It provides member states with an opportunity to unite their strengths against the influence and domination of powerful nations, enabling them to express their concerns and safeguard their interests within a framework that comprises 120 countries. The demand for a strong advocate for these nations is particularly urgent today, surpassing any previous period since the end of the Cold War.

Non-Aligned Movement under the Azerbaijani Chairmanship has become More Vocal against Neo-colonialism

Azerbaijan, a full member of the NAM since 2011, overtook the chairing role at the 18th summit of the movement, which took place on 25-26 October 2019 in Baku. From the early months of its chairmanship, Azerbaijan prioritized the revitalization of the Non-Aligned Movement as an impactful global actor and voiced the concerns of the member states vis-à-vis the neocolonial tendencies in the modern world.

The first major steps in this direction were made amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, when Azerbaijan summoned the first extraordinary summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in May 2020. The summit, attended by over forty-five member states and international organizations, created a task force and database to help the efforts of Non-Aligned Movement Member States to meet their populations’ need in the face of the pandemic. President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan particularly condemned the “vaccine nationalism” of some wealthy countries.

“Azerbaijan has publicly criticized the conduct of some countries that stockpile far more vaccines than they require. So far, more than 82 percent of the world’s vaccine doses have been purchased by wealthy countries, while only 0.9 percent have gone to low-income countries. Such an attitude hinders the ability of developing, in particular least developed countries to protect their populations”, said President Aliyev in his speech at a Mid-Term Ministerial Conference of the NAM on July 13, 2021.

At his initiative, the NAM pushed for two resolutions to ensure fair and universal access to vaccines for all countries, which were adopted at the UN Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly in 2021.

The Non-Aligned Movement also has supported the countries who suffer from the neo-colonial policies. “Azerbaijan is very much concerned by the rising tendency towards neo-colonialism. NAM, which was created as a result of the decolonization process, should vigorously combat this shameful legacy of the past and contribute to its full elimination”, said President Aliyev in his address to the Ministerial Meeting of the NAM on July 6, 2023.

The major target of his criticism was France. The disrespect by France to the sovereignty of Comoros over the island of Mayotte and the rights of the New Caledonian people and other peoples in French overseas communities and territories was harshly criticized at the Ministerial Meeting that was attended by both members and observer states of the NAM.

President Aliyev also condemned the manifestations of the sculls of Algerian freedom fighters in Paris Museum as war trophies and regretfully recalled the killing of nearly 1.5 million Algerians during the genocide France committed in this country. Among others, recalling the nuclear weapon tests France conducted in Algeria and other overseas territories with dramatic environmental consequences, the Azerbaijani President called France to apologize for its colonial past. “Several days ago, the king of the Netherlands officially apologized for his country’s colonial past and involvement in the slave trade. We call his French colleague to do the same”, he stressed.

It is worth noting that on the sidelines of the Ministerial Meeting in Baku on July 6, a side event titled “Towards the complete elimination of colonialism” was organized with the participation of the representatives from French overseas communities and territories. The event was dedicated to colonized peoples around the world, in particular to the last French colonies in the Caribbean, South America, the Pacific and the Indian Ocean. Speaking at the event, supporters of the independence of Martinique, French Guiana, New Caledonia, French Polynesia and the secretariat of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) reaffirmed and emphasized the reliability of the principled position of the Non-Aligned Movement in the fight against colonial and neo-colonial practices. The attendees established the Baku Initiative Group against French colonialism.

That said, the developments in the international relations over the last few years, bifurcation of the international politics, the tendencies of the great powers to promote their interests occasionally at the expense of smaller countries, etc. have created a situation that could not been foreseen in the early 1990s, when the international community was markedly optimistic about their future. Under the new circumstances, the Non-Aligned Movement is a vital force for its member countries to combine their forces and safeguard their interests internationally. The Movement, under the Azerbaijani chairmanship, has passed a successful evolution in this direction. Today the NAM is a movement that has its parliamentary network, youth organization, a project on the establishment of a NAM women platform, and, most importantly, a stronger determination to fight for the rights of its member states and combat against neo-colonialism and neo-imperialism.

Dr. Vasif Huseynov
Dr. Vasif Huseynov
Dr. Vasif Huseynov is a senior fellow at the Center of Analysis of International Relations (AIR Center) in Baku, Azerbaijan.