Non-Alligned Movement

The Non Aligned Movement (NAM) could most easily be described as the United Nations of the third world in that, like the UN, it is a trans-national, cooperative organization. However, with its focus on developing third world countries it has its own unique voice which it uses to strive to offset the prevailing voice of the UN which the NAM sees as largely biased towards power bloc countries. The Non Aligned Movement can also be separated from the UN in how it is set up. The NAM strictly tries to uphold a non-hierarchical structure with no one country having a greater say in any subject and no country holding veto power. There is a three year cycle of countries hosting the organization’s conference and taking the position of chair, however, this does not give that country a greater say, it simply dictates that the current chair must be responsible for administrative responsibilities of the organization.

The NAM is also unique for an organization of such scale because it has never instituted any kind of constitution. They believe in fostering diversity in the viewpoints of their members and, in an effort to avoid hierarchy or solid alignment they refuse to form a constitution due to the belief that it would alienate countries and cause the organization to fall apart. While the NAM is a movement on a global scale, it’s insistence to simply be heard among more powerful voices is a common cry heard from the smallest grassroots organizations to (as NAM is an example of) the largest politically involved movements. It is this desire to simply be heard and to have a say when one feels disregarded that links all new social movements together, regardless of their size or approach.

Also like many new social movements, the NAM began with one strong, clear message before branching out to include more voices and therefore giving themselves a stronger voice. The original members of the NAM formed in an effort to maintain neutrality during the Cold War. The creators of the Non Aligned Movement were Gamal Abdul Nasser, former president of Egypt, Jawaharlal Nehru, former Indian Prime Minister and Josip Broz Tito, former Yugoslav president. As we can see, the movement originally included no Latin American members and was only focused on the message of their personal neutrality, not on trying to create change on a more dramatic scale. However, like many new movements today, what started as a small and narrowly focused group eventually ballooned to embrace the messages of other smaller groups in order to have strength in numbers or, more appropriately in this case, volume in numbers.

The Non Aligned Movement’s first meeting was attended by 25 countries but today there are approximately 118 countries with membership. Approximately 55% of the world’s population falls under membership of the Non Aligned Movement and two thirds of the seats in the UN are also members of the NAM. This number increase is one way in which we can see the change in the movement over time. The major change I have been focusing on is the Non Aligned Movement from the perspective of Latin America. The NAM is in an interesting time for Latin America currently because in 2006 Cuba was chosen for their second time in the position of chair. One of the most important turning points for Latin America becoming a major voice in the NAM was the 1979 Havana Declaration.

Every three years one of the movement’s member countries will host the “summit” or meeting for members. While 2006 marked Cuba’s second turn in this, it’s first was in 1979 when Castro presented the Havana Declaration to the assembled members. In this speech, Castro put into words some of the changes that began taking place in the NAM. While the original goal of the movement was to build strength for neutral countries in the Cold War, over the years the group has struggled for a more versatile and long lasting pursuit. The 1979 summit in Havana coined some ideals that have been adopted as some of the stronger points of the group. Their message was moving from simple neutrality towards directly advocating for the unheard voices of the third world. As Castro stated, NAM now stood for “the national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of non-aligned countries” and would “struggle against imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism, and all forms of foreign aggression, occupation, domination, interference or hegemony as well as against great power and bloc politics.”

Since this statement in 1979 Cuba revitalized their importance in the movement and especially their effective position for drawing attention to Latin America. During the 2006 summit in Havana not only did all the Latin American members send representatives but, Brazil, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Mexico, Paraguay, and Uruguay also attended with observer status, showing that, although they were not full members, Latin American countries can still find importance in involvement in the movement. Interestingly enough, the US, which normally sends a representative to the NAM summits refused to attend the one in Cuba. This could have helped foster the new focus NAM has had on their disapproval of American involvement in “the war on terror.”

At this 2006 NAM Summit, Cuba was able to include a call on the US to return Guantanamo Bay to Cuba. Now, in 2009 it is looking as though this is one statement America may have begun to listen to. Only time will tell for sure but there may soon be evidence to give the NAM celebration for being effective. The summit of 2006 also marked victories for other Latin American countries within the Non Aligned Movement as the group reiterated their own approval of the legitimacy of Venezuela’s elected government. Bolivia also had a governmental triumph in this summit as Evo Morales was officially shown support by the movement. Such support holds great symbolic significance at a time of such political change in Latin America and specifically a time of political tension between Latin America and the United States. Once again, it will be interesting to see how Obama’s presidency affects the NAM opinion of the United States as he already seems to take a much different approach to Latin American relations than former president Bush.

As a very large movement, and one with a lot of political reputation at risk, NAM is much more of a voice based movement than an action based one. However, while simply speaking your mind is not always effective, having the proper platform from which to do so can certainly make a difference and it is the NAMs main goal to provide such a platform for marginalized countries. In this way, they are an example of common grassroots movement patterns working on a much larger scale and therefore give hope to the continued growth of new social movements.

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