Thursday, 18 July, 2024

NAM And Nepal's Strategic Autonomy

Hira Bahadur Thapa


Many pundits of foreign relations have described the importance of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) for Nepal in terms of strategic autonomy, which indeed sounds logical taking into consideration the country's geographic location. Nevertheless, the movement is still relevant for all nations though they have no geographic constraints as applicable to Nepal.
The growing importance of a policy on non-alignment is understandably clearer viewing the increasing number of the NAM member nations. The NAM was founded in Belgrade (then Yugoslavia and now Serbia) in 1961. Initially, the number of participating countries, including Nepal, stood at just 25. Since then till 2019 with the convening of the 18th summit at Baku, Azerbaijan, the number of its members reached 120 with many more observer states than before.
Before mulling over what significance lies for many developing countries and the least developed countries like ours to remain committed to NAM's principles, which have been the guiding principles of Nepal's foreign policy, it may be quite appropriate to recall the history that finally led to the birth of this movement about 58 years ago. The 1955 Afro-Asian conference attended by many celebrated and popular leaders of the Third World was the precursor to the emergence of a new movement on Non-Alignment, which later was widely known as NAM.
It may be necessary to delve into why the 1955 Afro-Asian conference was convened at Bandung, Indonesia that marked the real beginning of a Third World (this concept of dividing the whole world into first, second and third in terms of level of countries' economic advancement was the result of Cold War which was led by two opposing superpowers viz Russia and the US) movement of remaining non-aligned to any bloc or group whatsoever. These superpowers until 1989 when Cold War ended with the collapse of the then Soviet Union tried unjustifiably to coerce the developing countries politically and economically and bring them into their spheres of influence.
The era of 1950s and 1960s was characterised by an environment of decolonisation when many countries in Africa and Asia were gaining freedom and independence from their colonial rule. Most of the European colonisers had relented to the demands of the countries under their colony either voluntarily or were forced to honour the aspirations of the people. Algeria is one of them where decade-long civil war finally won them their independence from the French. Many countries in Asia too suffered a lot under the colonial rule.
The newly-independent countries in Africa and Asia were vulnerable because of economic backwardness. Long colonial rule had left them desperately poor and the severity of poverty became the primary reason for luring them to big powers' spheres of influence by the economic levers. Pouring of aid by superpowers of Cold War era (1945-89) was motivated by their hidden desire of compelling them to toe their policy. Stiff competition between the Soviet Union and the United States sounded a serious alarm to the developing countries.
This apprehension of being bullied by existing superpowers to join their defense alliances by dint of their military and economic strength prompted the visionary Third World leaders including Nehru (India), Sukarno(Indonesia), Nkuma (Ghana), Nasser (Egypt) and Nyerere (Tanzania) to hold a high level conference inviting many countries Asia and Africa continents. Their vision of a policy based on non-alignment was conceived as a viable policy option for developing countries in that hostile environment of super-power rivalry.
At Bandung's historic conference the attendees agreed on certain principles later known as Panchasheel which refer to respect for territorial integrity and independence, non-interference in internal affairs of other countries, non-aggression, peaceful co-existence, settlement of disputes without resort to violence or force. These are the principles that conform to the Charter principles of the United Nations.
Conforming to such sacrosanct principles many third world countries believed that their territorial integrity and independence would be better safeguarded. With this conviction, they decided to form a movement pursuing whose principles the developing countries could would craft their foreign relations with no tilt to any group, alliance or bloc.
Years of consultations since the idea of non-alignment was conceived in 1955 led to the birth of NAM. This is evidenced by the holding of First Conference of countries gaining membership of the movement in Belgrade in 1961. Nepal has been a founding member of NAM.
Since then, our foreign policy has been calibrated with due emphasis on the NAM principles. Nepal has always made her views known on any issue of regional or international concern remaining neutral with no bias committed as she is to the movement. At times, we have had difficult situation because of this stand but we have not relented to any pressure making no compromise on our position.
The relevance of NAM has not remained unquestioned keeping in view the collapse of the Cold War which basically induced the developing world countries to form a group in which they remain non-aligned to any alliance or bloc. With the demise of Cold War, some even predicted that NAM too would exhaust its relevance because the bi-polar world is no more in existence.
This prediction has proved wrong as the movement is attracting more nations around the world. The present world is not peaceful. Conflicts have paradoxically risen compared to past. It is necessary for the nations to adhere to the Panchasheel principle to avoid confrontation and promote peaceful co-existence, which is a sine qua non for economic development and prosperity.
With regards to Nepal whose geography is both a challenge and an asset depending on how tactfully we balance our bilateral relations with India and China, adherence to NAM can be our effective tool of strategic autonomy.

(Thapa was Foreign Relations Advisor to the Prime Minister from 2008 to 2009. He writes on contemporary national and international issues. He can be reached at