27 August 2012


Iranian Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Salehi addresses the XVI Summit of NAM (the Non-Aligned Movement)

Here is a little geopolitical riddle: in what way is NAM (the Non-Aligned Movement) like NATO?

ANSWER: NAM and NATO were both products of the Cold War, and both are now relics of the Cold War that continue in existence out of institutional inertia.

I‘ve written several posts about NATO’s institutional drift since the end of the Cold War and the attempt to find a viable role for an entity constituted for the purpose of containing and confronting Soviet expansionism and adventurism during the Cold War (cf. NATO’s Gambit, inter alia). More particularly, NATO was to be the entity to direct the joint US and European response to the Warsaw Pact and the nightmare scenario of a massive conventional thrust into Western Europe. Fortunately, this scenario never occurred. I say “fortunately” because it would not have been the cakewalk for NATO forces that many assume in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Warsaw Pact had numerical superiority in tanks and armored divisions, and as I wrote about in Revisiting Exercise Anatolian Eagle, Soviet MIGs demonstrated their efficacy against US fighters in dogfights over Viet Nam.

The Soviet Union no longer exists, the Warsaw Pact no longer exists, many former Warsaw Pact nation-states are now members of NATO, and even the Bulletin for Atomic Scientists moved back the hands on its iconic doomsday clock to symbolically recognize the greatly decreased likelihood of a global nuclear war as a result of the end of the Cold War.

The Cold War divided the world into two hostile spheres of influence, one Soviet dominated, the other American dominated. In Europe, almost every nation-state was forced to take sides. Stalin set up pro-Soviet regimes throughout those regions occupied by Soviet troops at the end of the Second World War. Seeing what appeared to be the handwriting on the wall, Western European nation-states banded together under US leadership to prevent their own countries from falling under Soviet influence.

Outside Europe there was a little more latitude for policy vis-à-vis the Cold War dyad, but from a practical point of view almost every nation-state either took sides or leaned to one side or the other — often opportunistically. A sure way to get the attention of the superpowers was the declare yourself in the Cold War. Institutionally weak nation-states who received aid and support from one side were toppled by forces that were aided and supported by the other side.

The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) was founded in Belgrade in 1961, partly in response to the sea-sawing of influence between the two superpowers. Particularly instrumental in the founding of NAM were Yugoslavia, India, Egypt, Ghana, and Indonesia, all of them headed by powerful, charismatic, and ambitious leaders — Tito, Nehru, Nasser, Nkrumah, and Sukarno — who wanted to stake out an independent course.

When it was founded during the Cold War, NAM meant something: it meant not being allied to either the US or the Soviet Union, and therefore not falling within either sphere of influence. This was a powerful idea at the time, as it represented not only a kind of power politics for ambitious third world leaders, but also a kind of ideal that implicitly (and often also explicitly) rejected the Cold War and MAD and the nuclear arms race.

With the end of the Cold War, what does NAM mean? It means as little as NATO. It is an institution without an agenda or a direction. NAM, like NATO, has entered a period of institutional drift.

Of course, the enthusiasts of NAM don’t see it like this at all, and they are no more willing to close up shop than the NATO generals who have dedicated their careers to that institution.

So how do you sell non-alignment after the Cold War? Iranian Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Salehi was quoted as saying, “Meddling of aliens in regional developments is not acceptable and run counter with democracy.” (Cf. Salehi: Regional nations never tolerate meddling of aliens) As Salehi frames this (and his remarks were variously quoted by several news organizations, e.g., NAM Summit Opens With Call To Resist ‘Egotistic Interference’), it is clearly an expression of what I have recently been calling the Principle of Autocracy: “…the inviolability of the autocratically ruled geographical territory.”

The Iranian Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported Ali Reza Mosaferi, apparently the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s representative on Kish Island (though I was unable to confirm this independently, but since he was quoted as an authority by IRNA they obviously know more about it than I do), saying NAM was about “non-alignment to the global imperialism” and “fighting monopolistic world and bullying powers’ unilateralism.” This is a slightly different spin than that of Ali-Akbar Salehi. The latter was concerned that non-aligned nation-states would not be the object of outside interference; Mosaferi seems concerned that non-aligned nation-states not be forced into a de facto global monopoly on power. Both of these criticisms of the contemporary international order have legs, and we can expect to see them time and again in the coming decades, but the fact that two officials gave very different theoretical justifications for the existence of NAM is a clear indication of post-Cold War institutional drift.

During the Cold War, no one would have hesitated to say that the mission of NATO was to oppose the Warsaw Pact, that the mission of the Warsaw Pact was to oppose NATO, and that the mission of NAM was to opt out of the Cold War to the extent possible. Now the idea of a NATO or a NAM mission is as clouded as the diverse motives of protesters carrying signs and chanting slogans in the streets of any major city.

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Grand Strategy Annex

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5 Responses to “NAM and NATO”

  1. MisterEgo said

    Yay, Belgrade (my home) mentioned on the blog.

    Like NATO, NAM wasn’t just about politics… it was about economy as well.

    Even today, 30 years ago from those “glorious times” that many older (old enough) people remember about socialist Yugoslavia, when life was good and all that yada yada, there is still a strong memory of economic trade and exchange between Yugoslavia’s industrial giants and the NAM area… I guess there are few people today, maybe younglings, that don’t know somebody in Serbia who either worked for one of those giants (Construction, Industrial production, Airtravel and other types of companies) that exported to those countries, or who traveled to those countries to work for our firms that were contracted there…

    Countries like Libya, that even in the 2000’s, just before the “liberation”, had certain economic ties with Serbia, namely the healthcare and construction industries, and of course, the military industry sector (among other things, Libya bought 250 planes from Yugoslavia, during those old communist times, and thats a lot, our air force had maybe 200 before 90-ties, of which 80 was mig 21’s and 20 mig 29). It was a dream come true for Yugoslavs, that kind of economic cooperation. Not to mention the amount of support for Yugoslavia that he showed during the 1990-ties, responsible probably in no small part for the financial survival of FR Yugoslavia (read Serbia, if you wish so) during those times of sanctions and wars.

    Iraq, Iran, Egypt, other countries in Africa. Mostly Africa as a continent is remembered, though Libya holds a special place in memory, due in no small part, to Gaddafi’s personality and Libya’s oil, not to mention NAM and his friendship with Yugoslavs. During the uprising in 2011, the only (or at least the first) foreign television that intervied him was a Serbian commercial TV, called Pink (he he). Older people still vividly remember Gaddafi’s tent very near our downtown area near the Kalemegdan fort. Though Gaddafi loved to pitch it anywhere he goes…

    Enough about him (it’s just interesting, but not really important, i should have kept to the point).

    Construction related business is still vividly remembered about Iraq and Iran, probably middle east in general, we had strong presence in construction building projects there, like bridge building, for example…

    In any case, it’s quite interesting that economic cooperation from those times is so vividly en-grained into the myths about our past and the past of our country, and it’s also interesting to note that most of those countries we do remember from those times either got bombed or invaded, Egypt probably being the lone exception.

    And if I might notice, bombed after the fall of the USSR. If i remember correctly, NAM lessened in significance during the eighties, even before the fall of USSR. When the four charismatic leaders that guided it died (Tito, Nehru, Nasser and another guy)…

    Almost all of that economic cooperation is dead now.

    We cheer when we sell a few thousand, or tens of thousand assault rifles to Iraq today. Ridiculous, but oh well. Well, our estranged pro-western “democratic” government, that, mind you, got busted in the elections in May (yahoo), the new guys are “nationalists”, but “modern”, they call themselves “progressives”, they are more like these ousted democrats, but slightely better in behavior then them, in the sense that they restored a little bit of our national pride, and they are probably not as filthy rich as those morons are that degraded us before them. In any case, we are still a democratic country, but at least we don’t kiss as much western ass as we used to, or at least the people don’t feel it. Hopefully, they won’t screw up, but I don’t really hold much faith, hopefully at least they won’t degrade us as much as the previous ones. The “balance” just might get restored, so that US and RU ambassadors don’t run our country anymore secretly meeting with those loose tongued idiots (thanks to wikileaks for the confirmation)… Digression.

    The point being that, NAM was a great staging point for cultural and economic development of the members, and of course, a united political front with at least some teeth.

    It’s quite telling that most of it’s members close to US-EU borders either switched allegiance, or got, well, you know already where I am going with this, though I fully understand how politics works, not bashing, just stating the obvious, and probably stating the true importance of NAM, namely in containing both alliances from expanding…

    In any case, don’t mind Gaddaffi too much, he’s just a notable part of the myth of the old Yugoslavia (and it’s economy), and NAM. Otherwise, i wouldn’t have mentioned him.

    It’s interesting to note how much reverence there is here (and probably in a lot of other eastern european countries) for those “good old times”. It probably truly was better for most of those people, until say, 1986-7.

    In any case, NAM was probably quite important for us living in it’s area, until the big four died…

    And mind you, I am not a Yugonostalgic… I didn’t even live in it, at least not in the non truncated one for more then first 6 months of my life…

    I’m just saying that NAM was probably more important then we think, at least while the big four were alive.


    • MisterEgo said

      US and EU, not RU.

    • MisterEgo said

      Sorry about so much unconnected thoughts, I just didn’t couldn’t help myself, I didn’t post here for a long time…

      I’m apologizing for talking about those ousted idiots that pretended they were democrats, but in reality were filthy rich Kleptocrats,,,

      They now hold a bit of local govement seats in the North of the country and the capitol (though they really shoudn’t, they are actually supported by the socialist party that formed the goverment with “progressives” on the country (republic) level, my guess to further the trench between the party leader and the major and try to split them and the “democratic” party itself, though mayors party did win a lot of votes, 36%, but that’s another loooong story – one word, corruption), Hopefully, that’s were they will stay and rot, until somebody comes along that can wash the filth that those guys deposited on the word “democrat”.

      Expect more comments in the future, I might even start bashing you again… good old times. 🙂

      • geopolicraticus said

        I agree that NAM was an important historical development, and, as I wrote above, it really meant something during the Cold War. Also, to a greater degree during the Cold War than before or after, your trading partners were determined by your political orientation. Thus the business, financial, and economic connections that you detail above: non-aligned nation-states sought trade links with other non-aligned nation-states, and I have no doubt that many of these trading partnerships were highly lucrative for all concerned. Whether communist, capitalist, or non-aligned, the world economy expanded rapidly in the 60s, 70s, and 80s when the non-aligned movement was at its peak.

        Now Belgrade has a different reputation since it was voted the number one party city in Europe by Lonely Planet. So if you’re experiencing a lot of unconnected thoughts, I just have to conclude that you’ve been spending too many late nights in dance clubs and drinking emporiums.

        Best wishes,


  2. I have long argued NATO needs to become focused on intra-European stability, which as the EU fiscal crisis worsens could very well become more important than people think at the moment, and circumscribe it from being a “GloboCop.” Time to use other, regional multi-lateral institutions to contain regional issues. The world is shifting from globalization to regionalization and “Western” strategy should adapt rather than trying to make NATO something it is clearly not any more.

    Couple of points in that direction that I have written on:

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