Leading Article: Standing for nothing positive

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The Independent Online
THE NON-ALIGNED Movement (NAM), whose 10th conference is being held this week in Jakarta, was an unattractive and hypocritical child of the Cold War. One of its principal aims was the dissolution of the two power blocs, whose existence was piously deemed an ever-growing threat to world peace. The Cold War is now over. Threats to peace stem more typically from the revival of nationalisms suppressed during decades of Communism, or from Third World conflicts, often between obnoxious and undemocratic members of the movement such as Iraq and Iran. Yet it is highly unlikely that delegates will this week recognise there is nothing left for the movement to be non-aligned against.

There is a certain irony in the fact that it is the fate of Yugoslavia which is currently tearing the movement apart. The NAM first met in Yugoslavia in September 1961, in an atmosphere of moral self-congratulation. Its host was President Tito, a man much admired at the time for the creation of what was widely seen as a relatively benign and prosperous socialist society in which a variety of previously antagonistic peoples rubbed along. The movement's other founding father was Jawaharlal Nehru, the prime minister under whose guidance India had rejected the free market and was busily creating Fabian socialism on earth. India has paid a high price for centralised planning and bureaucratic control of its economy.

The NAM's last conference, in 1989, was also held in post-Tito Belgrade. The reason was that both Nicaragua and Indonesia wanted to play host and had petulantly threatened to boycott the event if the other was given the prize. Belgrade '89 is remembered for the bizarre lavishness of the occasion - at least pounds 7m was spent on titivating hotels and guest houses, and Yugoslavia bought 750 Audi cars for the delegates. Libya's Muammar Gaddafi pitched a tent and from within its folds gave away dollars 1,000 bills to those whose views pleased him.

The Belgrade conference closed with what many delegates regarded as a controversial, even offensive, appeal from Yugoslavia: member states should, it was argued, pay greater attention to minorities, to human rights generally and to environmental questions. They should spend less on armaments. (In the Eighties non-aligned nations increased their arms expenditure in real terms by more than 30 per cent - a bigger increase than that of the developed nations.) Instead of heeding the Yugoslav call, delegates concentrated on asking the advanced nations to lift their burden of indebtedness.

Extortion rackets are at their least attractive when the demands of their organisers are couched in terms of moral superiority. Members of the NAM attempted to play the two sides in the Cold War off against each other while exploiting the rhetoric of peace, freedom and democracy. But most of their governments were dictatorial, corrupt, inefficient and, from time to time, aggressive. Many still are. Because the NAM stands for nothing positive it has not come to terms with such embarrassing realities.

The developing nations face grievous problems, not all of them of their own making. They need the goodwill and the enlightened self-interest of the advanced countries. Their case needs effective advocacy. The NAM has consistently failed to provide it.