The Foreign Ministerial meeting of Non-aligned Movement last week and its pronouncements particularly in the context of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has revived the old debate whether the body can actually play an effective role in international politics or pass into oblivion as an antediluvian body that emerged as an alternate to bloc politics during the cold war. Analysts no doubt widely differ on the relevance of this multilateral body comprising 120 member states and 17 observer states, spreading over continents. The analyses vary as they depend largely on the perspective one adheres to in the context of this body. The statement in the context of trans-Caucasian conflict appears to have further complicated the nature of this organization, already subject to myriad weaknesses and controversies.
NAM emerged as a body which could, to quote one of its founders Jawaharlal Nehru, “The preservation of peace forms the central aim of India’s policy. It is in the pursuit of this policy that we have chosen the path of nonalignment.” Since its inception at Bandung in Indonesia in 1955, and its formalization in 1961 at Belgrade, the body has undergone dramatic transformations in the past six decades. At the time of end of the cold war, the movement apparently comprised members from every bloc, whether socialist or capitalist or neutral. It rose to prominence as one of conscience keepers in international politics despite criticisms from high quarters as ‘immoral’ or unethical or opportunist. In the post-cold war setting importantly it redeemed itself from the old task of maintaining neutrality and aimed at developing friendly relations with all countries with focus on a range of issues. The issues ranged from climate change, peaceful resolution of conflicts, democratization of international decision making process, giving voice to the poor countries at global high table. More so, its existence pointed to the imbalance and asymmetry in international power structure which needs to be addressed.
However, in the sphere conflict resolution the record of NAM is not very propitious. From this point of view, NAM’s pronunciation on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict may not enhance its international stature; rather it may further dent its internationalist image. In the past there are many instances in which NAM mechanism as a conflict reduction mechanism received severe jolt. One of such case was the Colombo plan in 1962, mooted by the NAM member Sri Lanka along with some other members of the body to defuse crisis in relations between India and China which went to war the same year. The Colombo plan for peace faltered despite earnest attempts of the members to work out a peaceful resolution of India-China conflict. In this case, the realist national policy trumped over the ideals of peace and peaceful resolution of conflicts as propagated by the NAM. Despite its huge membership, the organization could not emerge as an effective international body mainly owing to difference among the members, contrasting agenda of the members, apathy by leading members like India, and also apparent lack of direction and vision on part of this international body.
In this particular case of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is an enclave within Azerbaijani territory but with majority Armenian population, the conflict is really a simmering one since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Without going deeper into this conflict, it can be emphasized that it is one of the most volatile conflicts in the trans-Caucasus region. It has not displayed any signs of resolution despite interventions by the United Nations and other multilateral bodies like Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Hence, in this background the NAM intervention will not add anything positive as Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan, Elmar Mamedyarov has claimed, but it will further make another party to conflict Armenia further rigid in its position. Mamedyarov stated, “we are happy to see the Non-Aligned Movement’s member-countries’ unanimous support of Azerbaijan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and stability of its internationally recognized borders.” In contrast, his Armenian counterpart, Edward Nalbandyan observed that “It’s been one year only since Azerbaijan became a NAM member and in this short period has managed to start abusing its membership in attempts to mislead the other members of this organization inciting them against the positions of the international community.” It appears that the body has been used to further the objective of a particular nation, rather than actually helping to resolve a conflict.
Azerbaijan joined the NAM club only last year. In that sense it was a new entrant. Armenia enjoys the observer status in the club. It appears striking as well that within one year after joining the group, Azerbaijan could muster enough support to let the 382nd provision of the NAM final document pass despite opposition from Armenia. While Armenia was interested to see the draft mentioning ‘Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,’ which stands as a conflict per se, Azerbaijan was interested to see it as a ‘Azerbaijan-Armenian conflict,’ implying that it is a conflict between the two states and, from Azeri point of view, the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh which exists within the territory of Azerbaijan should form part of this Caspian sea littoral state. The NAM document seems to have endorsed this viewpoint howsoever innocuously by accepting the draft favoured by Azerbaijan. While Azezi media went all gaga and extolled Azeri policies as just and fair, and cited the NAM pronouncement to lend credence to the arguments, the Armenian media went ballistic in denouncing the pronouncement and criticizing the body for being partial.
Perhaps the summit meeting in Iran in coming August will rectify this lapse. It can emerge as a conflict-reduction mechanism when it can actually bring contrasting parties to a common dialogue table. At present it has neither that expertize, nor the willingness to do so, nor the resources to carry such activities. Instead of focusing on conflict resolution, it has many other pressing tasks to perform, which include raising the issues of reform of international bodies like the United Nation system, nuclear disarmament and clean and green energy, and a fair and just multipolar world order. The body comprises of nations representing more than half of the world’s population and that gives it the moral leverage which it can use to nudge international powers as well as regional powers towards a better international order. Regarding conflict resolution, NAM can play a moral guardian rather than a Samaritan to advocate the case of a particular country.